Back by popular demand, a local youth theater group is bringing its show with a message to Westchester schools.
Random Farms Kids Theater is back for its second year of touring after a three-year hiatus. “The New Kid,” a 55-minute musical featuring students in grades 5 to 9, tells the story of a boy who moves to a new school and deals with bullying, cliques and other common issues with his peers. By the end, he learns how to interact constructively with his classmates and helps resolve other issues within the student body.
The play, appropriate for audiences in grades 2 to 6, has been performed more than 100 times at area schools since 2008. The two casts of 14 students travel to elementary and middle schools around Westchester to perform the show and then hold a Q&A with students, teachers and the cast after each performance. This year, the tour is featuring Scarsdale resident Sasha Forman as “Kelly,” one of the leading roles.
Forman is 13 years old and a freshman at Scarsdale High School. This is her third year performing with the group, but her first time playing this role.
“I play the queen bee mean girl in the show. She owns this group of girls and a bunch of people follow her and she’s super intimidating and a bully and she really uses her words to make other people feel powerless and upset,” said Forman. “I played mean girls before, but started out as the more quiet one. But this year I’m playing the main one and I’ve enjoyed getting to grow with this kind of character through the years.”
Forman has been with Random Farms since the age of 5, and she participates not only in “The New Kid,” but the main stage shows there, as well as doing some professional acting lessons and joining the Drama Club at her school.
Random Farms, based in Elmsford and serving the entire Westchester community, engages youth with a series of musical theater offerings beyond just its outreach program. Started 25 years ago by a 16-year-old who liked performing shows with her sister in their family’s basement on Random Farms Drive, the program offers private lessons, workshops and main stage productions.
For the “New Kid” tour, each cast performs at three elementary schools in the fall and another series of schools in the spring. Random Farms provides the schools with discussion questions to follow up with after the show and to encourage the teachers to continue the conversation around bullying.
“They ask questions about what it’s like to be in the show and the logistics and sometimes they ask ‘Why do you think people bully or what do you suggest we do?’” said artistic director Alexis Duermeyer. “We have gotten a lot of feedback that it sort of opens up the gates for kids to ask questions they were afraid to ask before.”
Forman said the highlight of being in the show for her is the Q&A, because she’s passionate about the subject and wants to make connections with the audience.
“It’s super powerful to see the kids react. For example, last year a girl raised her hand and thanked us and said she’s moving to a new school and watching the play made her feel not so alone anymore,” said Forman. She said she finds the message so important because she’s witnessed a lot of her classmates being bullied in the past and felt in her gut that it was wrong the moment she first saw it.
Duermeyer said she thinks these lessons are more meaningful when taught by peers and not adults. She said she believes kids seeing other kids go through these events and solving them on stage resonates with the target audience much more than listening to adults give a lecture.
“I really hope kids get the message that it’s important to be themselves and follow what they believe in and not be a bystander but an upstander,” said Forman. “If you stay true to yourself, you can always be happy and I love spreading this message while getting to do the thing I love.”