When students speak up, are you listening?
Speak UP!© is an original, award-winning, play written and performed by students for students that gives voice to some of the most troubling and traumatic issues facing young people today. The often-taboo topics of sexual assault, harassment, identity, and suicide are brought to the stage in a powerful 25-minute performance that serves as a catalyst for conversation afterward.
· Speak UP! seeks to educate and empower young people and to equip adults with the tools they need to listen and support them.
· Speak UP! enables adults to see these issues and their causes through a youth lens. The play has strong triggers; it should be used as an intervention tool within an established framework of mental health services for youth, particularly within a high school setting.
· Speak UP! is a call to action. A call to save a life.
History and Timeline
This play began as an IB Theatre HL 1 Collaborative Project at Santa Margarita Catholic High School (SMCHS) entitled Semicolon inspired by Project Semicolon, a suicide prevention organization. After several re-writes, Semicolon was performed at the International Thespian Festival at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln to an audience of students and teachers. It elicited a visible response of tears and hugs of appreciation for tackling some of the causes of teen suicide. Several teachers asked to present the play at their school; however, we did not feel it was ready for distribution.
The play underwent a careful development process that included research, dramaturgy, and vetting of language through multiple readings and discussions with student audiences. During this process, the play’s title was changed to Speak UP! to reflect the play’s intent as a call to action and shared responsibility.
Speak UP! was performed at the Southern California State Thespian Play Festival at Los Alamitos High School for teachers and students from public and private schools, and the parents of the four playwrights. A talk back after the presentation praised SMCHS for tackling the subject of teen suicide. One student commented that at his school there had been four suicides; he criticized the administration of his school for remaining silent and doing nothing. Speak UP!, the only original play at the Festival, won 2nd Place. Since that performance, there have been many more requests by teachers to perform the play. To prepare for wider distribution, Speak UP! has been copyrighted in the names of the student authors. It was performed at the International Thespian Festival in June with a program disclaimer for “Mature Content.”
Since the play’s inception in 2017, the show “13 Reasons Why” aired, the #MeToo movement was born, the Parkland and too many other shootings have taken place. Many of the issues in Speak UP! have become part of the popular culture and societal conversation. SMCHS counselors recommended that Speak UP! be included as an event during Mental Health Awareness Month. Two presentations were held in May 2018 at SMCHS with talk backs facilitated by a licensed psychologist.
June 2018: Speak Up! was performed again at the International Thespian Festival, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, for 200 audience members. The highly charged emotional response validated the important need the play is fulfilling as a catalyst for conversation. It also validated that a phased approach to using the play is recommended: first to adults in a school setting to ensure that appropriate supports are put in place before it is presented for students.
A memo of agreement was developed for high schools to perform the play royalty-free with the understanding that proceeds would be donated to a suicide prevention organization and that a counselor be present with resources available for students in need of support.
We tested these protocols at SMCHS in November 2018, presenting Speak Up! for faculty and staff with a survey to assess the school’s readiness to respond to students expressing mental health reactions triggered by the play. The survey also revealed how unaware faculty and staff were about these issues and their effect on students.
In order to develop an effective Tool Kit of response protocols and resource referrals to distribute with the play, we presented Speak Up! to an audience of mental health professionals from CHOC Children’s Hospital Orange County and representatives from the American Pediatric Society, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Orange County Departments of Education and Social Services.
· Phase I used Speak UP! as a catalyst for Adults (Faculty, Staff, Administrators, Parents) to establish a framework of care in high schools with protocols for listening and referrals to mental health professionals.
· Phase II audiences are students in participating high schools that have an established framework of care.
· During our Pilot Year, we collaborated with health care professionals to finalize the Tool Kit and Resource Guide that should be used whenever the play is presented. This Tool Kit is available for download on this website.
2021: Speak UP! Ambassador program launched and implemented.
· 18% of girls and 3% of boys say that by age 17 they have been victims of a sexual assault or abuse at the hands of another adolescent, many of them acquaintance peers.
· 66% of adolescent victims did not tell a parent or any other adult about the assault. Only 19% reported the assault to the police.
Source: Journal of Adolescent Health (2014)
· The majority of sexual assault victims are under 30
· Ages 12-34 are the highest risk years for rape and sexual assault: 15% are ages 12-17; 54% are ages 18-34
· Females ages 16-19 are four times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault
· The likelihood that a person suffers suicidal or depressive thoughts increases after sexual violence:
o 94% of women who are raped experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) during the two weeks following the rape.
o 30% of women report symptoms of PTSD nine months after the rape.
o 33% of women who are raped contemplate suicide.
o 13% of women who are raped attempt suicide.
o Approximately 70% of rape or sexual assault victims experience moderate to severe distress, a larger percentage than for any other violent crime.
· Transgender students are at higher risk for sexual violence
o 21% of TGQN (transgender, genderqueer, nonconforming) college students have been sexually assaulted.
Source: RAINN.org (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network)and Department of Justice
· 59% of U.S. teens have been bullied or harassed online; they say bullying is a major problem for people their age
· Teens think that 58% of teachers, 66% of social media companies, and 79% of politicians are failing at addressing this issue.
Source: Pew Research Center, 2018
· Suicide is the second leading cause of death in youth and young adults ages 10-24 and 25-34
· The rise in the overall teenage suicide rate between 1999 and 2014 was driven by the 56% increase in the suicide rate among teen girls.
· LGBTQ youth are four times more likely than their straight peers to attempt suicide
· Four out of Five teens who attempt suicide have given clear warning signs
· Nearly 1 in 5 high school students said they considered suicide in the previous year.
o 4.6% made a plan
o 8.6% tried to kill themselves
· More teenagers and young adults die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease, COMBINED.
Source: National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 2015-16
“Suicide is a serious public health problem that can have lasting harmful effects on individuals, families, and communities. While its causes are complex and determined by multiple factors, the goal of suicide prevention is simple: Reduce factors that increase risk(i.e. risk factors) and increase factors that promote resilience(i.e. protective factors). Ideally, prevention addresses all levels of influence: individual, relationship, community, and societal. Effective prevention strategies are needed to promote awareness of suicide and encourage a commitment to social change.”
Source: Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 2015-16
Talking to teens about suicide does not increase the risk of suicide - in fact, decreases it.
What's important to remember is that teens attempt or commit suicide not because of a desire to die, but, rather, in an attempt to escape a bad situation and/or painful feelings. It's rare that only a single event leads to suicide. This means that by helping a teen turn around a bad situation or by teaching her or him how better to deal with painful feelings, we can defeat the causes of teen suicide. Most times, this requires professional help by a doctor or a psychotherapist and may also involve the teen's school, such as in cases of teen bullying.
Source: CDC and American Association of Suicidology (AAS)
ONE IN FIVE CALIFORNIA HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS HAVE CONSIDERED SUICIDE
Speak UP! was developed by Santa Margarita Catholic High School IB Theatre students Raiya Browning, Hannah Billups, Hannah Loessberg and Griffin Webb in 2017. The playwrights performed the play in 2017 for the Free-Style event at the International Thespian Festival at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln under the original title Semicolon. Original cast and crew pictured left to right: Amy Luskey-Barth, Artistic Director, Hannah Loessberg as Catherine, Griffin Webb as Gordon, Cameron Farmer, Student Director, Hannah Billups as Gwen, Raiya Browning as Reese, KC King as Stage Manager and Tania Ayoub Instructor.
The play's title was changed to SPEAK UP! after an extensive development process. Dramaturgical Consultant, Nicholas C. Pappas and Artistic Director Amy Luskey-Barth worked with the student playwrights throughout 2017 & 2018. The play won 2nd place at the California State Thespian Play Festival.
The play was performed under its new title, SPEAK UP! at the 2018 International Thespian Festival. Pictured is the Cast from left to right: Katherine Flores, Kennedy Kemmerer, Emma Smith and Drew Schlingman. A logo was designed by student graphic designer, John Luke Polson. Throughout 2018 and 2019 SPEAK UP! has been piloted for adult audiences including mental health professionals at CHOC, faculty & staff and parents at SMCHS. In spring of 2019, the play was presented to junior and senior students. Each presentation included a talk back panel and post-presentation surveys.
A step by step guide for implementing Project Speak UP! in your school
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PROJECT SPEAK UP! DIRECTOR'S GUIDE (pdf)Download
AUDITION APPLICATION SPEAK UP! (pdf)Download
RESOURCE GUIDE (pdf)Download
Speak UP! BASELINE RESPONSIBILITY (pdf)Download
Speak UP! SAMPLE PARENT SURVEY (pdf)Download
Speak UP! SAMPLE FACULTY & STAFF SURVEY (pdf)Download
Speak UP! STUDENT SURVEY (pdf)Download
OUTCOME MEASURES GUIDE (pdf)Download
Speak UP! PARENT INVITATION (pdf)Download
Speak UP! PARENT OPT OUT FORM-1 (pdf)Download
Speak UP! A Royalty-free Educational Tool Power Point (pptx)Download
Speak UP! Memorandum of Agreement- Must be signed to receive script (pdf)Download
Speak UP! Character Descriptions and Issues (docx)Download
Let's Talk Student Mental Health Podcast sponsored by the Educational Theatre Association.
For members of EdTA go to https://learn.schooltheatre.org Theatre Educator Pro Let's Talk Podcast and Webinar. In this important webinar the founders of Project Speak Up share their experiences touring a student devised play that gives voice to some of the most troubling and traumatic issues facing young people today. The speakers offer solid advice for theatre educators wishing to perform this royalty free piece along with a toolkit to help those interested in creating a mental health team in their school.