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BYU fall touring play tackles bullying on stage and in the classroom

Play’s ‘wardrobe’ will also dress girls and women across the state

As an eye-catching promotion for their fall production, BYU’s Young Company performing group has hung dozens of dresses along the gallery walls of the Harris Fine Arts Center.

The title of their production is “The Hundred Dresses,” and if you count the colorful outfits along the wall, you’ll find they total exactly 100 – 50 on one wall and 50 on the other.

But if you navigate deep into the recesses of the HFAC and find the office of Julia Ashworth, the play’s director, you’ll find much more than 100 dresses. There are piles of dresses in every corner of the office. Piled on desks, piled on chairs, piled on cabinets, and jammed into every available spot.

These dresses, along with those hanging on the gallery walls, have all been donated by community members and will eventually make their way to underprivileged women and children in Utah and Salt Lake Counties.

And that is the real story of BYU’s fall production of “The Hundred Dresses,” a play about school girl who learns to stem the tide of bullying in her class after an immigrant classmate is picked on by students.

“The community outreach with the dresses is tied entirely to the performance,” said Ashworth, an instructor in the Theatre and Media Arts Department. “We wanted to do something positive in the community, possibly for those who may deal with bullying or teasing. We wanted to promote a message of tolerance and acceptance.”

To that end, Ashworth and others behind the play are facilitating the collection of dresses on behalf of two Utah nonprofits through the fall. Audiences attending the two weekends of BYU performances, between Oct. 12 and Oct. 22, are being encouraged to donate dresses.

They are also encouraging dress donations from the students and teachers of the 20 elementary schools where they are taking the traveling show over the next three months.

“It’s not just a charity drive, it’s an awareness drive,” said Katherine Williams Olsen, dramaturg and outreach coordinator of the play. “We’re hoping with this dress drive to fill the needs of the people giving the dresses just as much as those getting the dresses.”

The dresses are being collected for Centro Hispano in Utah County and the Utah Refugee Services Office in Salt Lake County. At the end of the show in December, cast and crew members will deliver hundreds of dresses to the two nonprofits, who will then give them to women and children in need.

In the meantime, the dresses will be piling up in Ashworth’s office and other storage areas around the HFAC while the show goes on.

The show plays out with the main character learning the hard way that she could have prevented harm to her classmate but didn’t. In the end, she takes advantage of a chance at redemption to befriend another immigrant in her neighborhood who is being ostracized by the community.

To ensure the elementary school audiences come away with a clear message of compassion, the eight-person cast is also teaching workshops on friendship following each show.

Sarah Kron, who plays the role of the bullied girl (Wanda) in the play, said the fifth- and sixth-grade elementary student groups are getting the message.

“It is definitely clicking with the audience, which is so important at this age level,” Kron said.

As an example, during one workshop, a student wrote a letter to Wanda empathizing with the bullied character. “Dear Wanda, I’m sorry you got bullied. I have been bullied too. I would have been your friend,” she wrote.

“We see our role as artists in theater arts as responsible members of the community,” Ashworth said. “And we also see our roles as members of the Church in that same category. Our focus is to motivate people to bless others by doing acts of love and good work.”

Click here to read more about the performance dates and times.

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