MAPLEWOOD, NJ — Mykee Fowlin, who has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, brought his colorful cast of characters to Columbia High School on Tuesday, Oct. 10, to perform his one-man show, “You Don’t Know Me Until You Know Me,” for the Class of 2021. Fowlin, who is a psychologist, actor, poet and motivational speaker, introduced the ninth-graders to five different characters to help them re-examine the perceptions they have about others — perceptions that may have had since they were as young as 5 or 6 years old.
Fowlin’s show discusses issues such as race, sexuality and gender roles by way of humor and his own experiences, allowing students to step into the shoes of others and listen more carefully.
“I get to show people that what they see is not what everyone else is seeing,” Fowlin told the students. “I teach what you haven’t been taught to notice. What you hear is not always what is being said.”
The first character Fowlin introduced from his repertoire was Germaine, a 6-year-old with trouble paying attention in school who finds himself in constant trouble; Fowlin then transformed into college football player Octavius, a gay character, as a way to dispel stereotypes about appearances. Up next was Ben, a character based on Fowlin’s own high school experience as someone who often ate lunch alone until a teacher reached out and said he could stay in her classroom and eat with her.
Gender roles were also questioned in Fowlin’s performance as he donned a brightly-colored scarf to play Sabine, a female student.
“Boys can speak up and act loudly and their gender will not be questioned,” he said in the role of Sabine. “And we as girls can do just as much damage to each other.”
Out of character and once again speaking as himself, Fowlin spoke about something students often hear from parents or other authority figures.
“How many of you have heard someone say, ‘other people have it worse?’” Fowlin asked students, many of whom raised their hands. “You’re not taught to value your pain. That discounts you and your story. You don’t need to un-acknowledge your own pain because of other people.”
Fowlin said that while the characters he creates for the show are fictional, a little piece of him can be found in each of them. Growing up in Toms River, he said he didn’t fit many of the stereotypes he felt he was supposed to, and some of the character traits of both Ben and Germaine are autobiographical, he said.
Fowlin also connected with the audience by speaking out about how he was molested as a child by an older teenage neighbor. He described that talking about it might help others who have gone through something similar.
“I’m part of the problem if I don’t speak out,” he said while on stage. “There are allies who will stand next to you. You do not have to be afraid to find your allies.”
After Fowlin’s show came to a close, many students remained in the auditorium to talk to him, expressing how they most related to aspects of his show. This is, after all, his goal with his performances.
“The most common thing I get is, ‘thank you for saying what we’re all thinking,’” Fowlin told the News-Record at the event. “The biggest goal I have is for someone who walks in here feeling alone to walk out feeling less alone. I wish I had sat in something like this when I was at that age that said ‘you’re not alone.’”
Fowlin said the best way to express that message is to incorporate his own story and experiences into what he does. When he started performing for young people, he used less of himself in each character. Over time, more of his own personality has seeped in.
“It’s character-driven, but I’ve gone on to add more of my actual life,” Fowlin said. “The more I’ve incorporated it the more connected the audience is. Some really feel like you’re pushing those buttons and they start letting people in. The more vulnerable you are, the more permission you can give yourself to heal; they see that.”
CHS student assistance and crisis counselors Judy Cohen and Michael Llupas were pleased with their decision to bring Fowlin in to perform his show.
“He’s very real for the kids and he tries to make them become more aware and sensitive,” Cohen told the News-Record at the event. “Things like this get heavier and heavier every year. He really challenges them to look beyond the superficial stuff.”
Photos by Amanda Valentovic