Ten-year-old Richard Page (nicknamed Rage) is a fiery-tempered but tender-hearted student in Mr. Thornton's fourth-grade class and a die-hard Michael Jordan fan. It's Wednesday morning recess at the four-square court on the playground of Burning Hills School, and Rage is in heaven. He tells his best friend Crystal about a contest sponsored by the local Boys and Girls Club: Whoever brings in the most aluminum cans for recycling in the next three days will win a ticket to an upcoming dinner with Michael Jordan.

Rage enlists the help of Mr. Thornton, who strikes a deal with him--the teacher will give him 50 pounds of aluminum cans if and when Rage can get through an entire day at school without losing control of his temper.

But two tough kids challenge Rage to a four-square game, and within 60 seconds the boy's anger has gotten the better of him. Provoked by the kids' taunts, he kicks a trash can and loses (at least for that day) his chance at earning Mr. Thornton's can collection.

Rage tries several strategies to suppress his anger, but these fail. When it comes to anger, he realizes that he's too hot--like fire--whereas Crystal, who won't allow herself to be angry, is too cold--like snow. The two friends decide that "cool" is the best way to think about anger. Rage learns to identify and handle warning signs of impending explosion and wins the prize.

The play, entitled "Cool," is aimed at elementary students in first through fourth grades. The story of two friends--who figure out effective anger-management skills in situations every kid can relate to--is one of the many plays put on by Bridgework Theater, a nonprofit group in Goshen, Ind. Since 1979, Bridgework has presented original plays to more than 1.5 million children in several thousand schools in 13 states. Don Yost, Bridgework's founder and playwright, has created his "message plays" to address real-life problems of young people--conflict resolution, self-esteem, cliques, and gun violence, as well as anger management.

"To reach as many students as possible, even the most distracted ones, we strive to entertain as well as educate," says Yost. The plays are performed in the round with professional adult actors--but, in addition, up to four students from the school participate as reader-actors and rehearse with the troupe before the performance. Training materials help teachers reinforce the ideas and skills taught by the plays.

What do kids take away from the experience? Yost measures the effectiveness of each play by having students fill out post-play surveys. The play "Cool" actually increased students' confidence in their ability to manage anger as well as their willingness to use problem solving, deep breathing, and counting, other techniques shown in the play.

Says a guidance counselor at Concord Elementary School, in Elkhart, Ind., "I`ve been counseling a boy in anger management who, like many kids with this problem, has had some difficulties with his family life. He was one of the kids chosen to be an actor in the play. I saw him in the week following the performance, and he was taking very deep breaths like Rage, the character in the play. I asked him what he was doing, and he said he was controlling his anger over an incident that happened in gym class. It made me feel good to know that he had learned something from the play, as well as getting such positive attention for being `star' for a day!"

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