Original High School Musical Tackles Bullying, Other Issues

January 17, 2014

Many high school musicals sound a lot like...well, the movie "High School Musical," but not at Arcadia High School.

For the second straight year, students are putting on an entirely original production. It is called "Shattered," and it tells the story of a new girl in town, who is having trouble with friends, boys and bullies. The show is about how the kids treat each other and the roles parents and society play in that. Theater students wrote the script, and students in the Contemporary Music and Sound program wrote the songs.

"I think that last year, there was always this sort of lingering thought in the back of your head of, 'Can you actually pull this off at a high school and have it be credible and not just be an educational experiment?’" said Richard Maxwell.

Maxwell runs the music program at Arcadia. He, along with acting teacher Richard Fairchild, came up with the theme of this year’s show, bullying, right at the start of the school year, but it was a group of around a dozen student writers who came up with the story. They took about a month to write the script and started auditioning actors in October. Junior Thomas Steward is one of the writers.

"Being in high school and other parts of school, everybody gets bullied, and it’s something really relatable that is easy for teens to write about," said Steward.

There were students who helped write the script who are also acting in the show. Senior Emma Coles plays Jennifer, the new girl. Coles describes her character as someone who is trying to figure out who she is and struggling with bullying along the way. She likes having a hand in creating the show.

"You know all the backstories that didn’t get into the final script, so you know every thought that went through all of the writers, and you can really get a true sense of the character," Coles said.

The characters include students, parents and grandparents, all played by Arcadia High students. Freshman Camryn Lizik helped write the script. She said it is the first time she had ever done anything theater-related. So, was it tough to write about something that hits so close to home for so many high schoolers?

"It was difficult as in writing from my own point of view, but it’s something that I see all the time and I see every day," explained Lizik. "So, in that aspect, no, it wasn’t, because it’s very realistic to what actually happens."

Fairchild said many elements of the show came from the students, an absentee parent, how kids are bullied, a parent with a controlling boyfriend. That realism, by the way, is kind of a new development. Last year’s original show was about aliens invading the school. Fairchild said the students take a lot of pride in their production.

"In a fun way, they’re very emotionally attached to it, they want to see their work done right, and they have a huge buy-in to what they’re doing. The script this time, they were so much more invested in, I think because with the subject matter, making sure it came out just right and it told these stories just right and trying to represent themselves in a lot of those stories," said Fairchild.

That applies to the music, as well. Some of the songs were written specifically for the show, but students also submitted ones they had already written. Junior Jade Lara has played drums in both original shows. She submitted her song, “Favorite Things” for Shattered, and it closes this year’s performance.

"Just personally, I started writing around 7th grade or so, just for funsies, I guess, but it’s cool that now they’re being put to huge-scale things, at least for the most part, and not just staying in a notebook," said Lara.

Some of the other writers and actors said they like being able to play a role in shaping their characters, making them more real. Maxwell said some of his students started asking him about this show as soon as the last one ended, and with due respect to "Grease," "The Music Man," "West Side Story" and any of the other traditional musicals high schools put on, Maxwell would like to make an original production an annual thing.

"It’s not to say that we don’t want to do the quote normal, published musical again. I don’t see anything wrong with that, there’s great value in that, educationally and artistically and musically and everything else, but I also think that this is an experience that they can’t get anywhere else," said Maxwell.

The musical, Shattered, made its debut Thursday night. There are more performances scheduled for Friday night and Saturday.