Take a people-watching trip into a high school and it’s not hard to pick out the fashion-conscious, the jocks, the loners, the leaders, the followers, the comics, the bullies and the bullied – it’s all there in the halls. But it’s not so simple.
In Stereotype High, a comedy by playwrite Jeffrey Harr, actors address the issues common to teens, debunking some myths in the process.
“Kids at the beginning (of the play) appear to be stereotypes, but they’re not; people are complex and so are these characters,” says Julia Body, who is directing the play to be performed at Shuswap Theatre later this month. “So these kids are put into boxes, but they’re not necessarily right. And when they try to get out of them it’s not so easy, because the labels follow them around.”
The issue of labelling and its affect on people, often for a very long time after high school, are reflected in the play, adds Body, a drama teacher at Pleasant Valley High in Armstrong.
“I’m very passionate about the play because of all those things,” she says. “It has depth, humanity and lots of humour; it’s quite a remarkable little play.”
The play contains real situations, real feelings, and real thoughts about all manner of mature topics – that means sex, drugs and retainers.
All the major parts are played by students from Salmon Arm Secondary and Pleasant Valley.
Body, a longtime member of the Shuswap Theatre Society and active in front of and behind the curtain, was hooked as soon as she read the play.
But she didn’t have enough students to fill all the parts in Armstrong, so Body approached the Shuswap Theatre board, hoping to be able to include SAS students in the play she thought to bring to life as a Second Stage production.
Second Stage productions began in 2002, addressing a need to provide a venue for play readings, and to provide new actors and directors with an opportunity to gain experience.
But Body says then-board president Joyce Henderson suggested she turn it into a full, main stage production.
The idea was well received by the board, as was the intention to get young people who want to be in theatre involved in all aspects of the production.
“It’s a terrifically written play with eight lead teenage characters, all needy roles, each with a monologue,” says Body, who thought it would be difficult to find that many strong actors who could carry that off.
Incredibly, 29 people, mostly female, showed up for 15 to 18 roles.
“I was certainly able to cast it easily and I was totally impressed with the attitudes and abilities,” she says, noting there are some adult cameo roles. “It was hard to phone people and say you didn’t get a part.”
Body says she offered those youths the opportunity to take crew spots behind the scenes with experienced mentors and most of them accepted.
“This play is really, really cool; there are eight major parts, but there are several walk-on parts so it’s a really good opportunity to get their feet wet,” says Body enthusiastically. “The way the stage is played, scenes flow one into another and all the stage changes are done in front of the audience so the crew is actually part of the play.”
Body says another reason she was anxious to get Stereotype High to the stage was from the perspective of the audience, and not just the young members.
“It will take adults back to high school where nothing has changed much,” she says. “They (students and adults) want all the same things; they want to be popular, they want to have friends, they’re not sure about their futures and they still have anxiety about labels.”
Whether you are in high school now or whether it is a distant memory, you will relate to the time of insecurity and the search for identity that Stereotype High reveals.
You will laugh out loud as you recognize yourself, your friends or maybe your grandchildren.
This play shows that there is nothing more powerful than the teen who stands alone, proud of who he or she is.
“I want to stress this is not a high school play for high school kids; it’s universal and so well-written,” she says.
“These kids are so full of enthusiasm and it’s contagious. I would love to have the theatre full for them.”
The play takes place at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 24, March 3 and March 10, Saturday, Feb. 25 and March 4, and at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 26 and March 5.