ALLIANCE – Professor Kevin Kern recalls first hearing University of Mount Union student Siv Street read dialogue from a script the student had written.
Kern was so impressed with it that he urged Street to use the script for “Beau” as the basis of their senior culminating experience project.
“I really, really liked the scene, and I thought it had all the things necessary to make a good play… and I saw the script, and I said, ‘This has legs,'” the instructor said.
The main character of “Beau” is a 17-year-old boy who recently stopped speaking following his parents’ divorce. After being admitted to a group home for adolescents, Beau meets other characters who help him explore recovery while learning to express himself.
Subject matter includes mental health, suicide, sexuality and being transgender.
Kern first reviewed the script last year. Since then, Street has worked hard to finish and refine the musical while transforming it into a stage production that will be presented at 7:30 pm Thursday through Saturday and at 2 pm on Sunday on campus in the Gallaher Black Box Theater at the Giese Center for the Performing Arts, 62 W. Simpson St.
Free tickets are available at www.mountunion.edu/box-office or by calling 330-821-2565.
The university advised in its press release that individuals may find some content in “Beau” difficult to hear, including suicide, abuse and mental health.
“We’re asking the public to take a risk,” Kern said of the theatrical production. “You’re risking a little bit of your time … but your risk is worth it when you consider you’re going to get to see something brand new, something people haven’t seen before, and that’s a remarkable opportunity for Stark County.”
This marks the first time a full-length, student-written production has been featured on stage at Mount Union.
Kern, associate professor of theatre, said “Beau” is so good the department believes it has potential to be staged professionally.
“We’ve never done this before in the 10 years I’ve been here,” Kern said. “There’s never been a student-written piece that’s quite frankly been this big. While it’s unusual for us to do it, it made perfect sense in this case – it has issues we want to talk about; it has these issues that are relevant. “
Kern noted that one of the characters is transgender, an example of the universal theme of identity.
“The play is about… finding who you are,” he said, noting that both students and those off campus can relate to the theme.
“As a university, we want to tell stories that will get people talking,” Kern said. “And we want to tell stories about gender identity, because we need to be talking about that.”
Street said that “each and every one of (the characters) is on a journey to self-discovery, and what that means to them — and I’d like to think there’s a story there for everybody.”
Highlighting diversity is important, Street said, noting that “Beau” also features a gay couple.
“There is a minor romance between Beau and the boy, Peter, and … as someone who is an LGBT and non-binary person, one of the (issues) I have with theater is I never get to see my love story. .. so it was really important to have those characters in the narrative, because those narratives are important.”
Story started in high school
Street, 22, recalled first reading lines to Kern in the directing class.
“He said, ‘Siv, where has this been this whole time?’ He said, ‘I know you wrote, but I didn’t realize it was like that.'”
Kern said he was struck by the quality of Street’s dialogue, an area with which new playwrights often struggle.
“It’s natural, but it crackles, it sparkles,” he said. “There’s engaging things about it.”
Street’s script dates to high school, including a score. Since then, it’s developed more fully. Street’s best friend from high school, D. Nite, of Streetsboro, is the project’s co-writer.
Together, the duo writes under the name of JD Nite, explained Street, a writing and theater performance major.
“I think I’ve probably gone through like four and five drafts just in the last year, just fixing it and honing in on the themes and making sure the message is there,” the Streetsboro native said. “And it’s really just come so far.”
“The whole experience has really been such a whirlwind,” the playwright added. “It feels like from the moment it started, I’ve just been swept up into this sort of frenzy.”
Crafting the plot
The plot originally was a divergence from Peter Pan, the college senior explained.
When that storyline didn’t take shape, co-writer D. Nite suggested using the perspective of a lost boy. Then it evolved into the boy ceasing all verbal communication.
Mental health remained in the script. However, it also includes the idea of ”radical acceptance,” said Street, who researched the subject of being nonverbal, particularly those who are selectively mute due to trauma.
“Someone speaking or not doesn’t mean that they don’t have a voice,” Street said. “Beau still has a voice, an opinion, and things to say, even if he does not verbalize it like his peers. It’s about who, and how people are listening.”
Other young characters face their own struggles, including internal and external expectations, taking medication and other challenges.
A theme emerges: “These kids do not need to be ‘fixed,'” Street said. “They need to be heard and helped on their own terms.”
Fellow Mount Union students are helping with the production, including director Abigail Collinsworth, a senior from Westerville.
Street credited and praised them for bringing the script to life.
The cast and crew of “Beau” includes Julia Bricker of Salem; Chlorise Busch of Jefferson; Hailey Csizmadia of Hinckley; Astro Dean of Beloit; Izzy Hoyt of East Liverpool; Drew Kolek of Freeport, Pennsylvania; Emily Maroni of Youngstown; Robert Rush of Cuyahoga Falls; Serena Sanzo of Painesville; Addie Wisniewski of Medina; and Olivia Wolfram of Cuyahoga Falls.
A script with songs
Music is integral to the narrative, said Street, who composed songs in high school with no formal training or ability to read sheet music.
“Basically, I work off of chord progression, and then the melody,” Street said. “I hear it in my head, and then I sing it out, and that’s how it goes.”
Without music, major plot points would be lost, the playwright said.
“The music is not your traditional musical theater style,” the playwright said. “But musical theater is branching away from that nowadays, anyhow.”
“I feel like I had a baby in high school, and now I’m watching my toddler going off to preschool,” Street said. “It’s overwhelming in the best of ways, and it’s scary in a lot of ways, because at the end of the day, this was the first musical I ever wrote.”
Kern, meanwhile, is excited about the play’s future.
“I think it’s a chance to see an engaging piece of theater at its infancy,” he said. “We’re going to be talking about this play five years from now, 10 years from now. That’s how strongly we feel about it, and while it’s great to hear about the old stories, the stories we know… it’s sure nice to be treated to a new story.”
Reach Ed at 330-580-8315 and firstname.lastname@example.org