“On my walk home – I get off the bus and walk back to the trailer park every day after school. It’s past the Job Lot and up the hill to the farm of Brodie where I had my first stag when I was 9,” says a teenager in a pastel apricot-colored t-shirt and green shorts, standing on a stage bathed in late-afternoon light. -noon.
A girl in a yellow T-shirt takes her hand. She recounts her experience in another park with needles on the ground and neighbors who were on drugs.
Other teenagers join in the story of their walks home. A girl walks past Maplefields and the Universalist Church where her Aunt Dee sings on Sundays. A young black man walks past a convenience store, where he is followed down the aisles by the store manager every time he shops there. A new Vermonter who moved here eight years ago travels to his Winooski home with its pickle smells from the neighborhood deli and his family’s Somali cuisine. Another teenager goes to another foster home – three states, 19 cities, in 14 years.
The teenage cast of 16 writes, composes and performs “Listen Up Musical” promises to take audiences into their world — and they do.
The ‘Listen Up Musical’ movie, filmed by Kingdom County Productions during a live performance of the original show at the Shelburne Museum last summer, is now touring Vermont with free public screenings, including upcoming events. in May at U-32 High School (May 12) in East Montpellier, Paramount Theater (May 18) in Rutland and Cabot School (May 18) in Cabot.
“Listen Up” delves into the experiences and issues of Vermont teens today. The young actors speak for themselves and for the state’s youth, speaking candidly about topics important to them, including mental health, social media, racial justice, gender identity, inequality, climate change and growing up in Vermont.
They tell and sing their stories and their points of view. The rap “Just Because” considers misconceptions about children – the contradictions between assumptions about them and their character. In a sweet love song, “My Person,” a teenage trans girl shares the happiness of finding a soul mate. “Lockdown” deals with the risk and practical responses to active shooting events in schools.
“If you’re a parent and you want to know what’s going on in the teen world right now, you have to come see the show. If you have a teenager, bring him along because you can have a really good conversation with him afterwards about what was in the movie,” said award-winning documentary filmmaker and theater producer Bess O’Brien. , who designed and produced the Listen Up Project.
“Coming out of COVID young people have been isolated and they need a lot of support and we need to listen to them,” O’Brien said.
O’Brien launched the Listen Up project at the opening of 2019, collaborating with young people every step of the way. She and her team of artists and educators spent eight months meeting and listening to teens across the state in one-on-one and group talks, workshops, writeshops, and brainstorming sessions. ‘listen. More than 800 children participated.
Developing the screenplay from all of this raw material, O’Brien and co-screenwriter Gary Miller brought in around 20 teenage writers. They contacted teenage musicians, who then worked in small groups with professional musician mentors to write the nine songs for the show.
When the pandemic hit in March 2020, the Listen Up project was a week away from auditioning. They shifted gears, moved music collaborations and other Listen Up Labs online, even hosted online auditions.
In the summer of 2021, the teen cast, musicians, crew, and adult crew came together in person for the first time. At the Lyndon Institute they rehearsed, made final changes, then took the show on the road – with only outdoor performances.
The film features the Shelburne Museum show, beautifully filmed with multiple cameras and a drone capturing the action on stage with close-ups of the actors sharing their urgent and genuine thoughts.
“Listen Up” covers a lot of ground – as befits the wide range of experiences and perspectives of young people in Vermont. Energetic and thoughtful, it is also a call to action.
In a powerful section, reworked by teens following the murder of George Floyd, teens of color talk about being BIPOC in Vermont. Their song “Listen Up” asks for a commitment to be anti-racist – to push back against white supremacy and do the work to eliminate racism.
As one teenager said, “Being black isn’t my fault.”
“The production is a real call for adults to step up and support young people and what they’re going through right now and the future that awaits them,” O’Brien said.