What is normal?
That is one question 27 teenagers attempt to answer in "Normal," a play based on personal testimonies from Loudoun County middle school and high school students between 12 years old and 19 years old.
The Loudoun Youth Initiative, an advocacy group for young people, commissioned the Creative Youth Theatre Foundation of Middleburg to perform a play that tackles real-life issues that affect teens.
Co-producers Tom Sweitzer and Kim Tapper cast a diverse group of students for the play. The cast represents 10 different Loudoun public middle schools and high schools.
"The stories are real. It comes from them," Tapper said.
SNOW FELL ON The Hills School in Middleburg Sunday afternoon, but that didn’t faze the room full of aspiring actors. They had other things on their mind, like relationships, college applications, instant messenger conversations, and show time.
Rehearsal began in the middle of a classroom. Teenagers in black T-shirts, shaggy hair and glitter formed a circle.
The students were instructed to walk around the room, freeze, then mirror the person closest to them. Teenagers moved their limbs around their bodies while staring directly into each others' eyes.
"Change levels, plains," director Tom Sweitzer said.
After several rounds of the mirror game, Sweitzer's students moved toward a piano in the corner of the room. Sweitzer played a few notes.
The cast of the play began to sing about a "dark and gray" world.
"What is normal to you is a stranger to me," they sang. "There’s so much more that you don’t see. It’s up to you. It’s up to me."
WITHIN THE FIRST few rehearsals, each cast member was given a journal to write painful and personal moments when they have felt attacked, uncomfortable or just plain weird.
In order for the cast to feel comfortable with one another, Sweitzer and Tapper used the students’ journal entries to start up conversations and shape the play.
"These are their voices, their creations," Tapper said.
Boomer Rose said he knows what it’s like to feel like an outsider. When he was asked to write in his journal, only one person came to mind.
"I’m not much of a journal person," Rose said, "but the process really got to me."
Rose wrote about his mother, who died when he was a sophomore in high school.
"I read it out loud, to everybody," he said, "and I broke down. I started crying. Everyone got really quiet. That was a huge turning point for the play."
Boomer described the process as a therapeutic one.
"We got really close really fast," he said.
WITH THE PLAY’S debut just three weeks away, Lena Clark, 16, perfected a scene loosely based on her boyfriend.
The Heritage High School student took center stage in a classroom Sunday. Clark’s boyfriend has a speech impediment.
"My boyfriend has a stuttering problem. I see the way it affects him," Clark said.
Clark plays a high-school student with a stuttering problem who gets teased in the hallways. Fellow cast member Dylan Bosserman rescues her from two bullies who throw her books on the floor.
"This is kind of like a gift I can give him," she said. "Maybe I can show people how it feels to be teased on stage. Maybe I can change a few people."
The play is constructed of students’ journal entries and real-life experiences, strung together by original songs.
"It’s authentic," Rose said. "Even if the show doesn’t touch anyone in the audience, it touched the 27 kids and the three adults in this play, and that’s what matters."
THE CREATIVE YOUTH Theatre Group will perform "Normal" Friday, Feb. 9, at 7:30 p.m., at Potomac Falls High School in Sterling; Saturday, Feb. 10, at 8 p.m., at The Hill School in Middleburg; Sunday, Feb. 11, at 3 p.m., at Heritage High School in Leesburg; Saturday, Feb. 17, at 7:30 p.m., at Franklin Park Performing and Visual Arts Center’s temporary location at Round Hill Center in Round Hill and Sunday, Feb. 18, at 3 p.m., at Stone Bridge High School in Ashburn. The play is geared for audiences 12 years old and up. There will be a half-hour discussion session with cast members after each performance and admission is free.
"Our goal is to be universal," Tapper said. "No matter what age, we want people to see themselves represented in at least one of the teenagers."