Behind The Scenes At The New And Improved Centerstage For "13: The Musical," An All-Teen Cast In A Story Spoofing Teen Life.

Apr 6, 2023 at 11:00 am
The cast of “13: The Musical” at CenterStage at the Trager Family JCC.
The cast of “13: The Musical” at CenterStage at the Trager Family JCC. Photo by Robyn Kaufman. Courtesy Trager Family JCC.

With several newsworthy events at CenterStage at the Trager Family Jewish Community Center this season, Arts Angle Vantage took note. The long-running community theater opened its new 107,000-square-foot facility with its new auditorium for theater, and arts and Erin Silliman took the Arts & Ideas director role which included choosing the season. (This week, Centerstage announced productions for its 2023-24 season.)

click to enlarge Photo by Robyn Kaufman. Courtesy Trager Family JCC. - Robyn Kaufman. Courtesy Trager Family JCC
Robyn Kaufman. Courtesy Trager Family JCC
Photo by Robyn Kaufman. Courtesy Trager Family JCC.

CenterStage’s February production of “13: The Musical,” a story about adolescents with an all-teen cast, was Silliman’s idea — one she also directed. The project, she said, that came naturally as she had previously been CenterStage's education programming director for four years.

This production gave teen journalists the opportunity to go backstage during rehearsals, see “13: The Musical” in the new facilities and consider the story itself as depicted by other teens. Here, New Albany High School students Cheyenne Farnsley and Nicolas Prince report.

Arts Angle Vantage and the participants are grateful to the people at CenterStage at the Trager Family JCC for sharing their time with us. We also are especially appreciative of LEO Weekly and Editor Erica Rucker for helping us elevate youth voices and the arts through practicing the values of collaborative journalism.—Melissa Chipman and Elizabeth Kramer, Arts Angle Vantage

Reflecting reality in “13: The Musical”: Sizing up the stage or the Netflix versions

By Cheyenne Farnsley | Arts Angle Vantage Reporter

New Albany High School, Class of 2024

When Brooks Roseberry auditioned for the recent CenterStage production of “13: The Musical” at the Trager Family Jewish Community Center (JCC), he knew the role of Archie was for him. He was familiar with the musical’s characters since he auditioned virtually in 2020 to be cast in a role of the Netflix movie production. Brooks himself knew he wanted the role of Archie the moment he read the film script that is based on the hilarious show and the book.

“13: The Musical” — the movie and the CenterStage’s recent theatrical production — both follow the life of 13-year-old Evan Goldman when his life is turned upside down after his parent’s divorce, and he and his mother move from New York to a small town in Indiana, or as the lyrics say, “the lamest place in the world.” He tries to fit in with the popular crowd and seek out friends to come to his bar mitzvah. Along the way, he loses and gains many friends, but in the end, he learns the value of true friendship.

The film and the theatrical versions of “13: The Musical,” have many similarities and differences. The movie released by Netflix in August of 2022, provides a family-friendly story of Evan Goldman, for those nights-in, popcorn-in-hand movie events.

Young students from Youth Performing Arts School, Ballard High School, and Southern Indiana schools all worked together to bring this musical comedy to the stage during its run from Feb.  23 through March 5. On opening night, these young actors had the audience laughing regularly at lines such as “He could also get his tongue stuck down your throat, or try to kiss you so hard, he chips one of your teeth!”

Lead actors Brooks (Archie) and Drew Ashley (Evan) both agreed that the movie does have its differences.

Drew, a YPAS freshman, played Evan Goldman, the 13-year-old adjusting to his new, friendless life in Appleton, Indiana, while trying to plan the best bar mitzvah ever. In his first lead role, and as a 14-year-old high school student, Drew closely connected with his character. He said he believes the show does a good job portraying the hardships of a similar situation he went through in middle school.

click to enlarge Photo by Robyn Kaufman. Courtesy Trager Family JCC. - Robyn Kaufman. Courtesy Trager Family JCC
Robyn Kaufman. Courtesy Trager Family JCC
Photo by Robyn Kaufman. Courtesy Trager Family JCC.

“Before the pandemic, I lost a lot of friends,” he said. “That stuck through until sixth and seventh grades, but finally going into eighth grade I regained some of those friends back in my class.”

An all-teenage cast made up the local production. On the other hand, the movie’s cast featured teenage leads and adults portraying many key roles. The CenterStage cast, going through many changes, did have some ups and downs during rehearsals leading up to their opening night.

“So my voice is changing. The show is out of my vocal range,” Drew said. “We made adjustments to the music so that I could sing and make it sound okay. It was definitely a difficult yet achievable thing.”

Other cast members struggled with a similar situation as Drew. Brooks, cast in the role of Archie: a boy who struggles with a chronic illness and has a sinister side, said the challenges he faced in the show were like those faced as an actor.

“One of the hardest things about the opening night was that I lost my voice.” Brooks said. “Also, I had to learn to use my forearm crutches, which I got a week before the show. We had been doing all of the rehearsals with me just standing there.”

Brooks even related to Archie in some ways.

“I feel like Archie is very similar to me, but also not at all,” Brooks said. “I have dealt with lots of bullying so a lot of that I feel like I could relate too.”

He didn’t relate so much to Archie where the character contributed to the show’s many ribald moments, such as when he tried to kiss Kendra without her permission. These brought very funny, yet twisted side-stories. Much of this drama relating to people and awkward crushes at this age is shown through Archie, which the movie does not show.

The CenterStage production had one other thing that many movies and other shows may not have: the friendships behind the scenes among young people in the same community.

“Being in the show at CenterStage, around lots of people my age who have similar interests as me was fun.” Brooks said. “I have always known these people, but I haven't really gotten to be friends with them.”

click to enlarge Photo by Robyn Kaufman. Courtesy Trager Family JCC. - Robyn Kaufman. Courtesy Trager Family JCC
Robyn Kaufman. Courtesy Trager Family JCC
Photo by Robyn Kaufman. Courtesy Trager Family JCC.

As a teenager working with many of his young friends, he preferred portraying a somewhat genuine story onstage.

“I would definitely say the storyline of “13” does a good job portraying the age. It is relatable, even if you do not directly relate to the characters,” he said. “I feel like most people can connect with characters who act like some people in their life.”

The story of “13” may bring out many different emotions from all versions of the story. Despite the differences between the movie and the musical, the cast had its challenges and ups and downs, each character's role was special to them.

“It was my first lead role where the story was about my character, which was really cool.” Drew said. “It's such an entertaining show, it's funny, it gives you a chance to laugh, it gives you a chance to cry. Just all of it — the whole 9 yards.”

Cheyenne Farnsley, a New Albany High School junior, participates in Features, a section of the school’s yearbook, The Vista. The section covers news-based information. Whenever she isn’t taking names or meeting deadlines, you will find her reading a book, or with her cat, Heathy. Cheyenne is planning on pursuing her passion for journalism after high school, in hopes to continue doing what she loves.

Transitions | CenterStage Adjusts to Performing in New Space under New Director with “13: The Musical,” a sendup on adolescent growing pains

By Nicolas Prince | Arts Angle Vantage Reporter

New Albany High School, Class of 2023

Staging, rehearsing, and performing a musical is a formidable task in any circumstance, let alone one in which the space you have to work with is new and brings uncertainty with its unfamiliarity.

In February, CenterStage, Kentucky’s oldest community theatre opened its production of “13” located at the Trager Family Jewish Community Center (JCC). This new facility, which opened just last year after two years of construction, boasts a fitness and aquatic center, as well as an auditorium with a stage for different groups from around the community to use.

“13: The Musical” director Erin Silliman and the cast and crew had to make plenty of adjustments while working with the new stage because the stage at the old JCC was raised much higher and could accommodate an orchestra pit. This and other factors caused a different rehearsal experience.

“We didn’t get our actual stage until probably the week before tech and so we had to work with kind of like a gymnasium floor so that was interesting,” said YPAS freshman Leilani Bracey (Lucy).

With music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown and a book by Dan Elish and Robert Horn, “13” tells the story of a big-city Jewish boy as he navigates his life — currently consumed by his parents’ divorce, his upcoming Bar Mitzvah, and the new social environment in small-town Indiana.

This show was Silliman’s mainstage directorial debut. Silliman was heavily involved in performing arts throughout high school, including choir, dance, and musical theatre, and received two degrees in music education in college. She was an elementary music teacher for eight years until she was offered her first position at CenterStage in 2018 as their educational program coordinator. Last year, she was promoted to the organization’s Arts & Ideas director and planned their season.

click to enlarge The cast of “13: The Musical” at CenterStage at the Trager Family JCC. - Photo by Robyn Kaufman. Courtesy Trager Family JCC.
Photo by Robyn Kaufman. Courtesy Trager Family JCC.
The cast of “13: The Musical” at CenterStage at the Trager Family JCC.

For the direction of “13”, she chose to work with a cast entirely under the age of 18. This was CenterStage’s first large-scale production at the new JCC, which brought many challenges, as well as opportunities, to everyone involved.

Dancing, formations, and the use of set pieces are all important elements of a musical. But it can be difficult to adapt every step and every set change onto a new stage.

“The spacing was just a little weird because we didn’t know what our set was going to look like until later in the process, so we just had to figure out what we had to do to make sure everything looked OK,” Bracey said.

Unlike the stage in the old facilities, this new stage at the JCC is raised only a few inches off the ground and includes a set of built-in stairs. Silliman said this causes the placement of the musicians to be flexible, and for “13” she had the musicians sit at the top of the stage. This enabled the actors to move and dance in the way they had previously rehearsed.

In this unfamiliar space, technical issues were another factor.

click to enlarge Photo by Robyn Kaufman. Courtesy Trager Family JCC. - Jewish Community of Louisville
Jewish Community of Louisville
Photo by Robyn Kaufman. Courtesy Trager Family JCC.

“The lighting and sound are very different from our old space. Basically, all the electric is different. So, all the electric in the old space was on dimmers, they had capabilities that we don’t have here, and here everything is LED,” Silliman said. “We also don’t have the flexibility that we used to have. So, we can’t get in there and move all the lights around.”

For this production, “13” didn’t require a particularly extravagant set, with the entire show needing only a few set pieces. That worked with the formation of the backstage. “There was a really thin backstage on one side and then the white sheet, the [cyclorama], in the back, was like a small hallway and that's how we crossed from each side,” Bracey said. “Then on the other side it was bigger. That’s where we kept the benches that we used and there was a prop table.”

However, for future shows at CenterStage, the smaller backstage space may prove to be an obstacle to overcome. This could present challenges to using many larger-scale, and often fantastical, large set pieces, props, and costumes musicals incorporate to draw the audience into the world in which the story is being told.

Some consider the smaller auditorium a positive aspect of the new space, particularly in the case of “13.”

“It feels like everyone is closer together and it feels more intimate, and I like small theaters because you can see the audience and you can like see their reactions to the show and that’s really exciting to see when you’re on stage,” Bracey said.

click to enlarge Photo by Robyn Kaufman. Courtesy Trager Family JCC. - Jewish Community of Louisville
Jewish Community of Louisville
Photo by Robyn Kaufman. Courtesy Trager Family JCC.

As for CenterStage’s future in the new space, Silliman has planned next year’s season which was just announced. Through her position, she has learned all about budgeting, resourcefulness, and how she can respect what CenterStage has established and continue its legacy.

“The aim right now is to get back on our feet,” Silliman said, considering the closures through the pandemic and the move to a new building. “My goal is to continue forward, honoring what’s happened in the past, but also not being afraid to evolve.”

Nicolas Prince. a New Albany High School senior, is a reporter for their school newspaper, The Blotter, and is heavily involved in NAHS Theatre Arts. He loves to write creatively at home, often combining his other interests such as geography and linguistics into his work. He plans on studying English and Linguistics in college and hopes to pursue a career in the field of publishing.