Now in its fifth year, Project: Shattered Silence presents Compositions, which runs through June 15 at Ruth Eckerd Hall, where O'Roark has worked for years and now is the creative director of the Project. The cast of 34, ranging from 15-21 years in age, tell stories of diversity, individuality and sexuality and even find some of their parents on stage alongside them.
"We added parents last year, and it's insane." This year, O'Roark explained, "we have Armani Irizarry, who is very openly gay, and his mother who is trying to come to terms with that and [thinking], 'How do I deal with it?' I'm very proud of that piece because we actually go back into her history and how she was fighting for equality for Hispanics and blacks in New Jersey in the '60s and '70s. What we did is we put these stories side by side… It was so funny to watch her because you actually see her go, 'Holy crap! He's going through the exact same identity stuff that I went through — it's not what I went through, but it is what I went through at the same time.' She actually said — and I put it in the script — 'I never thought of this before, but Armani's got a community that is fighting suicide at some points, so it's almost like his struggle is harder because they're fighting for survival.' We don't try to put down anyone's point of view. We want to make sure it's all heard."
O'Roark — who began Shattered Silence as a passion project — always ensures everyone is heard. In fact, that is how he puts together the annual Shattered Silence production. After signups — which have increased yearly — he warms up the students with board games, assesses their personalities with a survey and sits them down to simply "talk."
"They talk, I type," he explained. "It's very similar to how A Chorus Line was done, only there is no [overall] story to follow, other than [within] the pieces."
Through the process, he notices similarities in stories to create a linear model, molds language into monologues and gets each and every "voice" on its feet. In the show, the cast remains on stage through its entirety — as both a support system and functioning as other characters in the individual stories.
"It is Clear Water, FL, for crying out loud. It's still not the most open area in the world," he said, "so what happens is they remain on stage at all times. I have kids who don't believe in gay marriage in the room, and they're okay to think that, but what's funny is that they have actually stood up for those kids before. Gabrielle sticks out in my mind because she didn't believe in gay marriage, but someone was really putting down a dear friend of hers, who is gay, and she stood up for him. The whole show is trying to show that just because someone is gay doesn't mean that they are gay and that's all they have. Just because someone is a cutter doesn't mean they are a cutter and that's all it is. We're trying to show that every single human being on the planet is multifaceted… There's a lot of things about me that make me me."
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