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"You can actually tell when the audience starts to realize these are true stories," explained Project: Shattered Silence artistic director and founder Jared O'Roark a month before opening night of the project's latest theatrical outing, Compositions. "You can actually tell because the tears the kids are shedding are no longer fake tears that you see on the stage sometimes. They're really shedding truth."
Unlike youth theatre groups that stray from risqué and raw material — such as homosexuality, religion, depression and rebellion — O'Roark encourages conversation and tells the teens to take pride in their stories. Discussion leads to acceptance and artistry, and — over the course of a school year — a theatrical work is put together, based entirely on truth.
When the project began in 2009, "They were making up stories. We just thought, 'Okay. We'll just do made-up stories' [until] I started talking to this Hispanic girl…and she started crying," said O'Roark. "She literally just started crying in front of me, and I [asked], 'What is going on?' She [said], 'I don't have anything. I cannot think of anything.' … I started talking to her, and she started telling the story of how her grandmother married her grandfather, so he can have citizenship, and then they fell in love — deeply in love… Throughout the whole story, I was sitting there just going, 'Oh my God, let's just do that. Let's put that on stage. That's awesome!'"
One true story led to another. "When we put the script together, I shared it with the other group, and then all of a sudden this girl Madison, a larger girl, wanted to [talk] about what it's like to be bigger in society, so I [thought], 'Okay,' and then these other two kids, who are very openly gay, wanted to talk about that, and I was like, 'Okay.' The end of the first year ended up being half true stories and half fake stories. We noticed that the audience really latched onto the true stories, and ever since then, it's only been about true stories."
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