Backstage: “Thirteen – The Musical!”

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(Host)  For many people, the age of thirteen can be an extraordinary time of change and growth. You’re on the cusp of adulthood, entering the world of dating, and your parents just don’t understand. 

For those who want to revisit those years, a grassroots theater company is presenting a play produced and performed by teenagers. 

VPR’s Neal Charnoff takes us "Backstage" with "Thirteen – the Musical!". 

(Charnoff) Evan Goldman is about to turn 13, and he’s got something to say about it. 

(Powell) Okay, you wanna talk about turning 13?…

(Charnoff)  Thirteen the musical finds Evan and his friends facing the turmoil of the teenage years.  Evan, who is played by Aidan Powell of Charlotte, has parents who are divorcing, he’s moved from New York City to the small town of Appleton, Indiana, and now he’s got to figure out which of his friends to invite to his bar mitvah. 

(Scene) "Who’d have guessed….end up in stitches". 

(Charnoff)  Thirteen – the Musical! had a west coast premiere in 2007, and moved to Broadway the following year. 

It’s now being performed by a group calling itself the Stage Left Theater Company, which is comprised of teenagers from the Champlain Valley area. 

The play explores common issues — dating, first love, who’s cool and who isn’t. 

In this scene, a couple of girls demand to know why their friend Brett is spending more time with a girl.

(Scene)  "Yo Brett, why weren’t you at practice today?  Coach just said, why bother practicing without Brett?  So instead we watched a movie called "God Doesn’t Want You To Touch That"….Ugggh!"

(Charnoff)   But Brett is too flustered to explain, and stumbles away.

(Scene)  Did you see that? Brett’s gone to the dark side. He’s totally tongue-whipped.  We’ve been jockblocked.  She’s a succubus.  Why is she doing this to us?  If I live to be 20, I’ll never understand women. 

(Charnoff) The Stage Left Theater Company was founded by teenagers Gianna Kiehl of Shelburne and Darcie Talbott of Charlotte. 

They were familiar with another local performance of Thirteen, and began to envision their own production. 

The show is essentially self-directed, with Talbott doing the choreography, and Kiehl becoming the de facto director. 

Gianna Kiehl, who is 13, says Thirteen The Musical is a teenage oasis in a world of musicals about adults. 

(Kiehl) "With this it’s thirteen year old kids, it’s exactly my life at this point, and I can relate to it so well, but it’s so interesting to try and act from a different point of view, of a person the same age as me."  

(Charnoff) Kiehl says the show really focuses on what most teens are thinking about….dating!

(Kiehl)  What it’s like to fall in love with someone at a young age or think you’re in love with someone or get mad at someone because they ruined your life and how important it is to be a cool kid and to be liked and appreciated. 

(Charnoff) Kiehl also believes the show is a reminder of what friendship means in the age of social media.

(Kiehl) "Like, this whole thing with Facebook, with who’s your friend, it’s not a real friend.  And there’s only a few characters who really understand what a real friend is, where you really care about the other person, where you really want what’s best for them, and it’s not just, ‘I want to get in’…"

(Scene) "That girl is bad bad news, bad news…

Of course there were many challenges for the cast, and for the young directors.

Gianna Kiehl quickly learned one of the cardinal lessons of the creative process.

(Kiehl) "One of the first ones was trying to let go of ideas that were perfect in my brain, but did not work onstage." 

(Charnoff)  Thirteen The Musical came together in the true "Let’s put on a show" spirit, with rehearsals taking place in available basements. 

Wendy Bratt of Charlotte is the unofficial "house parent". 

Bratt says that adult intervention has been minimal, mostly limited to helping secure the rights to the show, and offering up rehearsal space.

(Bratt)  "It’s so exciting. As parents we really wanted to keep their dream alive because, they still have basketball, they still have violin practice, they still have all of that, but Saturdays and Sundays they come together for several hours and work this out together."

Bratt says the play opens doors for parents to have conversations with their kids.

Gianna Kiehl thinks seeing the play is a good reminder for adults who may have forgotten what it’s really like to be 13. 

(Kiehl) "Over the years that experience is kind of muted to kind of, you laugh at yourself, ‘oh, I was so dramatic back then, my life was so terrible, quote unquote’, but when you’re in that age, it is that terrible, it is that dramatic, it is that scary." 


(Charnoff)  Thirteen – the Musical! will be performed this weekend at the Vergennes Opera House, and all proceeds from the show will benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation.   

For VPR Backstage, I’m Neal Charnoff. 


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