Mount Union student’s play ‘Beau’ tackles mental health and identity

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ALLIANCE — Professor Kevin Kern recalls the first time Mount Union University student Siv Street read dialogue from a screenplay the student had written.

Street later asked him if the play could be the basis for their senior culminating experience project. Kern adamantly agreed, thinking the dialogue was so impressive that he urged Street to submit the work known as “Beau”.

“I really, really liked the scene, and I thought it had all the things needed to make a good play…and I saw the script, and I said, ‘This has legs,'” Kern said of Street’s initial pitch.

The main character of “Beau” is a 17-year-old boy who recently stopped speaking after his parents divorced. After being admitted to a group home for teenagers, Beau meets other characters who help him explore recovery while learning to express himself.

Topics include mental health, suicide, sexuality, and being transgender.

Kern first reviewed the script last year. Since then, Street has worked hard to complete and refine the musical while turning it into a stage production that will premiere at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday on the Gallaher Black Box Theater campus at Giese Center. for the Performing Arts, 62 W. Simpson St.

Free tickets are available at www.mountunion.edu/box-office or by calling 330-821-2565.

The university said in its press release that individuals may find certain content in “Beau” difficult to hear, including suicide, abuse and mental health.

"Handsome," a musical written by students at Mount Union University, will be performed Thursday through Sunday at the Gallaher Black Box Theater at the Giese Performing Center for the Arts on campus.  Free tickets are available online and by phone through the college.

“We’re asking the audience to take a risk,” Kern said of the theatrical production. “You’re risking a bit of your time…but your risk is worth it if you consider that you’re going to see something brand new, something people haven’t seen before, and it’s a remarkable opportunity for Stark. County.”

This is the first time a full production written by students has been performed on stage at Mount Union.

Kern, an associate professor of drama, said “Beau” is so good the department thinks it has the potential to be professionally staged.

“We’ve never done this before in the 10 years I’ve been here,” Kern said. “There has never been a paper written by a student that has been so important. Although it was unusual for us to do so, it made perfect sense in this case – there are issues we want to talk about there are these issues that are relevant.”

Kern noted that one of the characters is transgender, an example of the universal theme of identity.

“The play is about … finding who you are,” he said, noting that students and those off-campus can relate to the theme.

“As a university, we want to tell stories that will get people talking,” Kern said. “And we want to tell stories about gender identity, because we have to talk about it.”

Street said “each (of the characters) is on a journey of self-discovery and what it means to them – and I’d like to think there’s a story for everyone.”

Highlighting diversity is important, Street said, noting that “Beau” also features a gay couple.

“There’s a minor romance between Beau and the boy, Peter, and…as an LGBT and non-binary person, one of the (problems) I have with theater is that I never see my story of love…so it was really important to have those characters in the story, because those stories are important.”

Student playwright Siv Street directs a rehearsal of "Handsome," a musical at Mount Union University at Alliance.  This is the first time the university has staged a production written entirely by students. "handsome" will be presented from Thursday to Sunday.  Free tickets can be reserved online or by phone with the college.

The story began in high school

Street, 22, recalled the first lines of reading to Kern in the leadership class.

“He said, ‘Siv, where was that all this time? He said, ‘I know you wrote, but I didn’t realize it was like that.'”

Kern said he was struck by the quality of Street’s dialogue, an area that new playwrights often struggle with.

Street’s screenplay is from high school, including a score. Since then, it has developed more fully. Street’s best friend in high school, D. Nite, of Streetsboro, is the co-author of the project.

Together, the duo writes as JD Nite, explained Street, a theatrical writing and performance specialist. “

“I think I’ve probably gone through four or five drafts over the last year, fixing it and focusing on the themes and making sure the message is there,” the Streetsboro native said. “And it’s really come this far.”

The students are shown rehearsing the musical, "handsome" at Mount Union University at Alliance.  The production tells the story of a 17-year-old boy who faces mental health issues.  Other topics in the play include being transgender, suicide, and mental health.

Shaping the plot

The plot was originally a divergence from Peter Pan, the middle school senior explained.

When that storyline didn’t take shape, co-writer D. Nite suggested using a lost boy’s perspective. Then it evolved into the boy ceasing all verbal communication.

Sanity remained in the script. However, it also includes the idea of ​​”radical acceptance,” said Street, who has studied the subject of the non-verbal, especially those who are selectively mute due to trauma.

“Someone speaks or not doesn’t mean they don’t have a voice,” Street said. “Beau still has a voice, an opinion and things to say, even if he doesn’t verbalize it like his peers. It’s about who and how people listen.”

Other young characters face their own struggles, including internal and external expectations, taking medication, and other challenges.

A theme emerges: “These kids don’t need to be ‘fixed,'” Street said. “They need to be heard and helped on their own terms.”

Supporting Cast

Other Mount Union students are helping with the production, including director Abigail Collinsworth, a Westerville senior.

Street thanked them and praised them for bringing the script to life.

The cast and crew of “Beau” includes Julia Bricker of Salem; Clorise Busch of Jefferson; Hinckley’s Hailey Csizmadia; Astro Dean of Beloit; East Liverpool’s Izzy Hoyt; Drew Kolek of Freeport, Pennsylvania; Emily Maroni of Youngstown; Robert Rush of Cuyahoga Falls; Serena Sanzo of Painesville; Addie Wisniewski of Medina; and Olivia Wolfram of Cuyahoga Falls.

The students rehearse the musical, "handsome" at Mount Union University at Alliance.  Left to right, Julia Bricker, Olivia Wolfram, Addie Wisniewski, Drew Kolek and Clorise Busch.  The musical is from Thursday to Sunday.  Free tickets are available online or by phone through the college.

A script with songs

The music is integral to the narrative, said Street, who composed songs in high school without formal training or the ability to read sheet music.

“Basically I work on the chord progression and then the melody,” Street said. “I hear it in my head, then I sing it, and that’s how it goes.”

Without music, the main plot points would be lost, the playwright said.

“The music is not your traditional musical theater style,” the playwright said. “But musical theater is moving away from that these days, anyway.”

Kern, meanwhile, is excited about the room’s potential.

“I think it’s a chance to see an engaging play in its debut,” he said. “We’re going to be talking about this play in five years, in 10 years. That’s how confident we are about it, and while it’s great to hear about the old stories, the stories we know…it’s really nice to have a new story.”

Students rehearse the theatrical production of "handsome" recently at Mount Union University at Alliance.  Left to right, Julia Bricker, Drew Kolek and Clorise Busch.  This is the first time the university has staged a production written entirely by students.

Contact Ed at 330-580-8315 and ebalint@gannett.com

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