Sometimes art mimics life, sometimes the intersection of art and life is so real, it is difficult to see where one ceases and the other begins. The performance of Project: Shattered Silence is one of those times. Project: Shattered Silence, is an unusual and intriguing theatrical concept created and directed by Jared O’Roark. It has been in existence for four years and has gained the interest of the local Public Broadcasting affiliate, WEDU in Tampa Bay, Florida. WEDU is creating a documentary about the project. I recently spoke with Jared O’Roark, and four young performers from this year’s Project Shattered Silence, “In The Blue Hour.” I was able to ask them some questions about the project, their involvement, and what it means to them. A big than you to Jared O’Roark (director), Sofie Gillespie, Armani Irizarry, Kayley Kinports, and Hanna Pasch, for talking to The Talent Notes about this very impactful project.
TTN: Jared, could you talk a little bit about how you developed Project: Shattered Silence? Was it organic, or did you see a need for it?
JARED: Project: Shattered Silence was probably the most organic piece of theater that I have ever had the pleasure of developing. It actually just started as a way to get people together from different backgrounds and create an original piece of theater. Also, the idea was that we would then take the money raised from that piece and donate to a charity. That was it, that was the idea. Throughout the course of the year, one of the girls in the group didn’t know what story she wanted to make up to tell. She said that she wanted to do something that was a variation on her grandmother’s marriage story and travel over to America. When she told the story we were all just struck in awe. It was at that moment that I realized – wait – enough with the making up – we should do personal stories. And so the first year is actually a mixture of “fake” stories (because the fake ones were really just variations of the real ones) and real stories. And then for every year after that it was just true stories told in a theatrical way – and every year the show gets more and more daring with its honesty, but my philosophy is (as I tell parents) if they bring it up, it exists in their world.
TTN: How do you each decide what your piece will be about, what the subject matter will be?
KAYLEY: There is a survey that you are given. The survey is the most awful thing ever (laughs). It’s a really long list of questions, and you get a couple of weeks to put in really specific answers to them all. The questions are about your life, and experiences, and they are asked in a way that allows Jared to pull out what is really important to you.
HANNAH: Usually what we want to talk about from the survey he can usually pull out. It’s about a one hundred question survey. Jared came up with that.
ARMANI: I didn’t mind the survey, maybe that’s a first year thing (all laugh.) It’s not that you like it, but they are philosophical questions that ask things that keep you thinking.
TTN: What are your pieces like for this year’s project?
KAYLEY: Mine is kind of a mother daughter piece this year. Jared had the idea to include parents in the project. My mom is played by my actual mom. I sat down with him the first meeting, without her, and we talked and read through my survey together, and he said, “Your mom is like a constant. She has been by you the whole time.” The other thing that came up was my friend Carly, who passed away before eighth grade. Throughout the process of grieving I pushed away a lot of people, but my mom was always there. So essentially my piece tells the story of when I first found out that she had a tonsillectomy. It starts when her sister told me that there were complications to the surgery, and goes to the point where my mom told me she had passed away. It tells my side of the story and it tells my mom’s side of the story.
SOFIE: Mine is more like a fun piece about women empowerment. I went through a period where I had really low self-esteem, and I allowed the things people said to get to me. So I started prioritizing things and I started removing people from the life I was creating. I also got into burlesque dancing and it is expressive but you build confidence. There is more confidence involved than in other types of dance. In some dance you can fake it, but you can’t in burlesque, so my piece has burlesque dance in it.
HANNAH: In my piece I am with three other girls and we have all lost someone. A little less than a year ago I lost my sister. She was born with an illness, Vacterl syndrome. It’s about how she never let it keep her back from doing anything, so it’s kind of her story.
ARMANI: Mine is a more fun upbeat piece. It’s about me, as a guy who likes fashion, and it includes a girl that’s on the football team. Even though society tells you that some things are for girls and some things are for guys, don’t let society tell you that. Things are right to do if you feel that they are right to do. There’s a fashion runway at the end of my piece.
TTN: What exactly does Project: Shattered Silence mean to you?
ARMANI: To me it means, just coming together with fellow kids around the area, and expressing yourself in a different type of way. Also, reaching out to the community in a unique, more artistic way. You are sharing your own stories and in a way in the end it is like indirectly saying “I have been through what you have been through and..it does get better.”
TTN: Do you all perform your own stories or do you perform the stories from other people?
KAYLEY: The very first year of the project, they were about fifty percent made up and the rest were based on real stories, etc. Jared realized the most powerful stories were the ones that were personal.
SOFIE: It’s different because you are having to expose yourself. This year my piece is less personal than the one I did last year. It’s like strange feeling but good because you are revealing so much of yourself to others. You want people to know that they aren’t alone. Last year people said they felt more comfortable knowing that they weren’t the only ones going through it. You can make someone feel a little bit better.
TTN: Would you say the performance is cathartic for you?
HANNAH: It’s sort of a double-sided thing. It brings up stuff you might not realize, so it brings up pain, but it also helps you in the process.
KAYLEY: One of the things that makes this good is that it’s not just about “here’s what I’m going through and maybe you are going through the same thing.” Everyone’s story is different, and the important part is the emotions you feel when you are going through it are exactly the same as what others feel when they go through it.
SOFIE: The circumstances may be different but you are bonded on the same level of grief or fear, things like that.
KAYLEY: By us being put on stage, it tells everyone that it is okay that you are feeling this, it’s okay to be feeling this way.
SOFIE: A lot of stigma is attached to a lot of things. Having people openly talk about things removes the stigma from things, and lets people feel less ashamed of their feelings and more comfortable addressing them.
TTN: Do you feel that your performance is more for yourself or for others?
ARMANI: It is for yourself, but Jared reminds us that it’s not just our story, it’s that we relate it for someone else to connect. There might be someone going through it at that moment, or in the future, headed through that very same type of event.
TTN: What is going on with WEDU and their interest in the project?
KAYLEY: We are in the process of filming a documentary with them, and throughout the year we have been raising the money to do that. Jared was approached by someone at PBS, and they thought what we were doing was really awesome, and they wanted to see how many people would react to that. One of the messages is that all these things are universal.
ARMANI: Also, it’s hard to describe what Project: Shattered Silence is. You have to show people, and then they will get it.
TTN: How did you find out about the project?
ARMANI: People in the drama department are involved and I had seen it two years before so I signed up.
SOFIE: The very first show had a sign up sheet outside the door. There were about thirty people or so because the year before had been ten people but he (Jared) allowed all of us. Then the next year it grew by twice the amount. He’s really big on not turning anyone away.
TTN: How many rehearsals have you had to put this together?
ARMANI: Probably 20-25 throughout the school year.
KAYLEY: We have rehearsed the whole school year. We are very sporadic in the beginning of the year, then we start meeting more often.
TTN: Your parents are all supportive of your involvement with Project: Shattered Silence?
KAYLEY: Jared always makes sure that if there’s anything unusual we get parental consent. But, obviously my mom is on board with my piece–she is in it!
Interested? For tickets see http://www.projectshatteredsilence.com
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