Pierson Students Stage Their Own Rendition of ‘13’

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From left, Yanni Bitis, Reilly Rose Schombs, Graham DiLorenzo, Thomas Lawton, Anna Francesca Schiavoni, Eva Doyle and Ella Knibb have teamed up to produce an entire musical at Pierson. Christine Sampson photo

It’s going by a few different names: Pierson Middle-High School’s first revival; a giant community, action and service project for the International Baccalaureate program; and also by its real name, “13 the Musical.”

Its cast is a little more grown up now from the first time the show was produced in Pierson in 2014. Its producer, director, choreographer, and other leaders are none other than the International Baccalaureate (IB) students who appeared in the show the first time around, who recall the experience so fondly they wanted to bring it back. Senior Anna Francesca Schiavoni had the idea to gather a bunch of IB students searching for a community, action and service (CAS) project, who also happened to be among Pierson’s finest thespians, to stage “13.”

“We did this back in seventh grade, and we all loved it so much,” Anna said. “I love the show, the music, the story line. In middle and elementary school, I was kind of by myself. I didn’t have a lot of friends. In ’13,’ it was the first time I was around people that I liked and who liked the same things I did. I wouldn’t have such great friends in the theater department if I didn’t do ’13.’

“Back in December, I was thinking about doing this by myself,” Anna said. “But I realized I couldn’t, so I asked the others to do it, too.”

Anna is the musical director and production manager, while fellow senior Reilly Rose Schombs is the director. Senior Thomas Lawton is in charge of fundraising and sponsorships, while junior Eva Doyle — whose IB project isn’t even due until her senior year — is the choreographer. As producer, senior Graham DiLorenzo is managing the students’ finances, and senior Ella Knibb is handling the set, costumes and props. Yanni Bitis, a junior, is the marketing manager.

The five seniors are among 30 IB diploma candidates this year, the two juniors are among 21 in their class. Together, the seven production leaders are managing a cast of 16.

“I think it’s great,” said Michael Guinan, the Pierson High School assistant principal and the coordinator of the IB program. “The students are learning great lessons: how to collaborate well, how to divvy up the roles, how to deal with all aspects of the performance. It’s a great contribution to the school community. I hope it becomes a model. The IB students have a lot of work to do, even over the summer, so for them to take on such a big project is impressive and laudable”

The show “13 the Musical,” notable for its status as the first Broadway musical with a cast and band consisting entirely of teenagers, follows the story of Evan Goldman, who moves from New York City to small-town Indiana just before he’s to have his Bar Mitzvah. He navigates a new school, friends, crushes and general teenage chaos. Thomas reprises his role as Evan after playing the character in the 2013 production.

“This show is very special to us. I would have done it again in a heartbeat, but the fact that Anna gave us this opportunity to use something we are so passionate about for our CAS project,” Thomas said. “It’s about coming of age and transforming into a bigger part of your life. I’d been doing sports and sports and sports, but it blew me away when I got to do the lead in the show. The show itself is just phenomenal and the story is really sweet.”

Eva, who has been recognized by the Teeny Awards for dances she has created for past Pierson shows, said having the chance to choreograph a full show has helped her realize it’s a potential career path for her.

“I’ve never really had the chance to make a show that was all my idea dance-wise,” she said. “It’s a really exciting chance for me. It’s creative, it’s fun.”

Reilly Rose expressed a similar sentiment, saying it’s “the first time I’ve gotten to have this creative authority.”

“It’s so much fun,” she said. “Really, truly, I’m excited to come to rehearsal every day. It’s so much better than sitting at home and doing my summer homework.”

Ella said doing theater for the CAS project — which doesn’t have to be finished until midway through the senior year — is particularly significant. The proceeds from attendees’ donations will benefit Bay Street Theater’s Literature Live! program, which will bring “The Great Gatsby” to life this year.

“We all do a lot of extra-curriculars and stuff, so to actually complete the CAS project can be a little bit stressful,” Ella said. “For us to kind of start the planning stages so early and actually do something so meaningful, it is something that embodies what CAS is supposed to be. We get to do something we are already passionate about, and work it into what’s expected of us in the IB diploma.”

The students have also hired a longtime fixture in the Pierson theater community, Paula Brannon, to return as a guest coach to help them through a week of technical fine-tuning. Ms. Brannon directed the original production of “13” at Pierson. She arrived Monday, staying with Anna’s family, and said “I don’t know that there’s a measurement of the pride” she has in the work her former students are doing.

“It brought tears to my eyes when Anna first asked me to come back and help. I know that was a pivotal play for them,” said Ms. Brannon, who now lives in California. “They’ve all progressed so much since this time, but it was a beginning for them, the catalyst that caught a lot of them in that theater web. There was just something about this play and they all just clicked into it immediately. It resonated. I think it was the material, but I think it was also the way they worked together.”

Melissa Luppi, who produces Pierson’s staff-run musicals, has been mentoring Graham through the production process. “You don’t really think about what people do behind the scenes,” he said. “It’s really interesting, actually. I’ve been enjoying it.”

Graham will play the role of Brett, a jock-type bully, in “13.” “Everyone’s so positive. It’s so much fun to see everyone take up their old parts again,” he said. “I really don’t ever play the villain anymore.”

The show has been deemed eligible for adjudication by the Teeny Awards, so the students will essentially be competing with themselves later in the school year.

“We’re working so hard and it’s going to be amazing,” Yanni said, “especially for people who saw it the first time and remember it.”

Pierson’s student-run production of “13 the Musical” will run Friday, September 14, and Saturday, September 15, at 7:30 p.m. Admission is free but reservations must be made in advance by visiting 13themusicalatpierson.eventbrite.com. A very limited number of seats will be available at the door. Donations benefiting the Literature Live! program at Bay Street Theater will be accepted.

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