The musical "Pied Piper", presented by Playing for Others at Actor's Theatre of Charlotte, recounts the story of a small town taken over by rats and the antics that ensue when the town's mayor hires a pied piper to lead the rats away.
In some ways, the musical is analogous to what Jen Band, 31, the founder and executive producer of Playing for Others, has done for the teens who are participating in the production and in the leadership-training program she initiated five years ago.
"My goal is to teach teens to take what they're passionate about and use it to benefit the greater good," said Band.
Band serves as their pied piper, taking a group of 65 teens from across the city and tapping into their passion for the arts as a way to teach them leadership skills, civic duty and activism. She then leads them through experiences that build on what she calls the "four A pillars: attitude, acceptance, accountability and action."
Each year, Playing for Others partners with another organization in Charlotte that offers services to children with disabilities.
Teens are paired and then assigned a buddy, a child with disabilities from the Metro School, a CMS school that serves children with cognitive disabilities. Together they participate in monthly events themed in the arts: music, visual arts, puppetry, photography and cooking.
"The buddy program allows the teens to learn about acceptance and inclusion," said Band.
In addition to the buddy events, the teens also make a donation to their partner organization. This year they hope to donate a virtual music program so that every child, regardless of ability, can feel and experience the power of music.
Another component of the Playing for Others program is leadership.
All 60 participating teens are divided into six committees, each guided by an adult adviser but led by two teen co-chairs.
"Ninety percent of the PFO program is teen-led, so that they are empowered to teach each other," said Band.
The teens also select one of three art experiences for the year: theater, music or visual arts.
The theater team works together on the production of a musical (this year's "Pied Piper" performance). The music team writes a lyrical and rhythm piece and performs it as part of a public concert.
And the visual arts team works together on a collaborative arts sculpture. This year's visual arts group built a sound garden that will be installed at the Metro School. All three programs culminate in the annual Arts Festival, with the "Pied Piper" musical serving as the kickoff on April 29.
Jamie Marsicano, co-president of Playing for Other's Teen Executive Committee and a senior at Myers Park High School, plays the Mayor of Hamelin Town.
"Playing for Others has been so much more for me than the average extracurricular," said Marsicano, a charter member of the group. "I have been able to form such a family with the other teens involved, the buddies that teach us so much and the adult advisers that guide us along the way."