Andrew Henriques, 15, a sophomore at Mallard Creek High School, says he likes school, has a great family and enjoys performing in local theater.
Life is good. But sometimes even he feels severe stress when, after long nights rehearsing, homework still awaits.
Henriques portrays Mason, an overachieving teen who has survived a suicide attempt, in the musical “Breaking the Moon,” which opens March 11 at Upstage NoDa.
“I don’t get depressed,” he said. “I’ve grown up amazingly and I haven’t had to deal with this (suicide). But I can relate to my character. The kids who try to kill themselves aren’t always the ones you expect.”
“Breaking the Moon” is the first musical that local singer/songwriter Amy Steinberg has written. It explores self-destructive behaviors, teen suicide and the struggles facing seven teens in a treatment facility.
Steinberg went into treatment at 17 for drugs and alcohol, she said, and has worked with teens at youth camps. “I’ve seen the issues up close.” She believes these issues weren’t as open or exposed when she was growing up, she said, and that today’s teens are dealing with very different pressures.
The actors range in age from 13 to 16, and their characters have difficult back stories – from Allison, a cheerleader with disturbing secrets, to Tony, who becomes pregnant after being raped at a party.
“The story is not fluffy,” Steinberg said. “This is real stuff – the things kids don’t talk about with their parents.”
Language is strong throughout the musical and the storylines are adult. Children under 12 are prohibited from attending the performance.
As she began researching, Steinberg learned more about teens attempting suicide each year. Suicide was the second leading cause of death for youths age 15-34, and the third leading for youths 10-14, according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data (the most recent data comes from 2013).
“I want people to be affected,” Steinberg said. “The theme that runs through the show is numbness. I want it to be a wake-up moment (for parents) to say, ‘I want to be a part of my kids’ lives.’”
Ailey Finn, 13, of Waxhaw, has performed in a lot of musical theater, but counts most of what she’s done before as “kind of cheesy,” she said. “Breaking the Moon” is different, she said. “This is serious.”
A student at Central Academy of Technology and Arts, Finn plays the part of Frannie, a young girl who attempts to use a gun to kill herself after her parents divorce.
Watching classmates struggle with drugs and self-destructive behaviors made the musical relevant for Finn, and she’s dealt with her own parents’ divorce, she said.
Parent Mary-Margaret Kantor said she and her husband allowed daughter Julianna Kantor, 14 and a student at East Mecklenburg High, to be part of the production because the teens were also involved in the writing and decision-making process for the musical.
“We’ve talked about sex and drugs,” she said. “This took it a step farther into mental health.”
Thinking back to her own high school years, Kantor said she knew students who were struggling with drugs, teen pregnancies or suicide, but it wasn’t discussed.
“We don’t talk about mental health issues enough. We hush it up around teens,” she said. “I believe in the power of the piece, the message of the piece.”
The teens are all very talented, Kantor said, but this performance is less about how good they are as singers and performers. “They are using the talent they have to send a really important message and send you out with a call to action,” she said.
Steinberg chose the musical’s title after looking up the definition for the word galaxy: bodies of light (stars) held together by gravitational pull.
“We are all pulling at each other, breaking us apart to grow,” she said. “We are breaking open to heal.”
‘Breaking the Moon’
What: POP Theatre (Performance on Purpose) musical written, directed and choreographed by Amy Steinberg.
When: Opening night March 11 is sold out; other performances are 2 p.m. (doors open at 1:30) March 12 (almost sold out at press time) and March 13, and 7:30 p.m. (doors open at 7) March 13.
Where: NOTE: Venue has been changed and is now Studio 1212, at 1212 E. 10th St.