Brunswick Junior High School musical hits close to home

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BRUNSWICK — The junior high school musical “Homeroom” has a less familiar title than musicals staged in years past.

But the plot, which examines the daily trials and triumphs of middle school life, has never been more familiar, according to the cast.

Director Shari Tarleton, who also teaches chorus, said she picked the work – which boasts a cast and crew of more than 50 students – because it challenges students to confront issues that affect them on and off the stage.

Performances are 7 p.m. Nov. 3 and Nov. 4 in the school gym. Tickets are $8 at the door.

“How do I look? How do people perceive me?” Tarleton asked rhetorically at a Monday-afternoon rehearsal; she said these are the questions that underpin the musical’s big song-and-dance numbers.

The musical, by Andrea Green and Selma Tolins-Kaufman, juggles multiple story lines through the prism of a fictional homeroom class: students forced to work together through the arbitrary fact that their last names all begin with the letter V.

When real connections develop, the characters learn meaningful lessons about empathy and respect – a fictional outcome that Tarleton hopes her cast and audience will draw on in their actual lives.

That may be true of all theater, she acknowledged, but with this musical, the lines between imagination and reality are even narrower.

Few in the cast might understand that as well as eighth-graders Nolan Marblestone and Rebecca Nova-Tingst.

They play Andy and Amy, star-crossed crushes who learn how to navigate their burgeoning feelings for one another.

Unbeknownst to Tarleton when she cast the show, Nova-Tingst and Marbleston are real-life boyfriend and girlfriend.

“(Nolan) didn’t tell you that?” Nova-Tingst asked, as Nolan walked back toward the rehearsal stage Monday after reflecting on his role.

“That’s what makes it super hard,” she added. “Because he has to love another girl (on Saturday).”

Nova-Tingst will only play Amy at the Friday performance. As a Seventh-Day Adventist, she said, her religion prevents her from participating in Saturday activities, including the school play.

Friends who do not share her religion don’t understand what that feels like, she said.

“Sometimes you feel alone,” she added.

Feeling isolated, making difficult choices, her boyfriend having to pretend to love another girl on stage – these behind-the-scenes dynamics are the very things that are dramatized in “Homeroom.”

“When I read the cast list and saw there was a tomboy, I said I really wanted to play that character,” Blake Austin said Monday.

Austin, who identifies as a tomboy herself, plays the part of Vinny, a character who often feels misunderstood by her classmates and her parents because of her appearance.

Vinny eventually stands up for herself, Austin said, spreading a message to her classmates to be less judgmental.

While Austin isn’t bullied, she said she knows what it’s like to feel misunderstood.

“Little kids come up to me and ask, ‘Are you a girl or a boy?'” she said.

But unlike Vinny, “One thing in my life I’m bad at is standing up for myself,” she said.

Vinny isn’t, and the character has given Austin a voice for a message that is less easy for her to find on her own.

That said, not every theme is familiar to every cast member.

Marbleston said his favorite story line is Yanni’s, a Muslim American student who feels racially profiled by her classmates in the wake of 9/11.

“That might happen in bigger schools, but that’s unfamiliar to me (in Brunswick),” Marblestone said.

“It shows what … homeroom is,” Marblestone said. “We are people (with differences) who respect each other.”

Callie Ferguson can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 100, or Follow Callie on Twitter: @calliecferguson.

Eighth-graders Nolan Marblestone and Rebecca Nova-Yingst and other cast members rehearse the Brunswick Junior High School musical “Homeroom,” which explores the trials and triumphs of middle school life.