Last week, I flew to Kansas to attend...
Pittsburg High School (home of the Purple Dragons!) became the second U.S. school to put on a staged production of Thirteen Reasons Why. There have been a couple European shows, but I haven't been able to fly across the Atlantic for those.
Before I pulled into town, the students had their debut performance for the entire freshman and sophomore classes. That evening, before their first public performance, I surprised the cast backstage. I told them not too get too nervous because I wouldn't be in the audience until the following day.
Before the seats began filling up that night, I took a tour of the stage. I love the minimalist design for this show, where most of the actors stay on stage the entire time. The character of Hannah speaks to the audience as she makes her recordings. We hear Clay's thoughts as he listens. And throughout, as they move into scenes, other characters unfreeze, and we watch what happens. Other than Hannah, all of the characters wore or carried something symbolically red.
Below, you can see different levels of the set: a bed, a swing, the rocketslide, and three projection screens displaying the title. The locations may change by simply flipping the blanket over or adding a bookrack or two front car seats. The screens displayed different still images, creating backdrops for certain scenes.
The next morning, I attended the performance for juniors and seniors. I sat in the front row, possibly more nervous than the actors. This was my book! My story! And while I had faith that they'd do it justice...well...what if they didn't???
Because of their acting choices, I could let go of the fact that I was watching something I created. It was now theirs. And they were brilliant. They were the characters. By the time we reached the final few scenes, I will admit to a few tears wanting to fall. (But then I thought, "I wrote this! I can't cry over something I wrote. People will think I'm conceited!")
That cast broke my heart with their performance, and I was honored to have it broken.
After the show, I spoke to two different groups of students at the school, and then at the public library in the evening. Then I went back to the school to watch the public stream in for that night's show.
I sat in front again, hiding my camera down low, but I just had to snap a few shots!
Here are Hannah (Bailey Bennett) and Justin (Jack Patterson) as she walks by him at the second party.
Here is Clay (Jack Warring) speaking with Tony (Mark Weaver), discussing how Hannah recorded the tapes.
And here is Clay remembering the final words Hannah said to him after they bumped into each other in the hallway. (This is where the tears began.)
Here's Clay sitting in the rocketslide, listening to Hannah's final recording.
And here was our final image of Hannah before the stage went black.
I was in awe of these students.
They called me onto the stage and presented me with a large Thank You card, which everyone wrote notes in. Yes, I choked up a little on stage.
Greg Shaw directed this show, and it was a blessing to meet this guy. Everywhere I went in Pittsburg, people told me how much Mr. Shaw meant to their community.
Here I am with Bailey ("Hannah") and Jack ("Clay"). It was an honor to meet their parents that evening and see the well-deserved pride they had in the two of them.
Bailey even quit her afterschool job to dedicate herself to pulling off that amazing performance. If you've read the book, you have some idea of all the lines she had to memorize!
To read a local news article about the show, check this out.
And to the cast and crew at Pittsburg High School...