Puerto Rico & Cherry Hill teens collaborate on musical project
The things that teenagers obsess over could fill a feature-length musical. In any given homeroom, on any given school day, adolescents worry about their looks, upcoming exams, and how their GPA stacks up against others. They fret about fitting in, fashion, friends, frenemies and bullying—both cyber and traditional.
In other words, “Homeroom the Musical”—a production as noteworthy for its big song-and-dance numbers as its value as a springboard for inspiring candid conversations—is typical of the work of music therapist and playwright Andrea Green.
The former Cherry Hill resident, nationally acclaimed for creating musicals that bring together people from different worlds, is once again tearing down fences. This time it’s in the form of a cultural exchange between theater students from Puerto Rico and Cherry Hill that will culminate in several performances in June as well as a music video.
“It’s more than just a performance,” said Green, recently transplanted to Philadelphia. “For those who perform it and those who see it, it really speaks to their issues and helps them talk about how they feel about themselves and how to help each other.”
Green, recently the subject of an Emmy-award winning documentary about the 30th anniversary production of her musical “The Other Side of the Fence,” wrote “Homeroom” some 25 years ago. It was based on some 600 essays gathered from middle school students about their feelings and experiences and has been performed hundreds of times since then, including a run at the Walnut Street Theatre and the Ritz Theater in Westmont. Admittedly, she has not seen every production, but Green said she tries to reach out to every school group that produces her work. From initial contact with the Colegio Ponceño Musical Theater group, she had a good feeling. On a whim, she and Selma Tolins- Kaufman, her co-writer, decided to attend the performance in February. They were not disappointed.
“It was one of the top productions of ‘Homeroom’ I’ve ever seen,” she recalled. “I almost couldn’t believe I was in this tiny town in Puerto Rico seeing this amazing production.”
She was not the only one star struck. The actors, all high school students from a private Catholic girls’ school, flocked around them after the production to discuss their overwhelmingly positive experiences.
“They told me they were able to connect with kids different from themselves for the first time,” she said. “Homeroom just opened doors for them.”
Dan Gottlieb, a Cherry Hillbased psychologist and WHYY radio host, has signed on to the project. He will be working with the Cherry Hill and Puerto Rican teens to facilitate conversations based on the musical. As he sees it, the issues raised are as relevant as ever.
“Sixty percent of my work is with adults,” noted Gottlieb. “I see the scarring that’s been done by bullies. It can last a lifetime, it can change your identity and it’s very hard to undue.”
In Homeroom, he sees authentic opportunities for adolescents to explore and discuss these issues.
“The reason why this show is so valuable for kids is because it teaches them to recognize the humanity of each other: The bully, the bullied and those who bear witness,” Gottlieb added.
Homeroom the Music Project is more than just the cultural exchange and performances, Green said. Producer and Director Henry Nevison will be filming the project in association with MindTV/Independence Media. Nevison also produced the award-winning “On the Other Side of the Fence” documentary detailing the longstanding musical partnership between students with cerebral palsy and their typical peers from Germantown Friends School. The film has been aired on public TV and featured at community screenings by the Philadelphia Film Society in Philadelphia, in Rochester, New York, and as far away as Estonia.
She is hoping that the upcoming documentary could give “Homeroom” similar exposure.
“In the future, other groups that want to do this musical could look to the documentary as a role model,” she explained. “Homeroom belongs in every school.”
Tickets for the 7 p.m. June 7 production of “Homeroom the Musical” at Cherry Hill West can be purchased at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/homeroom-the-musical-tickets-25038309257. In addition, Green has set up a fundraising page to allay the costs of the project, including bringing the students from Puerto Rico. For more information, visit https://www.gofundme.com/homeroomthemusical.