Last night I saw Shout It Out, billed as "the real high school musical." It's a major motion picture made in Vermont by a Vermont company, Kingdom County Productions, and based on lives of real teens in Vermont who participated in the original Voices Project, a theatre production that toured here and was supported by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont. The actors are teens from Vermont and the music was composed by teens too. The aim was to create a production that reflected the real lives and problems of teens.
What I found very moving and utterly charming about this piece was the experience of watching real teens, with all their fleshiness, pimples, old clothes, bad teeth, and other imperfections, tell a story. And they looked so real and beautiful. Also, remember that the Disney High School Musical is a narrative based on what adults think high school is about. It is meant to make pop stars of its stars. And it's of course cleaned up for Disney. This production has many characters coping with all sorts of very typical problems of Vermont high school students, cutting, pregnancy, bullying, pushy parents, absent parents, being Black in a mostly white state, parents with addictions, needing to help out on the farm as small farms go under. Yet the movie isn't about the problems of teens. Filmed in two actual high schools, the scenes in cafeterias and hallways give the viewer a sense of the intimidation or comfort of each kid.
And as a parent watching I felt different than I do watching other teen movies. Sure, if the music is right and the acting well done, I can be made to shed a few tears in any slick film. But in this one, the anxiousness that pervaded truly came from the authenticity of the stories and acting, even when the production was more transparent than in a slick Hollywood film.
I write about this because I think it's so important that we show our teens alternatives to Disney, Hollywood, whatever is slick and over-produced, so that they can see themselves reflected on the big screens and little screens and be a part of the production of such.
You can buy the film at www.kingdomcounty.org for $25 and I hear that they are creating a curriculum to go with it. Warning: there is product placement in the film, as thanks, I believe, to the underwriters...but that product placement is not for Doritos or Coke, but for things like VSAC (a place where teens can go to get financial help to go to college, and Brattleboro Retreat, a mental health and drug rehab facility). Maybe there's a Ben & Jerry's ice cream cone somewhere. That kind of product placement I can tolerate! Sharon