BELFAST, Maine — It’s a not-uncommon middle school scenario — a love triangle composed of a new girl, a popular girl and the cute boy they both like.
But throw in some singing and a big twist, and the result can only be the musical “Girl Power,” which will make its debut tonight at the Troy Howard Middle School.
“It’s typical middle school stuff, but they’ll fight using their super powers,” said Jason Bannister, an English teacher at the middle school and the director of the drama club. “Giving the kids a chance to perform a musical about characters with super powers is a great way to expose children to the power and excitement of theater.”
Bannister and music teacher Justin Bari wrote the musical over the last year, after deciding to mix it up from the drama club’s usual Broadway fare. They’ve been very pleased with the reaction of their target audience of middle school students, who also have helped to fix the dialogue to make it better reflect their reality.
“They changed quite a few things, which has been fun,” Bannister said.
So many kids auditioned that “Girl Power” has been double cast and features 36 actors and a dozen crew members who help build the sets, control the lights and do all the other work of a theatrical performance. No one was turned away, Bannister said.
“I just don’t think it’s my place to limit anyone at this age,” he said.
Watching leading ladies Sarah Berry and Autumn Stupca, both 13, it’s clear that instead of limitations, some students just need a chance to soar. The two were painting sets over school vacation and when it was time to practice a duet, they scampered away to change from paint-splattered jeans to their costumes.
Autumn of Searsmont plays the heroine Aspasia, who recently moved to town. Experimental fertility drugs her mother took when she was pregnant with Aspasia cause her to stand out from any crowd with her ability to control energy.
“It’s really fun, doing an original play,” Autumn said. “At the same time, it’s nerve wracking, because you don’t have any background for it.”
That’s not entirely true, because Autumn grew up in a U.S. Coast Guard family that moved a lot, landing in Searsmont three years ago. She understands a lot about how difficult it is to be the new girl.
“People can judge you without getting to know you,” she said.
Villain Patience is played by Sarah of Belfast who said she had to work at her character.
“Being kind of mean isn’t something I’m used to,” she said at rehearsal.
Over the course of the musical, Patience decides to take some of the experimental drug, which a chemistry teacher had in the classroom. She develops telekinesis, or the ability to move objects with her mind.
The two girls stood next to each other on the stage in the school cafetorium as the lights went down and the music came up. The girls’ silvery voices arced over the taped recording and they breathlessly tried to squeeze in the rapid-fire lyrics while remembering the choreography.
“My guy, my beau, my way, my foe,” they sing in harmony.
The girls start by grabbing hair, then use their super powers to kick the fight up a notch or two.
After the song is done, Bannister explained that he was watching a lot of the television show “Heroes” when he wrote “Girl Power.” He also was inspired by the fact that far more girls than boys participate in middle school drama club, even though he knows that all kids would equally benefit from the performing arts.
“I see some of these kids in the classroom. They’re kind of shut in on themselves,” he said. “Here, they’re just very comfortable with each other.”
Bannister said that he would like to see drama become a class at the middle school, not just a club.
“There’s so much documentation of the benefits of arts education,” he said.
Autumn and Sarah enthusiastically agreed that drama club is the best part of school
“You have to have guts to go up there and be something you’re not,” Autumn said.
“Girl Power” will be performed at 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 26; Saturday, Feb. 27; Friday, March 5; and Saturday, March 6. It also will be performed at 1 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 27 and Saturday, March 6. All performances will be held at the Troy Howard Middle School, tickets are $6 and original cast recordings and DVDs of the performances will be sold. Call Jason Bannister at 338-3320, ext. 118, for information.