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True Colors project uses student-written essays as performance script

Witnessing a suicide, struggling with diabetes, fighting depression, shoplifting, being emotionally abused and wanting desperately to be liked by a boy – all are topics of teen essays brought to stage in an upcoming Spokane high school theater production.

Teenagers can be a mysterious sect of society. The True Colors Project at North Central High School offers a glimpse into their minds.

Drama teacher Tom Armitage started the project in 1990. He’d been inspired by a saying that theater is a “mirror to life.” Armitage thought since there already is so much drama in high school, why not use it to help teach his students an art and give teens a voice.

“Just because people were teenagers once, doesn’t mean they know what it’s like to be one,” Armitage said. “It’s real heavy, and I want it to be as original as possible.”

Monologues, scenes and one song performed by 32 drama club students will transform 45 essays students wrote earlier this year for the school’s fall theater production starting Nov. 13. About a quarter are humorous, five to 10 acts are about death, others are about things that happened in class or at home, and there’s “some stuff that’s ‘oh my gosh.’ ”

“It’s a little scary to see how much darker the essays are now compared to when we started this,” Armitage said. “I think it’s a reflection of the world we’ve created for them.”

The first time Armitage led the project there was a story about gun violence that really shocked people. Stories involving guns are more common now, so are stories of bullying, physical abuse, death and criminal behavior.

The actors are encouraged to meet with essay authors to add dimension to their performances.

Sophomore Noah Marsh is performing a monologue about a boy who saw a dead woman in his front yard and witnessed the shooter commit suicide.

“I thought he’d be more traumatized,” Marsh said. “I think it’s the coolest how someone can write about an experience and it can show how a teenager’s life really is.”

Junior Krista Moize is performing in one monologue and three multiactor scenes.

“I like it just for the fact of being able to portray different students around the school and tell their stories,” she said. “I get to be creative. Getting to work with the people who wrote the essays was really cool.”

Brianne Hatcher, 14, thinks people will be surprised to learn that teens are not always what they look like on the outside. Sometimes, “we come to school and we smile, and we don’t really express what’s going on.”

The 17 or 18 monologues focus on primarily darker issues. Armitage, who has worked at North Central since 1979, tries to have some diversity in the two-hour show.

There’s a skateboarding essay turned into a rap and acts on a kid who seriously wants to go to Hogwarts, developing a brain helmet so kids don’t have to deal with annoying teachers, a Halloween trip to a cemetery where kids are scared by a clown, and two girls who shoplift a “neon beige” shirt from the mall.

Senior Anna Waterman says the variety of acts makes it “a pure, truthful show.”

Unlike most plays, this one won’t feature fancy costumes. Students will wear jeans and different-colored T-shirts to reflect the different tones represented in each scene. There are 250 shirts.

Principal Steve Fisk called The True Colors Project a “gritty, unfiltered look at teen life.”

Hopefully, this helps people “understand it, contextualize it and grow from it, and maybe people

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