“The Real Tweenagers of Atlanta: The Final Assembly” can be seen at 3:30 and 7:30 p.m. Oct. 24 and 1 and 3:30 p.m. Nov. 3 at the Alliance Theatre.
Everybody settle down! School’s in session. And it’s going to be fun.
The Real Tweenagers of Atlanta puts you inside a school assembly, the final assembly at a school that’s closing. Hundreds of real Atlanta tweens wrote essays about what they’d do if their school closed, which gives the improvisational musical its voice. Onstage, four actors represent as many of those voices as possible — in dialogue, dance, songs, poems and a few high-tech surprises.
The franchise, conceived by Rosemary Newcott, the Alliance Theatre’s award-winning Sally G. Tomlinson artistic director of theatre for youth, is in its fourth and final year. It began with Middle School: The Musical, which ran for two seasons, and continued last year with the first Real Tweenagers. It tours schools in the metro area and beyond in addition to its run at the Alliance.
As far as Newcott knows, it’s the only program of its kind anywhere in the country.
“The whole point originally was to create something that was really about this age group,” she says of those ages 10 to 14. It’s so hard to be there. They’re not adults. They’re not kids. They’re really stuck in a transitional stage. I want these guys to know this is really theirs.”
Actors Bernard D. Jones and Jacob York have been in Newcott’s class since the beginning. Danielle Deadwyler and Claire Rigsby are back for a second session. All are channeling their own inner middle-schooler.
“We represent a diverse collective identity, and not only with regard to ethnicity, but likes, talents, hobbies, personalities,” says Deadwyler, who plays tomboy and twin Auggie March. “She’s the girl who stands up for herself. She stands up for what she believes, stands up for balance. She’s a leader when she needs to be.”
York plays the “stereotypical jock, without being a stereotype” who likes to read. Rigsby — as Chloe Lowenstein-O’Malley-Garcia-Smith — is the multi-hyphenated daughter of high-powered businesspeople. Jones, who plays uber-performer and twin J.B. March, says, “We’ve gotten in the groove, and we hit it now.”
Everything you’ll see onstage is there because Newcott and the actors want it there, because they are the playwrights, too, their characters and story lines honed during the early weeks of rehearsal.
“It’s rigorous, yet fun,” Deadwyler, says. “We just get to hash it out, be silly, be young, be fresh. It’s what you want to do as an artist: play, test, then refine.”
“It’s more collaborative than anything I’ve been involved in,” says York. “No good idea is left unused. Plus, where else can you name your character after your two best middle-school friends? Shout-out to Brandon Howell and Josh Tubbs.”
As an audience member, don’t be surprised if you’re pulled onstage or visited at your seat.
“It’s not message theater,” Rigsby says. “We involve them. We are tweens with them. if you really understand them, you become a tween, too.”
Each actor, in his or her own way, will be sorry to say goodbye to Real Tweenagers.
“The four years working on the different iterations of this show have been amazing,” York says. “I’ve made wonderful friends, become more confident in my writing ability, and feel like we’ve entertained a bunch of kids that, otherwise, might have been totally ignored.”