Musicals can bring people’s stories to life, and on June 1, two performances of a student-led production at Ward Melville High School did just that.
“Unspoken the Musical,” written and directed by ninth-grade P.J. Gelinas Junior High School student Hazel Cash, was performed in the high school’s large group instruction room for the first time.
“She has always been very focused and very committed to whatever she wants to do and doesn’t do anything halfway.” — Deborah Fisher
The 15-year-old Stony Brook resident said the idea for the musical, which delves into the issues teens deal with today, came to her last summer when she had trouble falling asleep while at camp, and she started writing.
“I never actually thought it would turn into something,” she said.
However, one day, her friends at school asked what she was writing, and when they learned of her play, they told her, “We should produce that.” The conversation led to the forming of Theatre4Change, which produced the June 1 event.
Hazel’s mother, Deborah Fisher, wasn’t surprised when her daughter told her about the undertaking.
“She has always been very focused and very committed to whatever she wants to do and doesn’t do anything halfway,” Fisher said.
The mother said Hazel’s friends and everyone who was approached in the school district were incredibly supportive.
“I’m very impressed with how they have really stepped up and in some ways taken a chance,” she said, adding that Setauket Presbyterian Church lent the space for rehearsals.
The “Unspoken the Musical” storyline centers around Quinn Burke, played by Sophie Gonsalves, who comes out as a lesbian to her friends in the popular clique who don’t react well, leading the teenager to meet an eclectic group of students. One of those characters is Elana Cohen, played by Hazel, who she describes as both refreshing and at times obnoxious. In addition to touching on sexual identity and the quest of fitting in socially, the play also deals with other topics from loss to disabilities, including a girl named Ann who loses her mother and another character who is on the autism spectrum.
The young writer said the characters aren’t based on specific people but are a mixture of students she knows combined with her imagination. Always enjoying writing short stories, Hazel said one time she wrote a 35-chapter novel that she described as “really bad.” Some of her ideas also come to her while she is daydreaming in class.
“We have experienced it already and we know what is happening.”
— Hazel Cash
Hazel said that, for a while, she considered a career in science, but now dreams of a profession where music is involved. She describes herself as “a theater geek” who loves musicals.
“Science is a worthwhile career and it helps a lot of people, but I realized that I just want to be in music because I love it so much,” she said. “I can’t live without it.”
Jaden Chimalis, a seventh-grader who played Ann in the musical, said the performances went amazingly well. The 12-year-old said when Hazel told her about the musical she was impressed that her friend was writing it on her own.
Jaden said her character suffers from depression after the passing of her mother, and the student said she knows many people who are struggling with depression and anxiety.
“It felt very close to my heart,” she said.
After the musical’s debut, Hazel said the group was able to raise $1,500 that will be donated to three nonprofits. They have chosen The Trevor Project, which provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention to the LGBTQ population under 25; Women for Women International, which provides practical and moral support to women survivors of conflict and war; and the American Cancer Society, a nationwide voluntary health organization dedicated to eliminating cancer.
Hazel hopes that after seeing the musical, students are encouraged enough to speak up, and adults have a better understanding of what teenagers are talking about amongst themselves.
“We have experienced it already and we know what is happening,” Hazel said. “We have had friends go through this stuff, some of us have gone through this stuff. We’re not too young to talk about this and we talk about it anyway, so you might as well be included in the conversation.”