When Jared O'Roack created Project: Shattered Silence, he thought it would be an opportunity to change teenagers' way of thinking.
"But instead, it's changed mine," he said. "And it's changed theirs, and it's changed a lot of people's. It's making people understand that teenagers feel as adults do, that we're all not that different."
O'Roack developed the experimental teen theater group at the Marcia P. Hoffman Institute at the Ruth Eckerd Hall Performing Arts Space, starting with 17 teenagers, exploring issues important to them. This year's show, Despite the Reflection, deals with insecurities regarding religion, family, sexuality, physical imperfections, friends, college, being underprivileged economically and more. The show is a collection of pieces written by members of the group.
In their collaboration piece, group members Juliet Paramor, a junior at Tarpon Springs High, and Elizabeth Boone, a senior at Palm Harbor University High, face insecurities about their dancing abilities by dancing to the sound of their own voices. "It's basically (about) what it means to be a dancer, the insecurities - the good, the bad and the ugly," Paramor said.
Another piece, written by Nicholas Hathaway, a sophomore at Palm Harbor University High, is about his fear of complacency and detachment, and the personal growth he has experienced through dealing with his brother's brain injury from a car accident.
In a group of teenagers, an attitude of unequivocal acceptance is rare, but the now 33 members of Project: Shattered Silence break the mold, O'Roack said, "stressing our similarities and celebrating the differences."
Megan Hoxie, a sophomore at Mitchell High, for instance, can coexist with Sofie Gillespie, a sophomore at Indian Rocks Christian High.
In her performance piece, Hoxie tells of her experience with cliques and how on one occasion she excluded one of her best friends after she learned that her friend decided to date one of Hoxie's and the other girls' ex-boyfriends.
"She felt awful. She cried. She probably felt alone," Hoxie said. "(My group of friends) only hung out with each other - we only let each other hang out with each other. So all she probably had left was her boyfriend, and they weren't even close - they had only dated a day or so."
Gillespie wrote a piece about what it's like to be overly criticized by her best friend.
"She would tell me I would need to change myself. She would say my attitude wasn't good, or people didn't like me because of the way I acted," Gillespie said.
Both said they have grown personally from their experiences.
"I've become less reluctant to share how I feel," Gillepsie said.
"I've gained a different perspective on things, I've learned a lot about my (fellow) cast members," Hoxie said. "I've learned, apart from all the introspective things about myself, (how to be) a better writer and performer."
Members say they feel safe working with the theater group. "Project: Shattered Silence is a group I trust, and they trust me to some extent," Hathaway said. "I am comfortable around these people. It's an ideal group because this time is so crucial to the development of a person.
"I think we're a group that values noticing what is generally overlooked in people."
The group's first show, last year, raised $4,000 for the Children's Home, an organization providing safe haven for children who have suffered abuse, neglect or abandonment. This year, the money earned will again be donated to the Children's Home.
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Despite the Reflection
When: 7:30 p.m. May 27 and June 4
Where: Murray Studio Theater, a black box theater at Ruth Eckerd Hall
Tickets: $12 at the Ruth Eckerd Hall box office, or call (727) 791-7400.