Teens tackle middle school issues in self-directed musical

More venues sought for performances of ‘Project X’

By: Heidi Roman | Royal Oak Review | Published January 11, 2012


When eighth-grader Eric Gelb calls to book a performance at a local venue, the reaction is usually the same. The venue manager asks to talk to the adult who is helping out with the production.

Only there are no adults involved with the production.

Gelb and his eighth- and ninth-grade peers wrote the script, composed the music and cast the characters for “Project X,” a musical about what the life of a middle school student is really like.

“People are really taken aback when we tell them we do it by ourselves,” said Gelb, co-director and actor. “It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s very rewarding. I personally work with all the managers at the venues we go to.”

A handful of teenagers put the show together and have already performed it at the Huntington Woods Public Library. A recent show at the Royal Oak Public Library drew about 40 people.

Gelb started working with his Norup International School classmate Ryan Hurley on the full-length script in 2010.

“We were kind of getting used to the whole middle school thing,” Gelb said. “For me, it was just frustrating. (‘Project X’) is basically about four middle school students, and they’re dealing with a lot of problems that arise in friendships, romantic relationships. The teenagers are entering middle school, and they all sort of want something from it.”

There are troubles between two friends, and one works to win the other back; a girl who wants nothing more than a boyfriend; and characters who simply want to fit in and avoid those awkward moments the early teenage years bring. The musical tackles the subjects of popularity, peer pressure, betrayal and staying true to oneself.

“That’s a lot of what is happening in middle school every single day,” Gelb said. “It’s something that’s not really covered. You see it on Nickelodeon and Disney (channels), but not exactly like this. This hasn’t been done before.”

Hurley, an eighth-grader who composed five original songs for the show, said his favorite scene is one with a lot of funny lines and clever dialogue between two main characters, and it also features a song he wrote, “I Do Not Love You.”

“A lot of our music is not necessarily Broadway-style music,” Hurley said. “It’s maybe something kids would want to listen to, because our show is aimed toward kids. Parents would enjoy it, too, but it’s geared toward kids.”

Hurley said he never expected the show to become what it is when they first started talking about it in 2010. He’s been a part of theater groups and choirs in school, but had never attempted anything of this magnitude.

“We’ve got some reaction,” Hurley said. “A couple parents have come up asking me if my mom and dad helped out, and it’s always kind of fun to say, ‘No, I did it all myself.’”

“Project X” will be performed as a matinee show at 1 p.m. Jan. 20 at Norup International School, 14450 Manhattan St., in Oak Park. Admission is expected to be $2.

After that, the group’s goal is to just keep performing the show anywhere people are willing to see it. They have raised $1,000 to debut the show, but are still looking for additional fundraising opportunities and future performance venues.

For more information or upcoming shows, visit www.Facebook.com/ProjectX TheMusical.