Antioch High turns best-seller on teen suicide into fall play

A nationally known, best-selling author will be in the audience when Antioch Community High School students present their fall play, "13 Reasons Why."

After all, it's his novel the kids have adapted for the stage.

Jay Asher's story about teenage suicide climbed to No. 3 on The New York Times Best-seller List last March. The school drama department is casting the story, hoping to educate and highlight serious issues facing teens.

Drama director Wanda Teddy contacted Asher for permission. He agreed, and he's flying out to see the production in person.

"There was no way I wasn't going to see it," he said.

The author will travel from California for the Nov. 13 performance. He'll be on hand to sign books and chat about his craft.

"The kids are very excited about this," Teddy said.

The story centers on a girl who takes her life. But before she does, she sends a classmate a set of cassettes. Each tape features a different explanation. The classmate listens to the tapes and learns he's one of the reasons. The tapes are passed to 12 other students who listen to the explanations.

Themes of suicide, rape, alcohol abuse, bullying and gossip run through the story. Some might imagine the content to be too heavy, but Asher said these are issues teens commonly face. He said the writing style takes the edge off the hot topics.

"I was terrified it would be too depressing. But I concentrated on writing it as a suspense novel," he said. "Readers want to know what happens next."

Asher, 34, was inspired to write the book after one of his relatives, who was about the same age as the main character, attempted to take her life.

"She felt like this was the only way out of her problems," Asher said. "This is why these things need to be brought out in the open."

Director Teddy agreed.

"There are students who are overlooked or ignored," she said. "This is a reminder to reach out to those kids."

Adapting the novel into a play wasn't easy, Teddy said. She worked closely with creative writing teacher Audrey Nagel on the project.

"We met every Wednesday during the summer for about five hours each time," Teddy said. "Audrey took the lead on writing the script and I'm focusing on the performance piece."

The play will open for the public Thursday, Nov. 12. There will be performances Friday and Saturday night as well. Students Dimitri Pylarinos, Dylan Zobel, Cara Lamusga and Romelle Taday are in the lead roles. There are 32 students in the cast.

Stage manager Amanda Dahlem, a junior, said she thinks the play will give a wake-up call to students.

"People need to think about their actions and realize that everything you do affects people," she said. "We need to be conscious of other kids who may be insecure and be careful how we treat them."

Teddy said she's hoping for a practical benefit to come from addressing the sensitive topics.

"I don't want this to be like a TV after-school special," she said. "I want to include some help for students who may be dealing with these issues."

On performance nights, a table will be set up with materials to connect students to counseling centers, suicide hotlines and other places to get help, Teddy said.

Knowing Asher will be in the audience is having an effect on the actors, Teddy said.

"They are nervous and apprehensive, but absolutely excited at the same time," she said.

Work: Author, director try to make heavy topic educational

The play focuses on issues teens face in everyday life, said director Wanda Teddy. Vincent Pierri | Staff Photographer
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