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Uma Long rehearses an emotional scenes as Centaurus High School theater students prepare a play called, ‘Wilderness,’ a show intended to normalize the discussion around teen mental health, addiction, gender and sexual identity. The show runs November Wednesday through Saturday at Centaurus High School, 10300 West South Boulder Road.
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As Centaurus High School Theater Director Jay Kinsel was looking through a list of about 600 possibilities for the fall play, a documentary called “Wilderness” caught his attention.

The storyline, which incorporates interviews with six actual families, details the experiences of six teens with various challenges sent to a wilderness camp. The narratives explore issues of mental health, addiction and gender and sexual identity.

After a first read of the script, Kinsel decided it might be too much of a risk for a school play and set it aside. But he went back to it a second and then a third time, deciding to try it it after reading it with a theater student who identified with one of the characters.

“It helped spark the student to get more help,” he said. “What the script does that is amazing is it presents mental health without judgement and without making it shocking. There are intense moments, but no shock. Students who have gone through mental health issues have been really behind the play.”

The Lafayette school’s theater department is presenting the play this weekend, with support from Mental Health Partners, Out Boulder County, Colie’s Closet and Centaurus’s administration and counselors.

“It tells real stories of what happens in a teenager’s daily life,” said junior Jasmyn Chioda, who’s a student assistant director and is playing one of the six teens. “It has a really strong story to tell.”

She said she connected strongly with her character because she’s experienced some of the same challenges, including shaming and depression, though on a milder scale.

“It just hit really close to home,” she said.

With the students rehearsing intense material for two months, Kinsel made sure school counselors were available to talk to students if needed.

“We’re not just bringing up stuff and leaving,” he said. “There was a lot of thought that went into this.”

Typically, he said, the play has been performed in a black box space with multimedia setting the scenes. But at Centaurus, the students built a more realistic set depicting Utah’s high desert on the main stage and added a second, smaller stage for scenes in an interior room of a house. The show also incorporates music.

“It feels cinematic,” said Centaurus senior Arthur Fitzgerald, who plays one of the teens in the story. “I’m really glad we chose this piece.”

Plus, he said, he appreciates how the play presents the teens’ mental health challenges as “an everyday thing” — not as something that needs to be censored and also not as something that’s insurmountable, he said.

“I’ve dealt with much of this subject matter,” he said. “These are issues that have impacted me and so many other kids. Acting it out is a way to process through it in a creative, non destructive way.”

About 30 students are performing, while a total of about 70 are involved when the tech crew is included.

“I was intrigued by doing something as experimental as this, said senior Maeve Carroll, who plans to major in theater in college and plays the “mom” character. “Getting to do something that was serious was really appealing.”

She added that it’s a good fit for a high school theater production because “it’s all topics kids our age are super familiar with.”

“It’s beautiful and sad and really important,” she said.

If You Go

What: Centaurus Theatre Company presents “Wilderness”When: 7 p.m. Nov. 13-16 and 2 p.m. Nov. 16Where: Centaurus High School, 10300 West South Boulder Road, LafayetteMore info: centaurustheatrecompany.com

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