Anyone who has ever survived or intends to survive middle school should see “13,” says MJ Harper, musical director.
“There's a reason we call them stereotypes...because they exist in every school in every town,” she says. "There's the cool kids, there's the stoners, there's the jocks...and then there's me.”
Harper, now 30, was the quiet girl in middle school. She stayed in the back of the room and liked to read — her eighth grade year, she logged 91 books and had “an ungodly amount of AR points.” She didn’t have time to see movies; her family lived in the country.
She was also the large girl who decided in 6th grade she wouldn't wear jeans because they hurt, and she wouldn't wear dresses because her inner thighs would chafe until they bled.
“I was happiest reading and singing and playing violin and staying as invisible as possible,” she says, “which was quite a feat when I was one of two of the largest girls in school.”
At 13, she started Jenny Craig, followed by Slim Fast and Weight Watchers. Nothing stuck.
She tried volleyball but couldn’t keep up. She stopped dancing because she couldn’t fit into the costumes they wanted the girls to wear.
“So I was happiest just doing my own thing,” Harper says.
After graduating from Fort Scott High School in 2004, her thing was music. She graduated with a music education degree from Pittsburg State University and became a teacher. And now, a much lighter version of herself teaches students to sing out at Ft. Scott schools, where she once stayed quiet in the back of the room. She also teaches Zumba — a colorful, high energy, anything-but-quiet form of exercise. And, she has found her place in theatre bringing stories to life. Last summer in PCT’s “Gypsy,” she played Mama Rose, belting out powerhouse vocals to a standing ovation.
As an educator, Harper says it’s rewarding to see students from Pittsburg Community Middle School and Pittsburg High School, and from other schools in the area, bonding together in this show.
“Crispin is helping a younger student practice dance moves, while Maddie pulls the cheerleaders into the choir room to run their song,” she says.
“We’re building strong relationships in theatre — relationships that will last for an entire high school career for the younger ones,” she says. “And the experiences these students have through this production will trickle down to the students that will be them in just a few years.”
As for the show itself, it’s a must-see, she says. “Think ‘Mean Girls’ with music and a male protagonist set in middle school. The story could be set in any time period in any school,” she says. “It’s relatable to all. And any member of the community will be proud to see these kids rocking out in all their teen angst on stage. They’re amazing.” The show opens to schools on Thursday with a day-time performance. Shows for the public are Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. Details: www.pctinfo.org. Tickets: www.memorialauditorium.org