By Nick Eustis
Pittsburgh Current Contributing Writer
In the hyperconnected world of today, people love to be a part of a group. Oftentimes, groups coalesce around specific traits in people, traits that are usually set at birth, like race, gender, and sexuality. How do we bridge societal divides when these groups make it so easy to segregate ourselves?
The Outsiders, Prime Stage Theater’s upcoming production, seeks to answer that question and more. The Outsiders tells the story of Ponyboy Curtis, a 14-year-old boy living with his brothers and friends in a working class neighborhood in Oklahoma. The play details his coming-of-age, and the conflicts between his group, the Greasers, and the Socs, the well-to-do kids across the railroad tracks.
“The story is about Ponyboy Curtis and him finding his place in the world,” said Tina Cerny, assistant operations director for Prime Stage. “How does he fit in with the rest of the world when he’s considered an outsider?”
The show is based on the novel of the same name by S.E. Hinton, who was herself only a high school student when she wrote and published the book in 1967. To this day, The Outsiders is often included in the student English curriculum, part of the reason the work was selected to be performed by Prime Stage.
“All of our shows are based on literature,” said Cerny.
“I look at a couple of things: what students and teachers are reading in schools, what current topics are going on and could be addressed through the theatre, and opportunities for partnerships in the community,” said Wayne Brinda, producing artistic director for Prime Stage, in an email. “The Outsiders fits all the criteria. This story about teens can motivate today’s young people to find and make personal connections with topics that are very relevant for today.”
Because Prime Stage works to incorporate the curriculum of local schools, each production contains a student matinee performance, allowing the students to connect more deeply to their school readings through theater.
Prime Stage also seeks to bring each work of literature to life authentically. To that end, The Outsiders was cast age-appropriately, with each actor being around the same age as the character they are portraying. While a challenge for director Scott Calhoon, he could not be more pleased with the troupe of young actors he cast.
“I felt really good about casting this show. When I walked out from callbacks, I had the perfect person in every role.” said Calhoon.
To add to the authenticity of the production, consultant Richard Garland was brought in to help the cast better understand the work’s historical background.
“The mentality about gangs now and what gangs were then are so different, how they fought, what they were about,” said Cerny. “We want to make sure the process is authentic.”
Garland will also be participating in talkbacks after select performances, to discuss the history of youth and gang violence.
“This also enables us to address the topic of youth gangs and what is happening in schools with the production and encourage audiences to participate in post-show talkback sessions led by Richard Garland, a well known advocate for young people and victims of violence,” said Brinda.
There will also be three accessibility performances during the run, an audio-described show, an ASL interpreted show, and a sensory inclusive performance. This is just another way Prime Stage Theater produces full-fledged programs, rather than just shows, and they hope The Outsiders will leave its audiences more accepting and eager to read.
“I hope they want to read it, and want to see what we brought from the book to this,” said Cerny.
“Accept people’s differences, be good to each other, that’s the most important thing,” said Calhoon.