UMKC Theatre and The Coterie Theatre released a virtual theatrical collaboration online on Jan. 21 titled “Brainstorm: The Inside Life of the Teenage Mind.”
The virtual production, written by Ned Glasier, Emily Lim and Company Three, is about the science behind the functioning of the teen brain, exploring everything from risk-taking to relationships.
“One of the goals the play has is to debunk the notion that the teen brain is just a deficient version of an adult brain,” said Coterie producing artistic director and UMKC adjunct Jeff Church. ”In fact, it functions very differently, and in some cases, it’s the teenage brain that’s quite full; and through a transition process called ‘pruning,’ adult brains diminish.”
Church said the production is unique because the script allowed for adaptation, which is generally forbidden. The cast of the play humorously depict their own parents and contribute original music and singing.
Marisa B. Tejeda, who plays the character LK, said, “The show is actually a blueprint, which is not like a typical script where you know who you are playing and you know what to memorize. The blueprint of ‘Brainstorm’ allows each company that decides to produce the show to recreate it as needed.”
The show takes the audience on a journey meeting young teens on virtual screens. It opens a window into methods of bedroom decorating, creative hobbies and rocky teen-parent dynamics, with animated illustrations of the underlying biology and neuroscience breaking up the segments.
Local teens and cast members inspired the characters in the production. The Coterie and UMKC set up workshops for high schoolers in the Kansas City area as an educational activity for the students as well as a research opportunity for the writers of the show. According to Tejeda, writers gathered information about the students to ensure their age group was fully represented.
“My character in the show is bilingual, although I do not speak Spanish fluently. I met so many bilingual high school students in the workshops, and being an Afro-Latin actor, it was important for me to put that representation into the show,” Tejeda said. “It was also important for me to make sure we have queer representation in the show as well. So, I was excited to write my own character.”
Erdin Schultz-Bever, who plays the character Nicole in the production, said the cast members’ personal bedrooms acted as the set for the show, tweaked with props to represent their characters. She said the virtual aspect of the show posed difficulties, but also allowed for it to reach a wider audience online.
“Creating a production through Zoom doesn’t allow for the same energetic connection with an audience, or for us as actors to feel the flow of the story from the start to the finish,” Schulz-Bever said. “However, it does allow for the designers to edit the videos to create cool moments that help tell the story.”
The show is accessible through The Coterie’s website until Feb. 28.