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Arts / Culture

A New Documentary Traces the Teen Stories in 'Project: Shattered Silence'

A documentary that follows the real-life stories of more than 40 teenagers will premiere Friday night at Clearwater’s newly renovated Capitol Theatre.

You’ll have to know someone to get tickets because the film premiere of “Project: Shattered Silence” and the supplemental live performance is sold out.

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Credit Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media
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WUSF Public Media
Jared O'Roark, creative director and creator of Project: Shattered Silence, gives direction to cast members for the montage performance that will compliment the documentary premiere.

"Project: Shattered Silence" started as a theater piece on diversity five years ago. Jared O’Roark, an 11-year veteran actor, director and producer at Ruth Eckerd Hall, developed the concept built on the experiences of his teenage cast members.

“That first year of 'Shattered Silence,' if you read the scripts, there were half-true stories and half-fake stories,” O’Roark said.

But, it didn’t take long for his theatrical sense to kick-in and realize the value of those true stories gleaned from surveys filled out by the teenagers.

O’Roark along with the teens develop the theatrical stories from the surveys.  He said typically the most difficult question for the teenagers: What do you like about yourself?

He stressed "Project: Shattered Silence" is not about stereotypical teenage angst. 

“It’s not about them telling what they’re going through, it’s about what they’ve been through, what they’ve overcome, how they’ve overcome it,” O’Roark said.  "It’s not about complaining about your problem it’s about making sure letting people know anything can be overcome, you can make it through."

And what some teenagers have overcome is jarring: suicide of a friend or a father, abuse, homelessness.

One powerful story in the documentary is a girl who talks about her addiction to “cutting,” self-mutilation.

That was the biggest surprise to veteran news producer and documentarian Colleen Hamilton.

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Credit Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media
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WUSF Public Media
Television and documentary producer Colleen Hamilton holds the Emmy awarded to a short feature story she produced in 2013 on Project: Shattered Silence.

“Initially, the most shocking thing to me and one of the saddest things is the prevalence of teenagers who cut, who cut because they’re in so much pain,” Hamilton said.

When she was asked to produce a documentary about the Shattered Silence theater project,  it didn’t take long to decide after viewing a video that a cast member put on YouTube.

“Within seconds of watching the very first performance from the year before, I knew. I literally have to do this,” said Hamilton, who is a mother of two teenagers. “This is important. This is remarkable, astonishing, the adjectives go on and on and on.”

That was 11 months ago of interviewing, videotaping, writing and editing. It took many 12 hour days to shape more than 100 hours of video and more than 40 teenager stories into an hour-long film.

Hamilton commended the parents for their bravery to allow their teenagers to tell the family’s story.

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Credit Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media
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WUSF Public Media
A cast member of the 2014 Project: Shattered Silence, Gemma Briggs, 15, and her father, Spencer Briggs.

Spencer Briggs’ 15-year-old daughter, Gemma, is a cast member in this year’s Project: Shattered Silence. He sees it as an opportunity for her to grow.

“What I like about them is they embrace diversity. They embrace the world the way it is now and really try to give these kids a chance to be accepting of each other and realize: there’s some good things and not so good things in the world and kind of figuring out a positive path,” Briggs said.

Gemma’s story will be a part of this May’s production but she’s not sure yet what the story will be. The only certainty is that director Jared O’Roark will shape it from her survey which is not yet complete.

“It’s a trip, but it’s completely confidential,” Gemma Briggs said. “Everything goes to Jared and Jared is the only one who reads it. So, you can put whatever you need to in there and it will never get back to your parents unless you’re like ‘I’m going to kill myself’ - that’s not the same thing.”

If a teen does reveal something serious - like talk of suicide - O’Roark will go to the parents. In fact, he gets parental approval for all of the serious stories.

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Credit Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media
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WUSF Public Media
Project: Shattered Silence director and creator, Jared O'Roark, holds the Emmy awarded to a feature story produced about his program.

That same parental approval and the director’s approval were needed for the documentary.  O’Roark was quick to agree to the documentary.

“I have nothing but trust for that woman (Colleen Hamilton). I mean, we got an Emmy award over eight minutes, so I can only imagine what she’s done with the 56 (minutes),” O’Roark said.

Hamilton produced a feature story on Shattered Silence for a Arts program last May which won a regional Emmy.

The Emmy was a hit among the cast members from over the last five years as they crowded on stage to have their picture taken with the statue. The teenagers will perform a montage of theatrical scenes as part of the film’s premiere. The broadcast premiere of the documentary “Project: Shattered Silence” is scheduled Jan. 30  on WEDU-Channel 3.