Listen Up Project

Award-winning filmmaker Bess O’Brien of Kingdom County Productions recently launched a two-year project that will culminate in an original musical inspired, written and performed by Vermont teens. The teen-led “Listen Up Project” will engage young Vermonters in telling their stories and driving the conversation about the issues they face.

“Over the next two years, the Listen Up team will crisscross the state talking to teenagers about their lives through round table discussions, personal interviews, meet-ups, writing, theatre and music workshops,” O’Brien stated. “We will have a call for entry where teens can send us whatever is meaningful to them such as poetry, essays, music, political treatises, personal stories and ideas for social change.”

The project aims to connect with more than 1,000 teenagers and, with the information collected, create an original script by the end of August.

“Then we will work with teens to write all the music – it is a musical!” O’Brien said. “We will hold statewide auditions for youth, cast kids in the play and tour the Listen Up Musical across Vermont in the fall of 2020,”

The Listen Up project is underwritten by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Vermont and the Department of Health, among others.

Fifteen years ago, O’Brien and underwriter Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Vermont engaged in a similar project to produce the award-winning “Voices Project.” O’Brien and other Kingdom County Productions staff led a series of events where teens gave voice to their joys, concerns, challenges and hopes. Kingdom County Productions also received hundreds of submissions of teen art, writing and other media from youth about what was important to their lives. With this rich material in hand, Kingdom County Productions collaborated with teen writers and musicians to create an original musical that toured the state in 2005 to rave reviews and sold-out houses.

Dr. Mark Levine, Vermont Commissioner of Health, said the Listen Up project will serve as a tool for teens to talk about the challenges they face.

“And then there are the quieter issues as well,” he said. “For example, rural teens deal with isolation and loneliness, which can result in negative health outcomes. New Americans, who bring a rich diverseness to our state, face the challenges of being in a new culture and may encounter racism and other discrimination that could tax an adult. Teens in our LGBTQ community struggle daily to be themselves in a world still evolving to understand what it means to be just that.”

“We’re known here in Vermont for our tolerance and our compassion,” Gov. Phil Scott said.

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