PITTSBURG — Teenagers will get to watch the story they helped tell through Pittsburg High School’s Repertory Theatre Class in its world premiere of “Invitation Only: An Examination of Party Culture and Peer Pressure.”

Each year, PHS Rep Theatre puts on a social issue play. This is the 11th play written especially for PHS Rep Theatre by nationally-known playwright Debbie Lamedman in collaboration with the class, which is directed by Greg Shaw.

Following each year’s performance, PHS Rep Theatre goes right back to work to start on the next year’s play. An anonymous survey is sent throughout the high school, in which the student body note what topic they think should be covered in the play. The surveys are then mailed to Lamedman where she then puts together the script.

The PHS Rep Theatre then spends several weeks developing and editing the first draft. The students also spent time researching about the topics. For “Invitation Only,” these topics are problems within party culture, using the script to address drug and alcohol use, as well as sexual consent. The play is also cast by the PHS Rep Theatre students.

“They get to originate in a role and then theoretically other programs that were to do these could be based on their [PHS Rep Theatre students] ideas of who this character is,” Shaw said.

They also just recently found out “Drowning in Quicksand” a social issue play written by Lamedman, will become a published piece. PHS Rep Theatre put on the show — which is about depression and anxiety — two years ago, and is the class’ first social issue play to be published.

PHS Rep Theatre student Kylee Eidson, was cast as a high school upperclassman named Grace.
“I think that Grace’s biggest struggle is definitely trying to fit in because she didn’t want to go to the party,” Eidson said. “She just wanted to feel included and she was tired of everyone labeling her as the ‘good girl’.”

Soon enough, Grace finds out her choices could lead to serious consequences.
“She didn't understand how detrimental all of that [going to the party] was,” Eidson said. “Her only thought was to fit in.
“She didn’t think about the actual dangers of going and the outcome of what could happen.”

PHS Rep Theatre student Julian Archuleta was cast as a college-aged high school drop out named James.
“He doesn’t do much with his life, he likes to show up to high school parties and try to hook up with girls,” Archuleta said. “He tries to influence people to do stuff they probably shouldn’t.
“He’s all about himself, he thinks he’s cool when he probably actually isn’t.”

The theatre students and the playwright tried to get the characters close to what resembles their student body and area schools.
“There’s always been cases of highschoolers throwing parties or going to college parties and stuff happening — drinking, drugs, stuff like that,” Archuleta said. “It’s what our student body really wanted to hear about, and we want to educate them on stuff that could happen and we want to educate parents and any adult in the community on what could happen and how they should respond when they see this stuff or hear about it or supporting doing this.”

Eidson agreed.
“It’s a lot more relevant than people think, which is scary,” she said.

It’s a tough play to be cast in Archuleta said, “especially playing roles that go through a rough time and get the worst of the consequences of doing things like these, but it’s worth it in the end to educate people.”
“If this [anything the topics covered] has happened to people, hopefully it helps them come forward about what has happened to them and possibly get help or justice for what has happened.”

Immediately after the production, there will be a talkback session in which the audience and the cast will have the opportunity to engage in a discussion about the events and problems depicted within the play.

The purpose of the show is to help students start the conversation about heavy topics, such as consent, drinking and so on. Shaw said the students do not suggest that they are experts, but rather a catalyst to help people find the right people to talk if they are in need.
“This is an opportunity to approach these topics with them [students], give them information and help them find information if they are struggling with any of the topics that we cover,” Shaw said. “Somebody who is struggling with one of these topics, we want them to know there is a group of people who understand or can empathise or sympathise with their situation, and hopefully they are more likely to reach out, more likely to find or ask for help.
“We can help be that conduit or catalyst for them to find the right people to talk to and that’s when counselors, psychologists and medical professionals come in, we can help them get in touch.”

From a theatre teacher’s standpoint, “it’s real important that they know  — we spend a lot of time entertaining an audience, we do musicals and plays and things — but we also need to realize that we have one of the most powerful voices with live theatre to effect change, to start conversations, to educate the masses,” Shaw said.
“It’s a responsibility we need to take very, very seriously.”

On Wednesday, in cooperation with Memorial Auditorium, PHS Rep Theatre produced the world premiere of “Invitation Only: An Examination of Party Culture and Peer Pressure.” On Thursday and Friday the students will perform for their student body and other area schools.
— Stephanie Potter is a staff writer at the Morning Sun. She can be emailed at spotter@morningsun.net or follow her on Twitter @PittStephP and Instagram @stephanie_morningsun.