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Finding your voice: "Bare: A Pop Opera" takes center stage

"It's basically like 'Romeo and Juliet' if 'Romeo and Juliet' was between two boys, and there was music. Oh, and if 'Romeo and Juliet' took place in the 90s."

According to Assistant Director Emily Olson, "Bare: A Pop Opera," the upcoming production put on by Stage Left, will be a sight to behold.

Written by Jon Hartmere and Damon Intrabartolo, "Bare" is a musical filled with elaborate, emotional musical numbers. Far from light, poppy productions like "Grease" or "Hairspray," "Bare" uses music as a lens for confronting difficult and meaningful subject matter.

The show focuses on two high school boys, Peter and Jason. Although they've been dating for a while and care deeply for each other, neither can fully commit to the relationship because of the pressures they feel from their community. They're students at a Catholic school, and are afraid their families and friends won't accept them for who they are.

Al Oliver, the show's director, says this play has special meaning to him.

"I relate very closely to a lot of the events and characters in this show," Oliver said. "When I discovered this show in my sophomore year of college, it was just after I'd come out to my family and had very similar experiences of trying to rationalize my religious upbringing with my homosexuality. It just really stuck with me, and I knew right away that I wanted to do it."

Oliver hopes audiences will connect with the show too.

"Watching people connect with this show like I did has been incredibly rewarding, and I think that it will make the show that much more powerful," said Oliver. "Each [audience member] can grab onto what is important to them in this show and bring it into their reality."

For the cast and crew, "Bare" carries a lot of meaning, whether it's because members of the show relate to the events portrayed or because they realize the weight of the message.

Will Ellis, who plays Peter, says acting in this show has really affected him.

"I relate a lot to Peter in just his struggle for acceptance," Ellis said. "Because I relate so much to this story, it's been such a great experience to be able to tell it and to be able to share that with people."

With such intense subject matter and so many emotions swirling around, the show came with a fair share of difficulties.

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"Initially, we were a little worried," said Olson. "The show is massive, and it's nearly all music, so we had to find a cast of very talented people who could rise to that challenge."

Aside from the technical difficulty of the music and scenery, the intensity of the subject at hand occasionally made rehearsing a struggle. The play delves into issues of homophobic prejudice and bullying, as well as internal struggles.

"There has to be a break between rehearsing all of this upsetting and sad material and going back to your everyday life," Oliver said. "There's a lot of emotional weight that comes with directing a piece like this and performing a piece like this. I tried to cultivate a space in rehearsal where we could work on this story, but afterwards we tried to leave all the dark feelings behind us."

In the case of "Bare," with great difficulties come great rewards. The cast and crew alike spoke to the power and resonance of the show. After pouring time and effort into this show, they hope anyone who sees it will be able to take something away with them at the end of the night.

"I think it's so important to have stories like this and to keep telling them," Ellis said. "That way, people who are struggling or dealing with things like this don't feel so alone."

Stage Left will put on "Bare: A Pop Opera" at 8 p.m. on Nov. 8-10 at Wilks Theater. Admission is free.