Local musician Amy Steinberg knows what it's like to have teen angst. At 42, the songstress continues to feed off of experiences from her youth. Through wisdom and introspective reflection on positivity and spirituality, ideas of hope and love resonate in her music.
On "Turn on the Light," a piano-laced tune that's part of her debut musical Breaking the Moon, Steinberg preaches, "The darkness inside that you feel isn't real and the sunshine is on the horizon." Three performances of Breaking the Moon were presented to sold out crowds at Studio 1212 over the weekend, and an additional show has been added for this Saturday.
Like other uplifting and, at times, self-deprecating songs featured in the musical, Steinberg plays on a keyboard as seven teens with attitude stretch their vocal chords. Ranging from 13- to 16-years old, Steinberg handpicked the teens after having guided them during private vocal lessons. And boy, did she make a wise selection. Teens like Juliana Kantor who plays Tony, a pregnant rape victim struggling to find hope in her situation, and Nicholas Clementi who plays the hopeless and yet spirited Devon, sing with passion and soul, both qualities that are critical to the musical that tackles tough teenage struggles and suicide tendencies.
Steinberg wrote the musical after reading about growing teenage suicide rates and knowing firsthand about some of the self-destructive patterns and behaviors that can push teens over the edge.
The musical, which focuses around seven teens in a treatment facility, is written and directed by Steinberg, who admits to struggling with drugs and alcohol as an adolescent. She later underwent treatment for those issues.
"I was such a wild teenager and struggling with all kinds of issues that kids struggle with today, weight and sexuality, body and self image. Then, there was no internet. I think if the internet would have been around when I was a teen or all the drugs they put kids on now, I don't know what would have happened to me," she says.
Her journey to self-discovery and self-love, now 14 years in, led to her blossoming as a singer/songwriter with an undisputed passion for music.
"All of my music is self-healing and written to heal," says Stenberg, who has released several albums and written four solo monologue shows, prior to delving into a musical that would have her working with others — let alone kids.
Steinberg believes that her experiences working with kids at Children's Theatre of Charlotte and with teens at youth camps and via private vocal lessons, helped to pave the way for a musical platform. Breaking the Moon is the first of what she's dubbing as POP (short for Performance on Purpose) Theatre, a theatre-based company that will host shows that touch on themes that are critical to raising awareness and bringing change to growing issues and trends.
Steinberg describes Breaking the Moon as a "Breakfast Club meets Rent," and she's not exaggerating. While the set at Studio 1212 is barebones, the stage is occupied by seven chairs that performers make plenty of use of — they stand, they stomp and beat on what's in front of them — aside from sitting and moving about onstage, through the aisles and sometimes even sinking to the floor in utter despair. Yet, despite the pounding and heavy subject matter, there are plenty of moments that pass with sarcasm and positive undertones.
"It's funny too, believe it or not. It's not a really dark script even though it deals with really heavy issues," Steinberg says. "There's definitely a lot of humor in the script."
There are also upbeat songs like "Burning into the High," a pop-ridden, Sara Bareilles-style uplifting tune that she crafted years ago, along with others from her extensive songwriting catalogue.
"Originally I was going to write a whole bunch of new stuff but with the time constraint I was like 'Why reinvent the wheel when I have all of this music that is so fitting to the struggle of finding the light in the darkness?'" Steinberg says. "So, that's how I wound up doing it and it just unfolded really beautifully."
In addition to wearing her singer/songwriter hat, Steinberg took the challenge of script writing, directing and choreographing for Breaking the Moon.
"I did a lot of anti-directing with them where I said to the kids 'Don't act, just say the words and talk to each other,'" Steinberg says. But in the end, she feels the musical naturally unfolded. She gives credit to the teens who devoted time and energy to the musical, which she hopes will grow and can be staged at a bigger Charlotte venue and outside of the city in the future.
"I made sure that the teens that were doing this were really healthy mentally because we're dealing with darkness and suicide and you don't want a kid who struggles with these issues to play the part. You really want healthy kids. Some kids couldn't do it because of time," she says. "They're in other productions, they're in AP classes, and they're wicked smart. I've got a really strong cast of kids."
Part of that strength resonates through the musical's title, Breaking the Moon. After looking up the definition for "galaxy" and stumbling upon "bodies of light that are held together by gravitational force," Steinberg's brain made a break for space. She researched the moon and gravity, as well the related earthquakes and volcanos that can result from pressure.
"When you're in an enclosed space with other people you can cause these emotional volcanos in each other and that is like the breaking in the moon," Steinberg says. "It's that idea of breaking the cycles and the negative thought patterns that we have about ourselves and about the world."