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‘Listen Up!’ Has More to Come

Performance of "Listen Up". Photo by J. Gregory Gerdel.
If you missed the thoughtful, high-energy, and professionally presented performance on the State House lawn Saturday evening, Aug. 15, do not despair. The Vermont teen show will be releasing a film of the production and its timely questions in the fall — you can still “Listen Up!” 

Despite an evening at the State House that was unusually cool for this unusually warm summer, the compelling honesty and enthusiasm of the performers kept the audience of more than 350 engaged, even as they pulled blankets around their shoulders. The thrust of this earnest production is to face the questions that we ignore at our peril. That peril weighs heavily on the prospects and future of this rising generation. 

The summer of 2021 tour mounted nine performances in five towns, “Strong word-of-mouth reaction built audience interest throughout,” producer Bess O’Brien said. “If we’d had more time, it would have been great to do more shows — but the kids are heading back to school.”

The film version of the production is being edited from digital footage shot during two performances of the show at the Shelburne Museum, Aug. 13 and 14. Unlike the cool evening at the State House, those were some of the hottest days the show encountered, said O’Brien during a phone interview following the Montpelier show.

With a five-camera set-up covering the two successive shows, the editing process will have a wealth of footage to work with, O’Brien noted. “We have wide shots, close-ups, and the action is covered from every angle,” she said.

Distribution of the film is expected to begin in late October or early November through theaters, at schools, and through streaming to maximize exposure, O’Brien expects.

A video of one of the numbers in the show was produced during the lockdown with all of the performers recorded separately in full accord with the health department guidance, then integrated through the magic of digital editing. A link to the video is available: listenupvt.org/post/my-person-video-released

Although preparation for the production began during the early winter of 2019, the arrival of the coronavirus in the spring of 2020 swept aside the plan for 13 performances in theaters and town halls across the state. In addition to postponing the tour for a year, concern about the virus brought a decision to stage the show outdoors — and a host of additional “logistical rejiggering” challenges, O’Brien said. 

The cast included 16 Vermont teens, six more on the stage crew, and three in the live band. Development of the script came through interviews with more than 800 teens across Vermont during the project’s first stage in 2019, O’Brien noted in a press release earlier this summer.

The “Listen Up” Project is underwritten by Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Vermont and the Vermont Department of Health, along with Burton Snowboards, VSAC, the Alchemist Foundation, a Vermont Afterschool Summer Matters grant, the Vermont Children’s Trust Fund, and the Fountain Fund.