Inside a little white church, on an improvised stage, you peek through the curtains to see the audience anticipating the spectacle to come. The pianist's hands press down on the keys as you and your fellow actors come out from the wings. The show begins. 
Located at the Fourth Presbyterian Church in South Boston, VSI Teen Theatre is one of many organizations across Boston that allows teens to not only act, but participate in the behind-the-scenes magic that brings a performance to life. Theatres such as these are where budding actors start on the long road to stardom.
Plenty of young people dream of walking down the red carpet as the DiCaprio and Jolie types applaud. However, even if your dreams are less performance-focused, theatre is still uniquely beneficial. For example, it’s an excellent way to develop social skills. Having participated in theater since I was 6, I’ve enhanced my public speaking skills and forged relationships with some of the most important people in my life. But do not just take it from me—take it from your peers who have found their calling on the stage. 
Antoine Gray Jr., a sophomore at Boston Arts Academy, began performing as a way to do something productive with all his Red-Bull-esque levels of energy. Acting has helped him break out of his self-proclaimed “bubble of crippling social awkwardness.” 
“As someone who has hated being themself at times, having the opportunity to step into someone else's shoes for a little while and live someone else's truth is really amazing,” said Gray. Performing is not something Gray does for acclaim; rather, it is a passion for entertaining others that drives him to bring a smile to the audience. “If I make can make one person in the crowd smile— even if I completely blew it—if I make someone smile, then mission accomplished,” he said.
“Well, it [theatre] has definitely been good for my ego,” joked local actor and expert breakdancer Kenny St. Fleur, also a students at BAA. Prior to joining an ensemble, St. Fleur was mostly a solo act on and off stage. If you were to meet St. Fleur, you would not believe it, but he was introverted for much of his childhood. But in 2016,  Kenny got his first big role, playing William Barfee in “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.” While doing his self-choreographed “Magic Foot” dance, St. Fleur earned a roar of applause as the audience fell for the former outcast. “I really love the craft and having everyone come together and seeing that end product,” he said. “It’s beautiful.”
Over the course of putting together a show, the cast becomes like a family. For her cast, actress and production manager Marion Downey is the glue that keeps the family on the track to success. Downey spends many nights at production meetings, getting into the nitty-gritty details of show magic, and spends her days reciting lines and rehearsing scenes.
After several starring roles, including Seymour in “Little Shop of Horrors” and Adolfo Pirelli in “Sweeney Todd,” Downey shines backstage, taking up a number of technical roles. As production manager, she sets up and inspects the rehearsal space, oversees the creation of costumes and props, and communicates messages between the director and cast. Her responsibilities are teaching her the discipline and leadership skills she needs to be successful in her future career.
Theater is more than performing, more than putting on silly outfits, saying silly words, and dancing around a stage. It is exposing yourself to something new. It is developing skills that will last a lifetime. It is meeting new people and forging new relationships. It is overcoming your challenges and making the world your stage. Because in the end, all the world's a stage anyway—isn’t it time you find your role? 

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AFH Photo//Archibaldo Soto
I am the Warlock Odus, eye of lightning and my dragon is Nylrys, the eternal one. My loyal friend and I have been alive for many centuries, but the knowledge we hold was not easy to come by. Sit down, young Warlock, and let me tell you the story of the enchanted country of Nepulan. 
To understand this story, you must know that this ancient land was run by the three original races, the Woodland Elves, the High Elves, and the Dark Elves. The Woodland Elves were best known for their ties to nature, the High Elves known for the elements, and the Dark Elves known for their brute strength and dark magic. The Elves all signed a blood Oath stating that they would stay seperate, only trading goods and directions to the nearest port. The most important part of the pact was that they could never invade each others’ homes. Remember this. Now...let us begin.

The Beginning
Mnementh Ralofina sat by the Great Lake, its beauty breathtaking and absolute. The Flaring Mountains surrounded the Woodland City of Ares Serine. A small opening lay ahead, the only way onto the beach. White sand packed the ground, and a gentle breeze blew through Mnementh’s hair. With a deep breath, Mnementh gracefully got up and turned his back to the Lake. One more look, he told himself. Being a Woodland Elf meant that he was one with nature. The woods were his home and the animals his friends. A large speck of white blocked his vision, and his heart stopped. The High Elves had come, which could only mean one thing: they broke the most sacred agreement. They broke the Pact. Summoning all of his energy, Mnementh leaped onto a tree, and continued to leap from one tree to another. He needed to get to Ares Serine before it was too late. 
As Mnementh landed at the gates of his home, his vision grew red, and his sight darkened. Their sacred tree, Eeflon, was damaged. Every single Woodland Elf would feel her pain. He was too late. The High Elves were already there. Mnementh climbed the gates to his city and saw a world of fire. Woodland Elves were being stabbed, slashed and shot full of arrows. Their arrows did no harm to the High Elves’ armor. Their metal shattered when it came in contact with the High Elves’ elven steel. An earth-shaking roar pierced Mnementh’s ears. His heart leapt with joy and hope. The young Warlock Odus had heard their cry and had come to help. He jumped off of Nylrys, his jet black dragon, and threw blasts of magic. The High Elves all turned in unison, and every High Elf threw balls of fire at the Warlock. He blocked and wove magic so fast that Mnementh’s eyes could barely keep up. Nylrys was just as deadly, raking his great claws through the ranks of enemy elves. Tongues of blue flame came from his maw and lit up the elves...

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AFH Photo//Dominic Duong
Hello class/
Answer this question truthfully, honestly, and with fairness, please./
Raise your hand if you feel that you have any reason to be scared of me/
And It's fine/
its seems i/
Wasn’t thinking carefully/
By that i mean that if you’re terrified by a man who writes, then shakespeare must keep you up at night./
I am nowhere near sorry, because if you are afraid of creativity, then allow me to tell you ghost stories/
Ain’t it funny that we know what school we go to and even knowing that we make the same mistakes every school has to go through/
Mistakes we simply cannot make because of what we think we stand for/
And yet forever more i’ll be labeled unstable hiding under every table until im able to pick up a pencil again/
Instead of trying to comprehend, you chose to enslave my name to the government/
I wait patiently knowing my life could be ruined with a stroke of a pen/
Its funny cause i trusted you/
I opened up my mind for you, i guess my thoughts just threaten you/
I wish i could apologize for being different but then i'd be sorry for living too/
And who is anyone to tell me my creativity is dangerous/
Are words on paper enough to endanger us/
We live in a world with drugs and gun violence and a poem is where we draw the line/
A brutal reality where a man can’t even speak his mind/
Your actions say it all, i’m walking on thin ice/
And don't you ever say you were trying to help me, all you did was set me up/
If you wanted a conversation then you would’ve just hit me up/
But it's clear to me now that when you’re afraid you lose all the logic that you need most/
My words truly frighten you? You look like you’ve seen a ghost/
God so help me I never imagined that people could be so tragic to not think about their actions before they play with matches and i just so happen to be ashes that stands in your way of havoc/
Make me the bad guy this time by recording my every rhyme and making it like a crime that I’ve committed/
Convicted by every judge that my words are the tools that did it/
I can honestly go on and on about everything that was wrong/
Even had a cop say that i don’t belong/
Creativity is on trial and you sentenced it to death/
Creation is my oxygen, and i'll savor every breath/
Aren't we all afraid of something?/

We're allowed to feel our fear, we are paranoid of what's becoming/
But what happens when what you’re afraid of is merely nothing/
What happens when you make a mistake because you were too busy running/
Am I criminal?/
Are we to believe I had bad intentions/
Nobody ever mentioned it when I finished each sentence/
Now thanks a lot to our society for falsely labeling me because the fact that we cannot see the true signs of profane rationality/
I'm glad my information will be carefully evaluated/
I'm captivated by the idea of a piece I created to be mistranslated, not even debated before they went ahead and complicated/
I wanted to put forth my mind and body into every invention I made/
And once again I will not apologize for thinking to be brave/
Because every loving piece I ever written was for me/
I will not cease and decrease, this an order by my decree/
This is my declaration, consider my voice weapon/
Your oppression will only succeed in fueling my own obsession/
So if you're still afraid of me then you've taken my words for granted/
The world will meet its change, listen and understand this/
Hope you'll come to terms and thought about repentance/
This is the end for our clearly innocent defendant/
Goodbye my creativity gone without its vengeance/
-Death Sentence

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AFH Photo//Janna Mach
According to society, youth is beauty.
It is a recycled set-up as old as time: the protagonist is a young maiden with rosy cheeks and a blemish-free face while the villain is a hunchbacked, cackling witch. The question is: why? What makes this overused trope so popular in our culture’s narratives? The answer to that question could lie in the long history of ageism.
Ageism can best be described as the practice of showing prejudice toward someone due to their age. While underrepresented in the media, ageism is important to address. The idea that aging is a terrible thing that must be hidden is very harmful for women of any age, as it steers women to comply to a single standard for beauty. While guilty of many crimes, ageism truly rears its ugly head in the workplace, whether it be Hollywood or an average office.
Jamie Denbo, who plays Ginsberg in the hit show “Orange Is The New Black,” auditioned for an unnamed project last year. She was rejected. Appalled, she Tweeted, “I was just informed that at the age of 43, I am TOO OLD to play the wife of a 57-year-old.” 
Carrie Fisher, best known for her iconic role as Princess Leia, began the Star Wars franchise at age 19. Fanboys of the film lusted after her in the 70s and 80s. However, as she got older and dared to look her age, the actress noticed her treatment by fans shifting. Many people began intense debates on whether or not she aged well, as if she were merely an object to be judged. Fisher told the Wall Street Journal, “I swear when I was shooting those films I never realized I was signing an invisible contract to stay looking the exact same way for the rest of my existence.” 
While Hollywood does have its fair share of ageism towards women, the film business is not the only place this can be found. In the Washington Post article “Why Age Discrimination is Worse for Women,” Lydia DePillis reports on a study by David Neumark and Ian Burn of the University of California at Irvine and Patrick Button of Tulane University. The team sent out 40,000 fake résumés that reflected the experience of fictional 42- to 51-year-olds. When they zoomed in on a sample of female applicants, they discovered that “those age 49 to 51 got 29 percent fewer callbacks than applicants age 29 to 31, and workers age 64 to 66 got 47 percent fewer callbacks.” In other words, older women in the workplace are less likely to get jobs just because of their age, no matter their qualifications. 
It is therefore no surprise that even young women are apprehensive of aging. “I don’t think anyone wants to be that old because of the idea that your life is over,” said Malia Setalsingh, sophomore at Boston Collegiate Charter School. “I feel like all old people look like raisins.” 
What we need now is acceptance. It is ridiculous that something so trivial can allow someone to be excluded. However, some women choose to see getting older in a positive light. One such woman is the Deputy Director & Chief Academic Officer of WriteBoston, 36-year-old Jessie Gerson. “When I was younger, I worried about getting older, but as it turns out, it feels like life just gets better,” Gerson said. “I enjoy feeling a clearer sense of purpose professionally as I get older.”
Blyss Swan, sophomore at Benjamin Banneker Academic High School, has a similar outlook. “Growing old is a part of life, and you’re lucky to live that long,” she said. “So what’s the point of stressing about something inevitable?”
 Many people think growing older is an adventurous experience, while others think it can be terrifying. Both groups of people are right! Middle aged to elderly women have adventures, along with struggles. They are human beings and should not have to go through the biased profiling they do today throughout the workplace, Hollywood or not. The concept of ageism is ridiculous enough as it is. There is no reason it should impact women’s careers.

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AFH Photo//Kat Morgan
The day Johnny Maxwell killed himself is a day I’ll never forget.
 I felt something was wrong from the moment I awoke. The tension in the air fogged my head and translated into every step. As I got up to face the day, my movements grew heavier. I got to school and sat down in class. The gnawing in my chest and the ringing in my ears were relentless. Something was wrong. I could feel it in every fiber of my being.
At 3:02 pm, I found out that a former classmate of mine committed suicide. He was a freshman in high school.
 That entire day, all of my social media was flooded: Snapchats with condolences, Instagrams of throwbacks and memories—the heartbreaking, prayer-filled Tweets. He was a student at Queen Creek High School, in a small town called Queen Creek, Arizona, where I lived for two years. He was a teenage boy who did not deserve this ending. 
Johnny was not the first Queen Creek student to end his life. According to Fox 10 Phoenix, five students at QCHS have committed suicide since May 2017.
 The Center of Disease Control and Prevention names suicide as the third leading cause of death in kids 10 to 14 and second leading cause of death in youths ages 15-24 in 2015. This is the result of a spike in teen suicides over the last 17 years. Rural areas have suffered a 40 percent increase in suicide since 1999, according to the American Council On Science and Health. Researchers have searched for what could possibly be the cause of these rates and they have discovered a variety of factors—from the opioid crisis to poverty due to the 2008 economic recession.
However, the suicide epidemic seems to have hit rural areas like Queen Creek particularly hard. According to NPR, small, rural towns in the United States have the highest rates for teen suicide in the country—and, from my own experience, I can understand why. When I lived in Queen Creek, there was a strong lack of diversity. Not many people fall outside the white, conservative, Mormon category. There isn’t anything wrong with being those things, but there is a great amount of isolation and stigma for people who do not fit into these boxes. Rural towns like mine tend to have passionate views, as well as overall ignominy for anything less than perfect mental health.
Anya Edwards, a freshman at Boston Arts Academy, used to live in a small town called Hoosick Falls in New York. She remembers that there wasn’t much to do, and  believes that living in a tiny town can be very depressing. “I think that a lot of the kids felt like there was nowhere to go, and they were going to be there their entire lives—stuck,” she said. 
Small towns have always been portrayed a certain way—whimsical, close-knit, behind the times, and shielded. There is some underlying truth to that. However, while popular TV shows like “Twin Peaks,” “The Vampire Diaries” and “Gilmore Girls” depict this rural town lifestyle, they fail to ever discuss suicide.
 It’s like sex education. A Health and Human Service statistic report shows that areas that do not equip young people with safe sex practices tend to have higher rates of teen pregnancy. Similarly, if students are not equipped with mental health resources, we see the same results—pregnancy paralleling suicide. 
 “If schools started talking about suicide awareness at a younger age and offered students more support, the suicide rates would definitely start to drop," said Alex Hancock, a freshman at QCHS. Hancock didn’t get education on mental health until high school, but wishes it started in middle school. 
"My little sister started middle school as a sixth grader this year,” Hancock said.  “A couple weeks ago, she came home in tears because her friend, who is also in sixth grade, drank hand sanitizer during school in the hopes that it would kill her.”
 The bottom line is that teens in small towns are not supported in a way that prevents suicide. In Arizona, Project Connect Four is trying to change that by raising awareness and striving to help the teens there, after all the tragedy in the last year.
“We’re not the suicide experts. Nobody wants to be a suicide expert,” said Christina Nguyen, president of Project Connect 4. “But what we try to do is align ourselves with people who have that knowledge and information to come in and, for example, do workshops or assemblies.”
 Nguyen also said, “suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” And it’s true. We hear these messages of “you matter” and “suicide isn’t the answer” all the time. It can sound generic and fake, in one ear and out the other. But, they’re true. 
There are people fighting to make a change for all of us. Nguyen suggests that the best way for other small towns to start combating teen suicide is by finding people and groups that are also taking action, and sharing information with them. 
There are many resources taken for granted or ignored. And because of this, people like Johnny Maxwell, are gone. You never really understand all of the numbers and statistics until it happens to you.

If you or a friend is contemplating suicide or self-harm, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, available 24 hours every day.

*Maxwell’s name has been changed.

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