Students at Broadneck High School assemble each year for a theater production, but this year's offering, "Les Miserables," carried a special meaning and mission.
Director Emily Cory decided to use the performance as an opportunity to talk about and raise awareness of the subject of suicide, and to give students a chance to share their feelings and views on the subject.
"Les Miserables" suited this intention, as one of the main characters commits suicide.
Students staged performances at the Chesapeake Arts Center in Brooklyn Park on Thursday, with proceeds benefiting the Youth Suicide Awareness Action Team, a group launched by the Anne Arundel County Partnership for Children, Youth and Families in 2008.
The youth suicide awareness group help communities prevent suicides by providing support, services and resources for children and families, officials said. Also planned is a suicide prevention computer application for students, officials said.
"The cause is amazing, for us being able to use our talents to raise money for a great cause like that is really great," said Broadneck senior Ben Fisher, 18, of Annapolis.
Cory said that as the show came together, she discussed the topic with students because she knew they might be asked about their views.
"I didn't want them to feel afraid to answer or not feel safe enough to say 'I don't want to answer,' " Cory said. "I wanted to start the conversation in a place where we did feel safe. We have worked on fostering an environment that builds kids' confidence, and create a place that's safe enough to say what they're comfortable with — and what they're not."
Students said the annual production, which features teachers and staff as well as students, strengthens the school community.
The cast performed selections from the play for about 450 Brooklyn Park middle and elementary school students on Thursday afternoon. A performance for the general public was staged Thursday night.
Students were also asked to speak with the younger children about suicide prevention. Broadneck senior Madeline Poole, 17, of Annapolis was among those who volunteered.
"Theater helps you escape dark times," said Poole, one of a cast of more than 70 students in the production. Her work in theater has been helpful in dealing with the trials of growing up, she said, because "one way or another you don't feel alone, and you don't feel hopeless, and you gain confidence and you gain unity and a sense of self. Those are such powerful things."
Thursday's performance drew rave reviews, Cory said.
Broadneck senior Mariel White, 18, of Arnold said she was happy to use her love of theater to raise awareness of such a serious issue.
"Our program is full of people who care about kids, and not just putting on a show," she said.