Ottawa teen's school bullying musical getting wider audience

An Ottawa teenager is about to take his musical about high school bullying to an Ottawa stage, and hopes the fact that it's written for teenagers by a teenager will help its message resonate.

17-year-old Elliot Wehrle's musical Break Before Bend to play at Centrepointe Theatre

An Ottawa teenager is about to take his musical about high school bullying to an Ottawa stage, and hopes the fact that it's written for teenagers by a teenager will help its message resonate.

Elliot Wehrle, 17, started writing the musical Break Before Bend when he was in Grade 10. (Kate Porter/CBC)
Elliot Wehrle, 17, has been working on Break Before Bend since he was in Grade 10. He composed all 23 songs and wrote the lyrics.

"For the last 10 years I've just been writing songs, starting out with little nothings," said Wehrle, who's been taking piano lessons since he was small. It was after his band took part in a school production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Jesus Christ Superstar that Wehrle was inspired to think bigger.

"The idea of a musical was just so enchanting to me. It was this grail," he said.

Musical about gay teen coming out

Wehrle's musical follows a gay teenager named Jesse, who decides to come out. The character tells his best friend and looks to her for support, but is ultimately let down when she doesn't stand up for him against his bullies.

While there have been high-profile cases of bullying in the Ottawa area in recent years, Wehrle says they did not inspire his musical. Instead, he was interested in focusing on the role of the bystander in high school life to reach a larger population of teens.

"As a student, the most frustrating thing is not necessarily the bullying, although that is very aggravating, but the lack of action to stop that bullying from other students," said Wehrle. "That's why I'm turning to all these student bystanders who have that power to really change these bullies, or inhibit these bullies, but do nothing."

Wehrle's Break Before Bend was performed in December for Grade 12 students at Mother Teresa High School in Barrhaven.

Members of his cast say its raw, serious themes led to many discussions in school hallways. They have also seen fellow students speak out against bullies since the production was performed.

"It's really cool to see the impact that it's had," said Sam Turgeon-Brabazon, who plays the bully.

Wehrle believes his message is able to get through because his musical is penned by someone their own age, rather than by an adult.

"For better or worse teenagers have this thing where they only really seem to listen to other teenagers," said Wehrle. "There's just a relationship there, a kind of unison there."

Play coming to Centrepointe Theatre in March

Wehrle and his cast felt the production should be seen more widely, so they rented Centrepointe Theatre in Ottawa for March 18 and 19.

"I don't know a teenager in Ottawa who can't relate this story to something else they've thought of in their own life," Turgeon-Brabazon said.

Through ticket sales, they hope to raise funds for Ottawa's Youth Services Bureau. And while teens are the primary target audience, Wehrle thinks adults would also get something out of Break Before Bend.

"I hope ... it'll help them see inside the tornado of these teenagers' minds, help them understand a bit, and maybe break down that wall that separates them," Wehrle said.