Young cast performs new anti-bullying musical, 'Out of My Comfort Zone'

Editor's Note: This guest post from long-time GLAAD volunteer Dan Bacalzo is part of GLAAD's effort to draw more attention to theater projects with LGBT content. To find more LGBT-inclusive plays in Los Angeles and New York, please visit

By Dan Bacalzo

Josh, a 13-year-old middle school student, is about to be outed as gay in an online blog written by the school bully. That's the premise for the new rock musical Out of My Comfort Zone, written by Ivy Vale and Rick Reil. The tuner is receiving its world premiere from the Children's Acting Company at the American Theatre of Actors in New York City, February 5-8.

"I was reading in the news these absolutely horrendous stories about kids being bullied, really young kids committing suicide," says Vale, explaining the initial impetus for the show. Reil continues, "12 and 13 is a hard enough time for anyone to come of age, and then to have the additional burden to defend yourself for who you are is just an outrage." The couple, who are married to one another, began to develop the piece after receiving early encouragement from Mimi Stuart, artistic director of the Children's Acting Academy (the Children's Acting Company is that organization's producing body). Stuart and Vale are co-directing the production.

"The show is about cutting through stereotypes," says Vale. In addition to the central storyline about Josh, the musical includes a number of subplots about other kids at the school and their potential romantic entanglements. Also, an enterprising young student takes it upon herself to do some investigative reporting about the school bully to find out what secrets he himself is hiding.

Vale and Reil would like to see the musical picked up and produced at schools across the country as both an entertainment and an educational tool. "We're hoping to help some kids who are maybe conflicted about whether or not it's right for them to come out," says Vale. But for right now, they're concentrated on their premiere production.

In it, Will Ehren plays Josh, and the creators knew he was the right choice for the role from the show's initial reading. "He brought so much intensity to it," says Reil, while Vale adds "He was doing the lines not necessarily how I heard them in my head, but bringing so much more to them in terms of realness."

Ehren is part of an acting ensemble of 22, all of whom are 12-14 years of age, with some of the female roles double-cast. Vale and Reil's own daughter, Violet, is one of the two girls playing Rachel, Josh's best friend. Violet and her peers at the Children's Acting Company proved crucial to the songwriters as they were developing their material. "The kids were really responsive to what they were hearing," says Vale. "They were over doing demos and Rick and I were kind of using them as guinea pigs."

As they began to have conversations with the young cast about the themes of the show, they were surprised to find out that homosexuality "wasn't a big deal for them." As Vale explains, "It's not to say that bullying doesn't go on, but their age group is way more accepting than I realized, and here's where I see ultimately so much hope for the future. As kids become more accepting of differences, the social norms are starting to shift."

However, Vale also strikes a cautionary note by mentioning the case of Leelah Alcorn, the 17-year-old transgender teen whose suicide note, posted to Tumblr, went viral in early January. "I was just in tears all over again," she says. "Just when you think you're going two steps forward, you read a story like that and you feel like there's such a long way to go."

Out of My Comfort Zone is being presented by the Children's Acting Company at the American Theater of Actors, Chernuchin Theater (314 West 54th Street, New York, NY). Performances are Thursday-Saturday at 7:30pm; Saturday at 3:30pm; and Sunday at 2pm & 6pm. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased on For more information, visit

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