Greendale — Not even five minutes into the high school assembly, a student from the audience shouted "Faggot!" and was directed out of the auditorium by administrators.
The insult's target — Jacob Metoyer of the MWAH! Performing Arts Troupe — stood shell-shocked on the stage before he discontinued his monologue about being a victim of bullying and dejectedly retreated backstage.
The outburst was a staged aspect of the performance, but the students didn't know that at first. And that's what kept their attention.
MWAH!, which stands for Messages Which Are Hopeful, is a theatrical youth group based out of Chicago that performed for Greendale High School and Greendale Middle School students Monday.
The group's purpose is to discuss teen-related problems — ranging from divorcing parents to drunken driving and huffing aerosol — through monologue, music and dancing.
And, as the performance's unexpected outburst demonstrated, MWAH! doesn't candy-coat teenage conflicts.
"The performing arts is a way to convey messages," said MWAH! DirectorRay Moffitt, who began the troupe 16 years ago. "We want to have a positive impact on schools by addressing a variety of serious issues."
MWAH! promotes good choices, such as avoiding substance abuse and enforcing tolerance for everyone, without ignoring others' poor life decisions.
The 19 members of the troupe understand the pressures of being a teenager, because they're teens themselves; they present only two performances a month so that the troupe doesn't interfere with schoolwork.
"We want our performers to be about the same age as the audience, so it's more relatable," Moffitt said.
Chad Sype, 13 and a student at Lincoln Junior High School in Naperville, Ill., has been involved with more than a dozen performances since he joined the troupe in February.
"I always learn something new at each school," Sype said. "MWAH! opened my eyes to how bad the bully problem is. I know there's bullying at every school — that's just going to happen — but I love creating something with great friends that helps other kids."
So what did Sype learn at Monday's first assembly, held for Greendale Middle School students?
"I learned, based off the audience's reaction, that when you touch upon a serious subject, Greendale (Middle School) students respect you more," Sype said, noting other performances where audiences were inattentive.
Keeping it real
Occasionally during the presentation, performers used derogatory words related to sexual orientation or race to emphasize the devastating effects teasing can have.
"It's shocking language, but it's something they hear in the real world," Middle School Principal John Weiss said. "I think it's appropriate because people do use that language, and it makes (the presentation) that more effective....It's a message that touches kids on different levels."
During an especially sober segment of the performance, troupe members held enlarged photos of contemporary icons related to bullying or other atrocities, including the beaming faces of two young Sandy Hook casualties. The group also addressed the Trayvon Martin case and the 2012Wisconsin Sikh temple shooting in Oak Creek.
The point, Sype said, was to remind fellow students that one should never be afraid to ask for help from friends, family or school faculty members.
"If there's a group or club that promotes our anti-bullying (and teen support) messages, that'd be perfect," Sype said.