On a snowy February 12, members of the Listen Up team gathered at the Vermont State House with Governor Phil Scott, Attorney General TJ Donovan and supporters from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont, the Vermont Department of Health, VSAC and more to officially launch the Listen Up Project.
TJ said it was the best press conference he'd ever attended! We agree. We sure felt the love!
Bess spoke about how the project would involve 1000+ teens creating a musical by sharing what's important to them. She explained how, after a "listening phase," where we gather information through round table discussions, personal interviews, meet-ups, writing, theatre and music workshops, poetry, essays, political treatises, personal stories, and ideas for social change, we'll work with young script writers and composers to create a smash musical.
"Look out Lin-Manuel Miranda!" she said. Maybe he'll come!
Our awesome sponsors, Department of Health and BCBSVT, sent reps who spoke of the importance of Listen Up as a tool for young people.
Dr. Mark Levine, Vermont commissioner of health, discussed how the project will serve as an important tool for teens to talk about the challenges they face, including stressful situations at home and at school, obesity, and drug and alcohol use.
Don George, CEO of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Vermont, gave props to Bess!
“No one accomplishes storytelling as a people-focused strategy to lift and move us better than Bess O’Brien and Kingdom County Productions,” he said “This is what Bess does for us all. She uses stories to inspire and move us to engage in meaningful conversations that lead to solutions and change.”
Aww, thanks Don! We're so lucky to have her.
Of course, there were young voices at the presser, too. Annalise Shelmandine, who participated in Voices as a teen, gave a heart-rending account of what the project meant to her life.
"Every facet of my life has been shaped by my experience working with the Voices Project,” she said. “I was given a multitude of outlets to express myself, starting with the advisory board and growing to music writing and later as a cast member. Ultimately my work with the project transformed me from a fat girl struggling to find joy in anything to becoming a driven, confident, woman who knows her self worth. I am so honored that I was trusted to tell the stories of Vermont’s youth. To shine a light where people didn’t want to look. To make it a little easier to have the conversations that we all need to have but don’t know how to start,” she related.
Annalise, now not so much a teen, said the presser brought back feelings from the past.
"When I heard Bess telling the teens to get up front, I almost ran up there," she said. "Then I told myself, "That's not you anymore!"
The teens Bess called for real included Phin Brown, a youth leadership board member, who spoke at the press conference, standing among other members of the teen board.
“In the next six months, we’ll hear from more and more teens from all corners of our state—from Burlington to the most rural areas, from all racial and socioeconomic groups, from kids who like snowboarding to kids who like Cardi B," he said. "I challenge my fellow students to take this chance to express yourself in whatever way you choose. Listen Up will give you a huge variety of different forums to express what’s important to you. And I can’t wait until the curtain goes up and Vermont really listens to what we have to say,” he expressed.
Governor Scott rallied the troops as well, calling for even more than 1000 kids to jump on board, topping the Voices Project participation ratio of one in every 50 teens.
“We’re known here in Vermont for our tolerance and our compassion. It’s what makes this state so special. Here’s an opportunity for young Vermonters across the state to showcase that, to give back, to make a difference in their communities, state, and nation. So I hope you do. We’ll be listening and looking to learn from your stories,” he stressed.
When introducing Bess, Attorney General TJ Donovan praised her for speaking truth to power and for bringing the people of the state together.
“Bess O’Brien is a Vermont treasure,” he said.
Don't we all agree?