For fans of actor Andy Mientus, his writing the novel adaptation of the comic The Backstagers for middle schoolers might not be the next step you were anticipating. “I wanted to write something whimsical and earnest,” says Mientus. After his most recent turn on TV’s Gone, about missing and abducted people, and Deaf West’s Spring Awakening on Broadway, Mientus welcomed the opportunity to enter the world of a St. Genesius Prep and the kids of the backstage crew with The Backstagers and The Ghost Light. “It feels really good to be working on something that celebrates teamwork, adventure, and the things that make theatre magical.”
Writing for young readers, Mientus always felt cognizant that they “are still learning about the world. I realized that I need to think of each character’s arc in terms of a lesson I wanted to impart when it was all over, something I wish I’d been told at that age.”
The new author is also excited to introduce the backstage theatrical realm to young audiences, as the Backstagers fight to save their production of Phantasm from the spirit haunting their theatre. “A lot of kids that love theatre genuinely don’t know or believe that you don’t need to be comfortable performing in a spotlight to be involved,” he says. Plus, Mientus got to relive some memories of his days as a spot-op and working in the scene shop as he came up in theatre.
Mientus’ Backstagers introduces new characters to the established comic world and is excited for his new creation to hit shelves September 25. “I was basically handed a fantastic world filled with fascinating lore and likeable, laser-specific characters and was tasked with dreaming up what happens next,” he says. “If I had just sat down at a blank white computer screen and tried to write a novel, I really don’t think I would have gotten very far.”
Here, read an exclusive excerpt from the first chapter of The Backstagers ahead of its official release:
There are a lot of myths surrounding the theatre—countless tales of doomed productions miraculously coming together just in time for opening night, of pants split right in the middle of big solos, of romances blossom- ing backstage on a ten-minute break and lasting for life.
Of course, most of these stories have little resemblance to the events that actually took place—theater kids have a way of embellishing their stories as much as they embellish their lockers with Playbills and show posters—but then, no one becomes a theater kid to look at life the way it actually is.
One theater myth that is particularly pesky is that the kids standing in the spotlight—the Onstagers—have all the fun and all the power, while the kids who control those very spotlights are just working in service of making the Onstagers shine. Which is so far from the truth!
Imagine if one of those Onstagers did something to tick off the wrong Backstager. That spotlight might just happen to malfunction during the Onstager’s big solo and plunge that kid’s shining moment into literal darkness.
Anyone who believes that particular myth has obviously never felt the power of illuminating someone else’s biggest moment with the touch of a button, and they have definitely never felt the joy of getting to wear a radio headset during a closing night performance, barking out cues and commands like a starship captain about to enter hyperdrive.
“Sasha, I HEARD that all the way in the light booth!” Beckett brayed into his headset, trying to sound stern but also trying to keep Diet Coke from spraying from his nose through his laughter. “That” which he heard all the way from the light booth was a big booming belch that erupted from the wings, interrupting a very tender and intimate moment of Lease, the tragic rock opera that was playing its final performance at St. Genesius Preparatory High School.
“How did you know it was me!?” Sasha asked. Ironically, the bellowing burp came from the smallest Backstager of the bunch. Sasha’s mop of blond hair appeared before he did, followed by his round, rosy face, tilting up with a big smile.
“Come on, dude, we all saw you housing that burrito on dinner break,” Beckett said. With his green spiky hair, plugs in his earlobes, and thick black glasses reflecting the constellation of light board controls below him, Beck- ett looked like a live wire and was fittingly high-strung in most situations. It didn’t help that he was never without a steady drip of caffeine from the cans and cans of Diet Coke he drank daily. When you power the lighting AND sound of a major theatrical production, something has to power you. Tonight, though, with all of the electrics work on the production almost behind him, he was relaxed and enjoying himself.
“Guys, focus, we’re moving into the finale. All hands on deck!” That was Hunter, official head builder of the St. Genesius Backstagers and unofficial leader of the group. He was a big bear hug of a guy whose tall brown hair added at least a half a foot more to his already impressive frame. He shot an eye roll across the stage to the opposite wing, where Jory, the newest Backstager (and Hunter’s newest boyfriend), was stationed.
Jory was smiling like an idiot. There is a special kind of warm feeling you get from managing to sneak a private moment in a crowded theater, and it is extra special when that private moment is part of a blossoming romance. Averagely tall, averagely built, averagely smart, and aver- agely social, Jory couldn’t believe that someone as remark- ably, unbelievably, write-in-your-journal-about-it awesome as Hunter had noticed him so quickly in his first year at his new school. In his hometown, before his mom got her new job and they had to move, he always considered him- self kind of invisible. Maybe that’s why he was so suited to making magic behind the scenes as a Backstager. Here, surrounded by his new friends, excelling in a new role, and finding his groove in a new place so quickly, he didn’t feel invisible at all. Tonight he felt incandescent.