The world, the stage, the way ahead

Deb was still new to this high school in Peabody. She had arrived a year ago, a stranger dropped into the junior class, knowing no one and lacking all their shared history. She had found her way to the vaunted theater program, establishing a foothold in a realm that felt magical. This show was headed to a high-stakes statewide competition. Did she really think she belonged on that stage? She had resolved to find out.
Deb (left) and the rest of Peabody Veterans Memorial High School’s drama cast arrived in Danvers, where they would rehearse for the Massachusetts High School Drama Festival. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
Deb rehearsed in her role as Yaz Ortiz in the play “Water by the Spoonful” with Melissa Poirier as Odessa. Deb felt deeply connected to the story. In the play, by Quiara Alegria Hudes, Elliot is estranged from his mother, Odessa. That was a sorrow Deb knew well: she hadn’t talked to her own mother in a year. Their relationship had splintered long ago, and the distance between them had calcified the rift. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
Marc Fournier, Tim Serino, Gabe Goldman, Deb, Melissa Poirier, and Caroline Castro broke into song backstage during a break in practice. Deb had slowly come to trust the tight-knit theater group. They were constantly together, and felt as close as siblings. She had told most of them about her immigration status and her separation from her family. When their rehearsals went late, she leaned on them, sleeping over in many of her castmates’ homes. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
Rachael Carr, Chloe Currier, and Deb joked as they made the gifts in Rachael’s living room to give to the other schools teams for semifinals at Hamilton-Wenham Regional High School. Deb often spent the night at Rachael’s house. It wasn’t her own family, her own home, but it felt familiar, comfortable. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
Deb was surrounded by her fellow cast members as they huddled for their pre-show chant before the first run of their show at an in-school performance. The auditorium filled with noisy students brought there by their teachers, indifferent to the performance about to begin, but amped up by the escape from classroom routine. The cast felt exposed and vulnerable, unveiling work they cared about so much; they worried that their classmates wouldn’t get it, wouldn’t care. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
Deb grabbed onto Johnny Pappas as a gust of wind kicked up snow during semifinals at Hamilton-Wenham Regional High School as they waited for the truck to arrive so they could load up their set. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
Deb helped unload pieces of their set as they arrived at Hamilton-Wenham for semifinals. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
At the technical rehearsal for semifinals, the actors disbanded after posing for a group photo. By day, Deb played the part of a regular teenager: concerned with grades and devoted to her friends. Only alone at night, did she acknowledged her secret: She was an undocumented immigrant. Her parents lived 5,000 miles away in Brazil. And though she had a place to stay for now, with relatives, she could not live with them forever. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
Deb runs through her lines at Danvers High during a techinical rehearsal of the play “Water by the Spoonful”. Since December, when they began, she had practiced setting everything aside when she stepped into rehearsal. Whatever darkness had plagued Deb this winter - the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., that took 17 lives and stunned her with its horror; Trump’s continued calls for a wall at the Mexican border; her guilt at abandoning her little sister in Brazil, and her guilt at burdening the aunt and uncle she lived with - she blocked it all out to focus on the task at hand. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
Marc Fournier (center) was an actor who should have had a million reasons to avoid the spotlight. A year ago it didn’t look as though he would graduate from high school. Drama had been the only thing that had gotten him to go to school at all. In the spotlight, Marc found a sense of comfort and control that overpowered his darker thoughts. Backstage before a show, he drank a cup of peach tea, his ritual before going onstage. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
Deb pushed her way through a door off stage during a technical rehearsal at Danvers High School, where their first performance of the festival would be held. Deb had been cast in the role of Yaz Ortiz, a young music scholar from a Puerto Rican family. One thing gave her increasing confidence was her ability to channel the character Yaz. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
Melissa Poirier (left) leaned over to add to the words Deb had scrawled on the chalkboard in character: “Yaz was here.” as they tried to distract themselves before their semifinal performance at Hamilton-Wenham Regional. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
Tim Serino held a laminated photograph of Barack Obama high over his head as the bus rolled into semifinals at Hamilton-Wenham Regional High School. The well-worn photo had long been the Peabody students’ good-luck charm; it accompanied them to every competition and always drew cheers from the other schools. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
Tim Serino laughed as Matteo Vieria paraded Alex Serino around while Melissa Poirier helped to steady him as they blew off steam backstage before their semifinal performance at Hamilton-Wenham Regional High School. Beneath the energy in the room, there was tension, each of them silently willing themselves not to fail. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
Deb held tightly to the portrait of Obama that had become Peabody’s talisman as she paced in the classroom that served as their dressing room at semifinals at Hamilton-Wenham Regional High School. Deb had been worrying for hours. After all the rushing to get here, to get ready, the unexpected lull was both soothing and unnerving. They were minutes from the critical moment of reckoning: the performance that would send them home in defeat or on to the final round in victory. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
“Water by the Spoonful” was the type of theater Peabody Veterans Memorial High School was known for: dark, demanding, contemporary drama. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
Deb (center) and the rest of the members of Stage One learned their play was selected to advance to finals during semifinals at Hamilton-Wenham Regional High School. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
Anakin Fleming, who played Elliot, tucked a rose into his bag after semifinals. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
On the morning of the finals, the Stage One members went out to breakfast together at a diner across the street from the entrance to their high school. Marc rested his head on Koby Hirschaut’s shoulder as the waitress came by to pick up the checks. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
Backstage at the finals of the Massachusetts High School Drama Festival, Deb lay quietly on the floor, her hair spread out around her. They had spent the last two days in Boston, watching the other finalists perform. It felt like a celebration, of everything they had worked for, but now the finality of it all was starting to hit them. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
Koby Hirschaut, Tim Serino, and Marc Fournier jumped and clicked their heels as they dashed down the sidewalk after going out for dinner before the awards were announced at Fest. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
Rachael Carr stood in the shadows backstage as she waited to help the others unload the set at John Hancock Hall during finals. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
Rachael, Deb, Andrea, and Chloe walked through Boston during the drama festival. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
Director Stephanie Manning, known to the kids as “Smann,” took in the show as the cast ran through scenes during their tech rehearsal for finals. Manning had chosen this play for their festival run. A Peabody graduate herself, now 30, she had instinctive empathy for teenagers, and she believed in them. They looked up to her, in turn, with affection and respect - not because she was easy to please, but because she expected so much. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
Marc and Deb sat on his couch together in his basement bedroom illuminated by the glow of the television. The play had brought them closer and a friendship had blossomed. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
Moments before their final performance at Fest, Deb embraced her fellow cast members. The actors tried to push the finality of this moment aside, but the truth remained: They would never be together like this again. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
As Smann gathered the actors into a tight circle, Deb thrust out her hand with her Brazilian passport in it. Together, they chanted the rhyme they always said before a show - whatever the weather; we’re in this together - pledging their commitment to the play and to each other. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
After their performance at finals, Deb and Alex Serino ran off-stage to celebrate with the rest of the cast. All of the uncertainty, the nerves, the bittersweet nature of their last performance was pushed aside. They might win and they might lose. She didn’t know how it would turn out, but in this moment it didn’t seem to matter. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
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