'It's my way of reaching out to people': New Trier grad's play will benefit charity

  • Family members face some hard truths in "Nuclear Family," a play written and directed by New Trier grad Trenton Rothbard.

    Family members face some hard truths in "Nuclear Family," a play written and directed by New Trier grad Trenton Rothbard. Courtesy of Trenton Rothbard

  • Cast members rehearse for the opening of Trenton Rothbard's "Nuclear Family" at the Citadel Theatre this weekend.

    Cast members rehearse for the opening of Trenton Rothbard's "Nuclear Family" at the Citadel Theatre this weekend. Courtesy of Trenton Rothbard

  • "Nuclear Family," written by Trenton Rothbard and premiering at Citadel Theatre this weekend, explores what life would be like for one family if the Cold War continued.

    "Nuclear Family," written by Trenton Rothbard and premiering at Citadel Theatre this weekend, explores what life would be like for one family if the Cold War continued. Courtesy of Trenton Rothbard

  • New Trier graduate Trenton Rothbard's "Nuclear Family" explores the tensions within a family sheltering after the bomb drops.

    New Trier graduate Trenton Rothbard's "Nuclear Family" explores the tensions within a family sheltering after the bomb drops. Courtesy of Trenton Rothbard

 
 
Updated 6/2/2022 1:16 AM

Trenton Rothbard has known for a long time he wanted to stage a play or a musical but thought it would be someone else's work.

This weekend, the recent New Trier grad -- he just got his diploma Sunday -- is finally staging that production.

 

But it's his own work the actors will perform.

Trenton, 18, of Glencoe has been acting since fourth grade. He first became involved "because my mom told me to," he said with a chuckle, adding that he tended not to be "sports-inclined" as a child.

"I once shot at the wrong basket," he said. "And after shooting at the wrong basket, I still missed."

Basketball's loss turned out to be a win for theater.

He's acted and also directed. He's always enjoyed writing, he says, but hadn't found a project he wanted to finish.

"Like everybody else, I'd write a few chapters of a book and put it to the side," he said.

Then he took a theater class at New Trier where he learned to write 10-minute plays, and the writing bug bit hard.

"I wanted this to be different, he said. "I wanted to finish."

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So he started writing and editing whenever he had a chance, while still going to school and taking part in school activities.

"I very vividly remember I had a dance concert and, when we weren't rehearsing, I'd be off to the side editing Act II," he said. "I edited it on and off whenever I could over the next few weeks."

In all, it took roughly two months

"Writing something full-length -- that was something I really wanted to do," Trenton said.

"The writing process and deciding to (perform the play) came at two different times. I knew I wanted to put on a play or a musical for a long time; initially I thought it would be something somebody else wrote. But after I'd written my own and edited a lot, I felt good about saying 'why don't I do this one?'"

The result was "Nuclear Family," which runs at 7:30 p.m. Friday, June 3, and 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, June 4-5, at the Citadel Theatre, 300 Waukegan Road, Lake Forest.

The play examines what could've happened if the Cold War had continued and the nuclear bomb was dropped on the United States.

"The play is set with that in the backdrop, in a nuclear bunker built long ago," Trenton said.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"There's a family in there together and they don't know when they can get out. One of the children hasn't spoken to the family in years, but they all got back together for a wedding, then the news broke about the bomb. (The play) deals with family tension, how the dynamic works inside the bunker and what he's going through."

Not only did Trenton write the play, he also paid for it to be produced and performed by working as a busboy at a coffee shop in Winnetka during the summer.

"It was pretty grueling, being outside and darting around in the heat," he said, laughing.

"But I wouldn't be here if it weren't for other people going out of their way to help me. I'm so grateful for that. We're all working together to make this happen, and I'm really proud of that.

Some of that help came from Citadel staff members, who helped him with every aspect of the play at what Trenton described as an "ideal" venue for his play.

Proceeds from ticket sales and direct donations benefit NAMI-Chicago, a nonprofit organization that offers mental health advocacy, education and support.

It's relevant because the play examines mental health issues, of course, but it's also a cause important to Trenton himself.

"My whole life I've had anxiety and dealt with mental health issues," Trenton said. "What's great about the show is that, a lot of the things I was able to take from my own experiences and things that I've gone through, are my way of reaching out to people.

"There's no way I'm the only one who has felt this way, so if I can use something I know, in this case mental health, and articulate how I have felt through these characters, then I want to have that effect on the audience members. It's the best tool I have at my disposal to help people feel heard."

Tickets cost $10; proceeds benefit NAMI-Chicago, a nonprofit organization.

Info and tickets: citadeltheatre.easy-ware-ticketing.com/events.

Donate directly to NAMI-Chicago: give.namichicago.org/fundraiser/3924168.

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