Serena: Carrie, you wrote The Cupcake Club book series which the show is based on. Where did the idea for the story come from?
Carrie: I based it on my elementary school where I was a peer mediator. In my schoolyard I would walk around and hear about other people’s problems and it was interesting learning about how so many people my age were experiencing bullying. At the same time, I was also a cupcake connoisseur, so I was traveling around the world reviewing exotic cupcakes. I put my two interests together, as well as creative writing which I always loved to do and decided to make a book pitch for a book about cupcakes. Since my mom is a published writer, I showed it to her and she passed it along to her agent. I was really surprised that her agent liked it and I got a book deal that we could do together.
Serena: When you were writing the book, did you think it would make a good musical?
Carrie: Not at all. I didn’t even know it was going to be picked up from the agent, not to mention now it’s an Amazon Best Seller. It was shocking and the musical is just the icing on the cake, no pun intended.
Serena: How closely does the musical follow the book? Did you make any changes?
Carrie: Well, Diego and Jack’s characters are completely new. Jeremy is in the book, but we developed the J Squad a little bit more to mirror the BLAH Girls Squad. Kylie and Jeremy have a little bit of a thing in the musical. We developed the BLAH Girls Squad’s personalities a bit more. We have a character named Abby who is a little bit rebellious, a little bit skeptical about Meredith’s motives. Jack’s character, Josh, was actually inspired by Jack because his character is a dancer.
Our producer, Jill Jaysen, is having us do a lot of character development, she helps us really dig deep into our characters – I made the character of Sadie in the book really deep because she has dyslexia and that’s something I saw people being bullied for in the schoolyard.
Serena: Starting with Diego, tell us what role you play in the musical and a little bit about your character.
Diego: I play Jason and he is a bit of a jokester. I can relate to it because I have always wanted to be a comedian – I am a funny man, guys. Jason is a bit impulsive with his words sometimes. Well, at least that’s how I imagine it. I have a big musical number where I try the cupcakes for the first time and get everyone involved in them at the eco fair
Ksenia: I play Sadie. I am basically the athletic jock of The Cupcake Club, and like Carrie said, I have a big issue – I am dyslexic. A big message of this musical is how you are insecure and how people can bully you about how different you are. Sadie is very scared of showing herself – that she is okay with being dyslexic. She has a problem, she can deal with it and it’s hard for her to find her place. When she finds this cupcake group, I see that she really can be herself and people will understand her and all her friends will be true to her.
Jack: I play Josh. He is part of the J team with Jeremy and Jason and the others, but he is somewhat different. Since he is a dancer and a jock, the other boys question, “oh, can you be a dancer and a jock.” Even though they accept him, he still feels a little on the outside, like none of them can really relate to him or his passion for dance and the arts.
Carrie: I think that’s what makes Josh so special, that he is this character who is so different and his friends still understand him. That’s something that Kylie is longing for and maybe that’s why she admires Jeremy so much or she accepts Josh.
I play Kylie Carson. She is a girl who is very quirky. She loves monster movies, and just like Sadie, she feels misunderstood. Nobody at school likes monster movies, they are usually into social media like Meredith and her BLAH Girls Squad. Just as Ksenia was saying, there is a deeper meaning to these characters. We have been telling people this isn’t just a musical; it’s a movement, because we are not only just telling the story of these kids in middle school. They are kids in middle school who are all different, but they are making a difference together by raising awareness for bullying. The show is partnered with NoBully.org and we are going to raise awareness for the charity.
Serena: Do you eat any real cupcakes during the show or are they all fake?
Carrie: We learned how to juggle fake cupcakes. They are dog toys we take squeakers out of. Our producer knows how messy it would get if we have all the cupcakes on stage, and also sugar before a show isn’t necessarily the best idea. But we are selling a hundred cupcakes every show for the audience.
Serena: Since you are the author of the book, how much of yourself did you put into Kylie? Are you at all similar?
Carrie: I mean, I hate monster movies in real life. I have always been kind of a girly girl. When I wrote the book I was 8 and I wasn’t quirky at all. I was shy like Kylie, but this book has helped me grow out of my shell. As I have done theater, that also helped me come out of my shell. So I guess now I am more like Kylie. I am very outgoing and quirky, and I am kind of like how Kylie is at the end of the play. She learns to accept herself even if she is different from her peers. I can relate to that because people in school, they don’t do all this theater stuff. It’s hard to relate to someone who has a published book. I just try to focus on myself and keep going.
Serena: Your show is working in conjunction with NoBully.org. Can you talk about your experience with bullies?
Diego: I was a musical theater kid. I come from a Florida, a little town that is right next to Disney World. Most people there are very into sports, even some of the girls, they are very fierce competitors. Every boy has to either be playing soccer, football, or something like that. I would be the guy who everybody would stay away from because they know that he is going to sing or dance. The only place I could feel free to do that was in a musical theater type of school. Even then sometimes I had trouble trying to fit in. Most of my friends were older because they saw that I was very lonely. They would come over just to say hey to make me feel better and – oh, God, it’s giving me all the feels.
There was a lot of negativity around me. A bunch of people saying “you can’t” or “you won’t.” I tried my best not to let that affect me. And I just kept doing what I found fun.
Carrie: Isn’t it crazy they said you can’t and you won’t, but you did?
Diego: That’s true. I was very psyched about that. When I was getting callbacks from School of Rock there was this one girl who kept saying, “no, you are not going to get it.” I did.
Jack: Oh, boy. Who is laughing now?
Diego: She wasn’t even laughing though. She had that face like she was going to kill me. Oh, well.
Ksenia: We all got to know each other one day in workshop, we told each other our bullying stories and there were a lot. We were all crying.
Diego: But it was good, because there was bonding time. We are going to have to do that again. Cry again.
Ksenia: I haven’t been able to open up like that to a bunch of friends because in my town I am a very different person. I am from Fair Lawn, New Jersey and my parents are immigrants from Ukraine. All of the kids in that town are second‑generation, fourth‑generation kids. Like Diego said, they mostly like to focus on sports and football and soccer. And I love that. I am like my character, Sadie. I play soccer, swim, and track, but I also love musical theater so much. In my school you get put in a certain label with that, and those kids are kind of those weirdos and bad people to be surrounded with. You don’t want to be near them, and I hate that. That’s why this musical is so good, because you don’t need a label to be told who you can be. And that’s how I felt because other kids would always judge me. Like one time I came late to a soccer game because I had a dance recital and all the girls ganged up on me and said, “you have to choose either soccer or dance. You can’t do both. You won’t be accepted anywhere.” And that really sickened me because you can’t tell me what to do and I am my own person and I love following my own passion. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to look my way. So I have had a lot of misconceptions with other people, many arguments. It’s really because I am a very different person than others, but I have stayed true to myself and I am really proud about that.
Carrie: Ksenia’s story and Diego’s story are different. That’s why this musical is so special. I feel like someone who sees this play is going to sit there and go, “wow, this is actually what I experienced.” Even an adult, this is what you experienced in your childhood. This is something that’s been going on for a long time and it’s not because you are different. You are allowed to be your own person. You should be. It’s because other people are jealous of you. That’s what people need to realize. Meredith is only bullying Kylie because she is jealous of her. Kylie is quirky and she is undeniably herself and that’s what Meredith envies.
Jack: I haven’t really been bullied that much in school, but when I was little people used to bully me for doing dance because I was a big dancer. More so when I was in first grade, kindergarten, people used to be like, “boys don’t dance.” I am one of the few boys in my dance school, but I am the only one who is very passionate about it. In my school there are no other boys that do that. My town is also very sporty.
I had trouble when I was younger trying to find the right friends because no one really does theater in my school or really does it passionately. I have also seen other people be bullied. People talk bad about other people and they don’t even know that. That’s part of it, because Kylie even says “different just means misunderstood.” Which is so true because some people, you just don’t get to know them and so you think, oh, they are sketchy or they are different or they are emo – and there are all these different labels that you can call people instead of trying to understand them and be friends with them. Even myself, I have thought about people that way but then when you get to know them they are none of those things. They are just their own self. The only label they should get is their name. You should just respect them and not be mean when you don’t even know them.
Carrie: Adding on to that, there is also another line in Kylie’s “Different” where she says, “That which makes you different can be just the thing that can change the world for good.” That lyric was added for this show because we are turning it into a national movement and we want to really emphasize the fact that everyone in the audience has been bullied. Everyone is different, but you are all special in your own way and we can all make a difference and we can end bullying together with the help of No Bully.
Ksenia: It’s kind of funny but strange, because even when some people think they are not bullying someone, in a way you are still still judging or showing hatred to someone. In my school we have a big policy on no bullying, but there is still judgment so people are too scared to be themselves, too scared to show who they want to be. They can’t act normal because someone is going to be judging them, making fun of them, posting it online. Even if you don’t harass or hurt someone to their face, you could still mentally be hurting other people who are listening in to what you are saying.
Carrie: Maybe by seeing the musical, those kinds of people can relate to Meredith and actually realize, “wow, I am bullying someone,” and give the bully a chance to come forward and take responsibility.
Jack: The show is trying to teach people to stand up for themselves because some people don’t have a true friend that will stand up for them when they get bullied. Everything is very much about the bully – how do we fix the bully, how do we stop them from harassing or hurting someone, but kids also have to learn how to stand up for themselves and block the bully out. Stop giving them attention and showing that you are hurt. If you let them affect you, then they have won. A lot of times a bully has something happening in their life that they want to make themselves feel better about, so they will harass you for any reason, no matter if it’s your race, your sex, your sexual orientation…
The message really is that you should just be yourself. Don’t try to make other people happy, because that’s not going to satisfy you. You need to sometimes focus on what you really want because that’s going to make you happy.
Diego: But then again, not everybody has to get along. Not everybody likes vanilla ice cream, right? Not everybody likes chocolate ice cream, but what’s the problem with just being okay with it? You don’t have to hurt someone intentionally if you don’t like them. There is no point in it. So even if it makes you feel better, think about the other person.
Carrie: I think what you are trying to say is you don’t have to like everyone necessarily, but you have to respect them.
Diego: Exactly. Respect.
Jack: Sometimes you can’t understand someone or where they are coming from, but you still have to respect them. Because sometimes you will never be able to understand what someone else is going through.
Carrie: At the end of the show, Meredith doesn’t necessarily like monster movies or obsess with cupcakes, but she brings herself to the point where she respects Kylie and she admires her for being so uniquely herself.
Diego: Because that’s very brave of Kylie to not just aim to fit in and be normal – whatever that is at school, cookie‑cutter. She is brave enough to just put herself out there, be outgoing and be herself.
Serena: In the story, Kylie uses cupcakes to bring people together. If you had to choose one food to bring about world peace, what would it be?
Diego: I have got some things for jokes, but I am going to say the serious things. I feel like a pea.
Carrie: We are all peas in a pod.
Diego: No reason behind it, but it’s something that makes me feel very homey. I just feel like – an olive. How about that?
Ksenia: I kind of stole this from someone who said if M&Ms made a commercial where there is a war going on and a plane throwing a bunch of M&Ms down from the sky, it would bring everyone together sharing M&Ms.
Carrie: Mine is kind of the same concept. I am going to say cupcakes. Duh. And cupcakes are actually not my favorite food. Shocking.
Carrie: Yes. Actually, I am a really healthy eater. Cupcakes – there is something about cupcakes that has always appealed to me because it’s the idea you can change them, you can alter them to whatever you want to be. I have a cupcake blog on Facebook with almost 100,000 followers and it’s because I post cupcakes that just make people smile. I think trying to make people smile and bringing about positivity is what I have always aimed to do with my blog. It’s not to trash people’s cupcakes or give a bad review. It’s to be completely honest and to also share some amazing things that would make people smile.
Jack: I am just going to say ice cream because it’s really good and most people like it, I think. It could be anything. It could be strawberry, chocolate, sherbet, rocky road. It could be cookie dough.
Diego: For food that would bring peace to the world I feel it would have to not be a funny name. Like pizza. You wouldn’t say, “bring peace to the world with pizza.” It’s just random. It doesn’t have the same influence as “bring peace to the world with cupcakes.” There is something about that.
Carrie: I guess it’s different for everyone. Whatever makes you happy, that’s what’s going to change the world.
Ksenia: Because what if you are into chocolate?
Diego: Oh, chocolate. I should have said that.
Jack: At the end of the show you realize that even Meredith, the bully, all she really wanted is to be loved. And I think we as humans, we all just want to be loved by someone and share love with people. Even though one person might be so different and like different things. That’s truly what I think we all want, but we don’t realize. When you realize that you can just give love to other people, the world could be more peaceful and there wouldn’t be as much bullying.
Carrie: There is a rap at the end of the show that Jeremy does –
Jack: I love the rap.
Carrie: He says “Give love, share love, go out there and share your cupcakes, love, and peace.” So in Jeremy’s mind, clearly cupcakes are going to change the world. That’s interesting because maybe at the beginning of the play for him it was sports, but Kylie has tried to change the world by spreading her love of cupcakes, and that’s spread positivity throughout your school.
Peace, Love and Cupcakes is playing at the New York Musical Festival from July 27-30.
Book by Sheryl Berk, Carrie Berk & Jill Jaysen; Music and Lyrics by Rick Hip-Flores.
Click here for tickets and more info.