Based on the popular Cupcake Club series, Peace, Love and Cupcakes is a new musical starring Carrie Berk, who is incidentally also co-author of the book with her mother, Sheryl. The story addresses important issues that most kids (and some adults!) have to deal with on a daily basis. The cast is comprised of super talented kids who discussed serious (bullying) and not so serious (cupcakes) topics with us. Carrie, Diego, Ksenia and Jack all have great energy and a passion for acting. You can watch their hilarious hijinks in the cupcake game.
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 bull