Perks author speaks to Peters students
McMURRAY – When Stephen Chbosky took the stage in the Peters Township High School auditorium Friday afternoon, he was greeted with shouts, applause and a general frenzy.
Chbosky, 42, and a 1988 graduate of Upper St. Clair High School, authored the 1999 novel “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” about the adventures of a fictional misfit high school freshman who is befriended by two seniors and how his life changes. He also wrote the screenplay and directed the movie that is premiering this weekend in Pittsburgh.
Much of the filming that was completed in June 2011 occurred at Peters Township High School. When Chbosky learned he would be in the Pittsburgh area for the premiere, he contacted the Peters Township district and asked if he could speak, first with the multimedia students and then to an assembly of juniors and seniors. Later Friday, he spoke to the students at his alma mater.
Peters High School was chosen for several scenes over Upper St. Clair because that school was considered too modern to represent a school from the era in which the movie and book were set, the 1990s.
In a more intimate setting speaking to the multimedia classes in the Peters high school library, Chbosky said he loved the red lockers lining the halls, the trophy case and the library.
He was glad to return to his roots for the premiere, and as for his feeling about his native Pittsburgh, Chbosky said, “It’s a great and a really unique place.” He referenced what he called Pittsburgh’s “blue-collar roots,” of which he is fourth generation.
“I love the Steelers and the Penguins,” and in a lower voice almost whispered, “and the Pirates.”
As to why some scenes were eliminated from the movie that appeared in the book, Chbosky said using all the words in the book would have resulted in a five-hour movies “that no one would go to.”
Nicole Sitler, a high school media teacher, said she was excited she and her students could meet and speak with Chbosky.
“It’s so hard to put into words,” Sitler said. “It’s a once in a lifetime for many to interact at the high school level … It’s incredible.”
Yes, Sitler has read the book, has not seen the movie and said the book is available to the students in the high school library.
Josh Glisksman, a junior, was able to speak with Chbosky as part of a group session before the assembly. Glisksman would like to be a sportswriter or a sports broadcaster.
“It means a lot,” Glisksman said.
Chbosky did not have a prepared speech for the overflow assembly in the Peters auditorium other than a tongue-in-cheek “stay in school” and “say no to drugs.”
He described exactly what he believes a wallflower is, and it’s not someone who sits against the wall during a dance or other co-ed activity.
A wallflower, Chbosky said, is someone who stops and smells the roses.
“You look around and see how amazing life can be,” he said.
Now that he’s a new father of a 7-week-old daughter, Chbosky said his priorities have changed.
“When I was a kid your age, I was so messed up,” he said to laughter. He told the students to keep on with life and soon it would “gel.”
When asked to whom the character Charlie is writing letters to in the movie and the book, Chbosky said he is not revealing the name. He used the analogy of hearing a song where some of the lyrics are lost and the listener makes up the words. Later, when the actual lyrics are learned, the result can be a letdown, and Chbosky said he’s not about to let that happen for the moviegoers or the readers.
Scenes for the movie were shot not only in Peters Township, but also in his native Upper St. Clair. Actors in the movie include Emma Watson, Logan Lerman, Paul Rugg and Ezra Miller.
Chbosky said the actors all began working as children and never had the opportunity to attend their own proms or graduations. One of the wonderful things about the movie, he said, was that all of the actors were able to act those scenes and “they got to be kids for a summer.”
Currently, the movie is being shown at AMC Loews Waterfront in West Homestead, and at Manor Theatre, Murray Avenue, Pittsburgh.