Friday, February 26, 2016

"Spring Awakening" Is Really Important, Here's Why

I have a special kind of affinity for rock musicals. I found true love in life doing American Idiot, appreciated movie musicals with Rent, and my favorite musical of all time comes in the angst ridden form of Spring Awakening. And in only a few days, my next adventure will begin as I play the German teenager Ilse in it (a dream I've had for about, say, three to four years).

Spring Awakening, in its simplest terms, is about puberty and mostly, sex. The beauty of it, the fear of it and the downright technicality of it. And it's about teenagers. Teenagers having sex, really. It doesn't sound like much, in fact, it sounds crude and not at all fit to be presented in such a "classy" art form as theatre (in fact, its original material, a play written in the 1800's, was banned from Germany). But it's so much more than that. Let's break it down.

Germany. 1800's Germany, to be more exact, is where we find a bunch of teenagers on the brink of or in the midst of puberty. However, talk of sex is taboo and the kids around town are nearly all clueless. Among them is Wendla, naive and sweet, but curious for answers and getting nothing but false ones from her scared parents. Moritz, exhausted and haunted by nocturnal emission and his looming puberty, turns to his friend Melchior. Melchior is the only one in town with any idea of what is going on to them. A radical atheist and critic of society and authority, Melchior has made it his own business to discover about himself and the world around him. He seems to be the only one. On the other hand, a few girls have had too early and terrifying an experience with sexual abuse from their fathers, and in such a push and pull society, these poor teens are caught in the middle of it. And how does it end for them? Spoiler alert.

God awfully.

There's more to it, but you get the idea: there is so much fear of the unknown and yet, not a single person in power, someone who could help these poor children, decided to do anything about it.

Spring Awakening is important because it is timeless in a terrifying way. What related to a group of German teenagers in the 1800's is just as relevant today, to teens all over the world. Parents continue to be blind to their suffering children, and while sex education is much better than it used to be, the topic remains taboo and results in embarrassed teenagers entering hormone driven worlds blind or being forced to find it online, in less than pleasant ways. A lack of education and a fear of growing up results in teen pregnancy, STDs, and even sexual assault (which seems to happen more and more and get reported less and less). In this case, it truly is better to be safe than sorry. There is nothing wrong with educating your child early on so they can understand the importance and the dangers of love in life. Kids, teens, they are smarter than you may believe. They have seen and wondered more than you could possibly believe, and chances are, they are too scared to ask questions. As educators and parents or just people in authority, it's your job to provide them with answers before mistakes are made.

And while on the subject of authority, it is almost a rite of passage to question it, or even challenge it as a teenager. It can be quite the nuisance for a teacher or a parent but letting it happen seems to be the best way to deal with it. Why? Because like what was aforementioned, teens are smarter than what people think. Yes, even today with their video games and their selfies and social media, in fact, even more so. The more they are exposed to, the more they are inclined to question it and wonder. Usually questions arise in them that can't be answered directly, and lashing out at the people who are meant to provide answers happens, and that's normal and incredibly stimulating. A recurring problem in Spring Awakening is kids having questions and challenging the norm, yet being denied their own growth, which was devastating then and is devastating today.

Spring Awakening is important in another way because it provides representation to teenagers. To see stories unfold much like your own is quite comforting. To know you are not alone, and were never alone to begin with, is the best news. To see that your struggles may be universal is to see that there are other people to turn to for answers and help. It gives a stage to their angst, which can feel so damn singular as a teenager. And, especially in a time where teens are relentlessly mocked, Spring Awakening is a show that takes them and their confusion seriously, rather than making their naivety and rebellion the butt of a joke. Also, there are plenty of adults who will see faults in their own parenting/teaching or the people around them. While there is no way to correctly raise children, I believe it starts with being honest and serious with your children when they begin to struggle with life's new situations.

There are so many things that can be said about the rock musical. In the past it has been critically acclaimed for being so true and unafraid of controversy, while the controversy alone has sparked debate against it. It's language and themes has kept it far out of drama clubs in high schools all over. But for what reason? It is strange that Spring Awakening is acclaimed for being so out there and dangerous, but in reality, it is just portraying real life. It is not being edgy, and it's not being controversial. It really is just right. (However, recently, there seems to be a rise of "controversial" musicals that do nothing but really just portray real life. Perhaps because theatre for years has been seen as a place to go to escape real life, there is fear in experiencing it all over again as you sit in the audience.) But in the end, whether you enjoy the show or not, it can strike up riveting conversation between a parent and their teen. If it takes a musical to spur some change, then so be it. And no better a musical than Spring Awakening.

So please, if you have the chance to see it (*cough* there is a national tour launching in the next year or so with the Deaf West company *cough*), take yourself and maybe even a young loved one out for a treat. There will be discomfort in the air as words are said and things are seen, words and things you may have never wanted to share with each other, but it needed to be done. You may experience an awkward car ride on the way home, but you may lay awake and night thinking to yourself, "I need to learn" or "I need to teach". Either way, Spring Awakening has the ability to launch a revolution for the young, hormonal confused teen and may put an end to dangerous ignorance. Ignorance is only bliss until it is not. Educate, by whatever means. And love.

- Mia

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