Warning: This is not a review of the Theater Department’s recent production of “Spring Awakening.”
First, I have friends in the show, and it would feel weird to critique them, and secondly, I’m extremely biased. When I was 13, my best friend at the time told me about a musical in which actors jumped about the stage angrily, committed lewd acts and the young women expressed their sexuality freely, all set in 1890s Germany. With modern music, I was sold.
For two years, I was obsessed with the show. While people were learning the moves to Soulja Boy’s “Crank That,” I was jumping off ladders and vogueing my breasts while scream-singing “Mama Who Bore Me.” I found solace in these characters who were contemplating their sexuality, authority and existence. It would be cliché (but accurate) to state that, at the time, I was contemplating my own definition to those concepts.
I found the tragic-yet-questionable relationship of romantic leads Wendla and Melchoir questionable (consent was not a concept for me yet). I felt that the doomed Moritz’s suicide was completely justified and relatable. I would reject anyone with a sense of authority, as I clichély believed that they would never know more than I did.
Obviously things have changed since then. I have had sex and am in a long-term relationship that resembles something way healthier than Wendla’s and Melchoir’s. I still struggle with Moritz-y dilemmas of existential crises, but I have learned barely enough about life to know that I should stick it out. However, I have gotten in line more with authority, even studying education, and I will often find myself saying to my students the same phrases my parents and teachers said to me.
Though my obsession with the themes of the musical has died, my love of the musical has stayed. My relationship to it, however, has changed.
As an adult, watching the show again, I found myself mouthing the words as seniors Sammi Eisdorfer and Kevin Hughes sang them, but this time I was drawn less by the struggles of teenagers and more by what the adult men and women of the show were saying. I still relate to teenage issues and find the hypocritical chiding of the adults even more familiar. The clear villains of the musical are the adults, guided by societal norms, expectations, fear and the desire to avoid the truth of a tough conversation.
There is a scene in which Wendla’s mother gets upset with Wendla for having sex and getting pregnant, even though she did not do her duty as a mother to educate Wendla about the birds and the bees. I have experienced this mindset multiple times by the administration on campus throughout my four years here. They will talk about consent and how alcohol can impair our judgement but never tell us, “Do not rape. There will be consequences.” They will say, “we do not tolerate racist rhetoric or behavior on campus,” yet proceed without transparency in dealing with such matters, making students question their school’s tolerance and whether justice is being served.
In “Spring Awakening,” the adults react to controversy instead of trying to prevent it, going as far as ignoring the adolescents that reach out to them.
For me, this is Etown, trying to prevent controversy with half-truths and a lack of transparency, while the students suffer by their hand. Money is spent on arbitrary fixes rather than real ones. (No, lawn chairs won’t change racist, homophobic and sexist vibes on campus.) Incidents happen constantly that make me or my peers uncomfortable, yet I feel afraid of talking about them in fear of being shut down or being told I don’t know what I’m talking about. Everyday I feel a little bit more like Melchoir, questioning the authority around campus and longing for a better place.
I feel like 15-year-old me wouldn’t like how complacent I have become with my life at Etown. Yes, she was naïve, but she felt like her own person.
Going into seeing the show again, I thought it would bring up memories I would rather forget. However, a sense of pride and nostalgia mixed with disappointment filled me. I have overcome so much, and yet I feel like that same teenager who is disenchanted by her hometown. Only this time the hometown is college.
In the musical, the entire cast sings about “Purple Summer,” a time where beings are accepted for who they are in their natural form, where they are free to express themselves in a way that is heard and creates change, everything interacting and reacting cohesively. When 15-year-old me would sing this song, I thought this would be college. However, for the past couple years I have felt anything but connected to this place.
In the show, Melchior talks of the youth rejecting sheep-like thinking and control from the elders around them. It reminded me of a professor I had who went on a rant about the administration.
“Students have more power than they realize on this campus, more power than the board or administration want to acknowledge,” he said.
We do. We can make this campus as progressive as we want. We have to use our voices. We live in 2016 America, not 1890s Germany. We can and do have the right to fight for the campus we want. We are not teenagers anymore, guided and told what to do.
The school is providing us with a service, and we pay them a huge amount of money every year to give it to us. We are the adults here. It’s time to jump off ladders and scream-sing for what we want.