When Musical Theater Is Also a Kind of Therapy

Photo of cast members Ashton Bianchi, Kirsten McConnell, and Ethan Kaufman by Zak Krevitt

At Topic, Isaac Butler has a feature on a youth theater production of the 2006 rock musical Spring Awakening in rehearsals at Barclay Performing Arts in West Boca Raton — near the city of Parkland — including some kids who attend Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and were present during the shooting.

The show, which is about young people in 19th-century Germany discovering their sexuality, provides these traumatized actors a way to explore and express their complicated emotions, and realize they are not alone in their experiences as teens.

In interview after interview, the adolescents I talked to told me how important the musical had become to them since the shooting. “It’s helping me to heal because it’s helping me say my feelings and express myself without having to do so in front of people I’m not comfortable with,” says Ethan Kaufman, 15. A Stoneman Douglas student, Ethan has stayed away from politics in the shooting’s aftermath because he’s had to “recuperate,” in his words. “But I’m really proud of them,” he says of his more politically active castmates. He hopes that when the community comes to the show, they’ll see “that kids are humans too. There comes a point where you have to let us experience the world for what it is—otherwise, when it does hit us, it will hit us way harder than it would if we were prepared for it.”

Sawyer Garrity, who plays the doomed Wendla, says the show is about “what happens when parents don’t teach their teens what the world is actually like.” At first, she felt lost in the role of Wendla, a character she imagined herself as worlds apart from. But ultimately, she says, “I realized that I am a lot like her. She’s just a girl who wants to go about her life, have a nice, normal life. She just wants to make the people in her life happy—and then, all of a sudden, everything comes crashing down on her quicker than she can possibly understand.”

Spring Awakening will be performed May 2 and 6 at the Boca Black Box theater.

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