Most people discount musical theatre as being a camp means of overemotional expression. It’s either filled to the brim with melodrama (The Phantom of the Opera) or it’s so ruthlessly bubblegum-poppingly fun that your teeth hurt from the sweetness (*cough*Legally Blonde*cough*).
Not that either of those things are bad in any way — in the past, both of these have yielded classics that have effortlessly entered the theatrical canon. As a person who loves all things musical theatre, I’m almost forced to love them both. In the past, this is the kind of theatre produced by the Anne Shirley Theatre Company (ASTC), Trent’s largest student-run theatre organization (of which I am a proud part), and in the future I’m sure it will produce stuff similar, as well.
But, what most people fail to realize is that musical theatre is an effective means of social commentary on the same level that film, television or music themselves are. More recently, musical theatre has trended towards the kind of thematic elements that leave you scratching your head as opposed to wiping silly grins off your face.
Last year, a group in Peterborough surfaced called Arts for Awareness, dedicated to raising awareness for social causes through theatre. They put on the musical Next to Normal.
First staged on Broadway in 2009, Next to Normal is a musical about a matriarch dealing with schizophrenia and the family’s reaction to her illness. It won three Tony’s and a Pulitzer Prize. And let’s not forget musicals like Rent, The Book of Mormon and, importantly, Spring Awakening.
This year, I will be directing Spring Awakening for ASTC. It’s a musical that originally starred Lea Michele (of Glee fame) and Jonathan Groff (also of Glee fame). Based on Franz Wedekind’s play of the same name and set in Germany in the late 19th Century, Spring Awakening deals with teenage sexuality, mental illness, homosexuality, sexual assault, abortion, suicide and death. Not exactly the happy-go-lucky, song-and-dance stuff we’re used to.
Yet, Spring Awakening is arguably one of the most beautiful musicals ever conceptualized, and its message comes across loud and clear. In the play, there is a group of kids, singing because their souls would explode without the reprieve the expression offers. I’m proud to be directing it.
This year, through art, ASTC is participating in campaigns, such as Consent is Sexy, in order to help raise awareness about the issues that Spring Awakening discusses.
Furthermore, this year, ASTC will be putting on its first ever play. The Bald Soprano, directed by Spencer Revoy, is an absurdist play that challenges the confines of social norms and class. We will also be starting up our own Improvisation Group, the S.K.I.T. (Students’ Kollective Improv Team).
Developments in modern and post-modern musical theatre have enabled groups like Arts for Awareness and ASTC to exist and to develop artistically towards creating something that doesn’t just make you feel, it makes you think. It makes you want to talk about it. It means something.
Don’t believe me? Come out to auditions for Spring Awakening and The Bald Soprano, or join up with the S.K.I.T. Let’s challenge the boundaries of traditional theatre together, because that’s what we do at Trent – we’re the radicals that aren’t afraid to challenge what’s out there, and by George (excuse the Royal Baby pun), we do it damn well.
Looking forward to the conversation.