Singing, dancing, and acting is always fun. But sometimes, it can be a great way to bring up some sensitive, but deserving, issues.
St. Andrew’s College is already well-known for both its academics and its arts programs, but with its latest production of Spring Awakening, the 2007 Tony Award winner for Best Musical, the school is getting the best of both worlds.
“First of all, it’s a play. It’s entertaining,” explains William Scoular, the head of drama who is directing the show, which runs from Nov. 24 until Nov. 26 at the independent all-boys school in Aurora, Ont. “But any great art has entertainment and meaning. It makes people think.”
Scoular originally chose to produce Spring Awakening as the school’s annual play because of the quintessential love story between its two main characters. Similar to Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story (both of which have been performed at St. Andrew’s in the past), the characters of Melchior and Wendla are young teens in the early 1890’s who fall in love while other forces are conspiring against them. Only in this case, instead of gangs or family feuds keeping them apart, it’s the refusal of the adults in their lives to teach them about issues like sexuality, pregnancy, and mental health that lead to their downfall. While Melchior and Wendla stumble blindly through falling in love and all the feelings and acts that go with it, their friends also confront homosexuality, depression and suicide.
Even though the characters live in the 1800’s, their stories are completely contemporary – and not only because of the rock music score. The issues in Spring Awakening are the same faced by teens today, and it’s still just as important to teach them properly now as it was in the past.
“It’s a cautionary tale,” Scoular says. “It naturally opens the door to discuss things that adults in the play aren’t willing to discuss with the teens.”
From Mental and Sexual Health, Play Addresses Difficult Issues
That’s where the St. Andrew’s Upper School librarian, Sue Hayter, steps in. She studied the play in London and saw the original production, so she says she was very excited to hear St. Andrew’s was the first school to get the rights to perform it. She and the school’s nurse led talks with the Upper School about mental and sexual health, and directed them towards the school’s online, literary, and in-person resources that they can access if they have any questions.
According to Taylor Maclean, a Grade 11 student at St. Andrew’s playing Melchior in Spring Awakening, the talks were a success with the students. It even helped him prepare for the role of Melchior, who knows far more than his peers because of the books he reads.
The cast also met with the St. Andrew’s Parents Guild to discuss the play and the topics that it deals with, which also went over well with Maclean’s father Terri, the president of the guild.
“Clearly, the parents at our meeting appreciate the work you are all doing and look forward to seeing the play. The difficult issues raised in the play will assist in opening lines of communication (and already have) and will leave a lasting impact on the audience and the performers,” he wrote to Scoular.
Playing now until this weekend, Maclean is enjoying playing the smart, outgoing, outspoken Melchior alongside his classmates and female students at Toronto’s Randolph Academy for the Performing Arts. But when it’s over, he’ll be back at his other hobbies, including debate, football, swimming and skiing.
“There aren’t many places I can get all the opportunities presented to me at St. Andrew’s. And it’s rare that I have so many peers who support me,” he says.
In university he plans to study business or economics, but performing arts will always be his passion, he says, and he hopes to keep it up indefinitely. Spring Awakening may just be the start of a lifetime blending the arts and education together.
Spring Awakening comes to St. Andrew’s College Ketchum Auditorium for three performances on Thursday, Nov. 24 through Saturday, Nov. 26 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 and may be purchased by calling 905.727.3178 ext. 260, or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Did your school have a new “awakening” by discussing issues like sexuality and mental health? How can families and teachers address these sensitive topics? What did you think about how Spring Awakening tackled these themes? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.