There are few things I love more than thriving online feminist communities and folk-rock musicals based on 19th century German plays about sexually repressed teenagers. So when I managed to meet Feministing.com editors Chloe and Lori and watch Mask and Bauble perform Spring Awakening in the SAME WEEK, you can probably imagine my fangirl frenzy. What I didn’t imagine was that, through these events, I’d be confronted with what I perceive to be some huge problems here at Georgetown.
But let’s start with the fun stuff. Spring Awakening is The Best Musical Ever. At least, it was to me when I first saw the original touring cast pass through my hometown at the tender age of 18. Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik’s Tony-winning musical spoke to me in a way no musical ever had before – and that’s because it got it. Based on a controversial (read: banned in Germany at the time) play written by Frank Wedekind in 1891, Spring Awakening portrayed topics like sexuality, abortion, child abuse and suicide the way no after-school special ever could: realistically, unapologetically, with humor, cursing and nudity and set to the tune of gorgeous folk-rock songs, of course! This angsty, musical-loving teen girl couldn’t get enough. I went to opening night without expectations – and returned to watch the show again the very next day. Yep, the guy at the box office recognized me and looked at me weirdly. But little did he know just how loudly the play had struck a chord within me.
After all, I was going through an “awakening” of my own. I could totally relate to Wendla’s confusion, guilt and shame about exploring her sexuality in the face of a religious upbringing – especially as I too was melting into a puddle at the sight of my very own atheistic Melchior Gabor. I understood the pain of not knowing: my mother, despite being the most awesome woman I know (and the first person to see Spring Awakening with me!), did not broach the topic of sex with me until I asked. And so I knew the pain of asking, rooted in my fear of disappointing my parents. This play marked the start of my ongoing journey to cast off that guilt and shame and start making decisions that were right for myself .
It may sound corny, but I feel like I didn’t find Spring Awakening – it found me. At the right place, at the right time.
Naturally, I was curious to revisit the play, four years later. Would it be as good as my first time? I was even more curious to find out: How were we getting away with this at Georgetown? If the play’s subject matter wasn’t enough to convince you of the oddity of performing it at a Catholic school, take this line from “All That’s Known”: Thought is suspect / And money is their idol / And nothing is okay unless it’s scripted in their Bible.
As my friend Morgan so eloquently explained, discussing many of the themes presented in Spring Awakening in a public, institutionalized setting at Georgetown is a considered a no-no, given its Catholic heritage. But it soon became clear at the Feministing event that students crave school-sanctioned safe spaces to talk about “taboo” topics like pre-marital sex, contraception access and abortion. The urgency of the hands raised and voices presented during the Q&A was telling. Our conversation jumped from sexual assault, to reproductive health, to contraception access, to free speech zones, to the policy against talking about abortion on our university radio station, to the lack of collaboration between feminist and POC communities at Georgetown…and this was not led by the Feministing editors, but by students, who clearly had opinions to share but seemingly had no place to say them. It’s one thing to write blog posts and speak about these issues among friends – but it’s another to feel like we’re really being listened to.
Spring Awakening managed to find me once again, at the right place, at the right time – but not the way I expected. I kept flashing back to moments from the Feministing conversation as I watched the play, especially as I watched Mask and Baublers jumping around jubilantly and freely while belting out the lyrics to “Totally Fucked”. How could Georgetown put on a play like this – whose ultimate message is to warn of the dangers of silencing and shaming young people – and simultaneously alienate so many of its students? As a school, are we only okay with addressing these themes in fiction, but not in reality? Why do we, as students, accept this? I thought I would watch Spring Awakening again and marvel at how much I’ve grown since I first saw it. But it many ways, I still feel like the teenage girl afraid to disappoint her parents – or in this case, afraid to disappoint Georgetown, which I love, but is certainly not without its flaws.
So now I’m speaking out. Following the Feministing event, I felt energized and empowered to voice my views. I suspect after watching Spring Awakening, others may feel the same. Like the play’s ending, in spite of the darkness I remain hopeful – hopeful that these conversations will continue beyond my graduation five weeks from now and turn into actions that create the safe spaces students need. I’m hopeful we will be heard.