Just Some Teenage Dirtbags

Poster for Music Theatre International

Spring Awakening wants you to know two things: it’s okay to be aroused, and it’s okay to be awkward. As a rock musical set in 19th century Germany about teenagers discovering their sexualities, you really shouldn’t expect anything less. Before watching it, you may wonder how you could ever relate to anything set in the 19th century, much less that same century in Germany. But there is one thing we all can relate to, no matter the time and place — being a teenager.

At that age, it’s about seeing things with a keener, more critical eye. Spring Awakening definitely doesn’t shy away from criticizing everything. In one song in the musical, deftly called “Totally Fucked,” Melchior, a sex-positive German boy, realizes he’s in a tough spot. As a solution, he bursts into song about the hopelessness of the situation. There seems to be none. He realizes he is totally fucked. Who has never felt like that? One line is “Blah Blah Blah Blah Blah Blah Blah,” which the chorus of teenagers repeat with as much contempt for the unfair and corrupt school system they’ve been placed inside as they can possibly muster. While Melchior and others sing, the entire cast breaks out into odd movements, contorting their arms and legs into positions that make them look like they’re having an orgasm, more intense with every second. As the performers dance in a claustrophobic, chaotic manner, you’re forced to realize that being a teenager isn’t all just fun, worthy of our nostalgia. Melchior’s sticky situation leads to his expulsion after the school administrators decide his sexual knowledge could corrupt other students. There are people and institutions that simply do not want people to be informed, even if it’s their job keep them educated.The cast’s commitment to contorting around the stage with loose limbs, belting out expletives, and being open about sex before the audience is honestly refreshing. It’s a play that finds the right balance between being grounded and being embarrassed. It exudes an awkwardness that makes it sit with you in both comfortable (you know this feeling!) and uncomfortable (you wish you didn’t know this feeling!) ways.

One of the musical’s most important messages is that everyone should have the right to an education. Not just formal education, but the right to know things about their bodies, their life, and the world they’re living in. It is the lack of education about her own body that ultimately leads Wendla, one of the protagonists, to pregnancy and a tragic ending. If one of the fun things about being a teenager is that you are discovering everything with a new, maturing eye, one of the scarier things is that if you don’t know practical and helpful information about your body and others aren’t telling you, you’re only hurting yourself.

Go see Spring Awakening to think about what it’s like to be a high schooler, or just someone who lives in ignorance. Or maybe to think about how privileged we are to have access to accurate sex education, or just education about our bodies and health. Or maybe to be thankful we don’t live in 19th century Germany. Or maybe to laugh, cry, and dance in your seat for two hours. Whatever the reason, Spring Awakening promises to entertain.


Just Some Teenage Dirtbags was originally published in The Yale Herald on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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