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Shorewood High School holding forum to address taboo topics tied to musical

'Spring Awakening' covers tough teen material such as sexuality, suicide

March 20, 2013

Shorewood High School has called a public forum Thursday night to discuss the staging of "Spring Awakening," a play-turned-musical that covers taboo material including sexuality, masturbation, rape and suicide.

Students needed a permission slip from parents to audition, and as production dates draw closer, the district is conducting the forum in hopes of easing tension and fostering an open dialogue by discussing the topics raised in the play.

"Spring Awakening," an 1891 German play that was banned for its upfront portrayal of challenges teenagers face during their most trying years, was turned into a popular Broadway musical and combines contemporary rock 'n' roll and touchy topics while highlighting the difficulty parents and their children have discussing the topics.

The high school's drama department director, Joe King, proposed the musical at the beginning of the academic year when he submitted a possible schedule for the season. King found the themes to be appropriate and relevant to high schoolers.

"The themes that existed in the 1890s with regards to parents not talking about difficult topics are things we are still talking about 120 years later," King said. "It is really clever and is taking timeless topics and crossing generations."

When Shorewood's superintendent, Martin Lexmond, received the proposal from King and Shorewood High School Principal Matthew Joynt, he was concerned.

"I asked them, 'How is a high school going to do this?' " Lexmond said. "But the first part was understanding the artistic voice and listening to how they would direct it."

The goal of the forum and later talkbacks is to expand on the trials and tribulations teenagers face and reduce the stigma surrounding pregnancy, sex, suicide and other issues that don't lend themselves to dinner table conversation.

Joynt thought the topics could be concerning on their own but tend to be less startling when combined with the activities being hosted in conjunction with the production.

"We will have our community forums about the spring musical and use them to help people in the community and parents better understand what the musical is about as well as how we will be using it not just as a performance but opportunity to open dialogue between teenagers and adults," Joynt said.

Community forum

Thursday's community forum starts at 7 p.m. in the high school's studio theater, where panel and small group discussions will take place among the student cast and crew members, parents, residents, administration and local representatives from five community organizations. Later talkback sessions are planned to follow the May 12 and May 17 performances, where the students and representatives will assist in moderating, answering questions and participating in the discussions.

Julie Bock, senior vice president of Pathfinders, plans to attend the musical and participate in the dialogue. Pathfinders is one of five local organizations involved in the musical to help discuss how "Spring Awakening" relates to real-life issues teens face today and what tools they need to help face the challenges.

"Most of the time people are really accepting about having an open dialogue about the themes in the musical because they care deeply about the young people in our lives," Bock said. "I think the use of drama to understand and raise these issues is significantly different from spitting statistics, and it's a better way to stimulate conversation."

Reaction mixed

Julia Wilkinson, a senior at Shorewood, is cast as Ilse - a teenager whose father rapes and beats her and her sister and who eventually leaves to live in an artists colony. Wilkinson is excited to play the role and hopes her close friends come.

"Some of them want to come and support me in my last show, but others feel it is very inappropriate and that our high school shouldn't be doing it," Wilkinson said.

Wilkinson hopes people come to the performances and discussions regardless of whether they agree with the school's choice because it touches on topics students don't always feel comfortable talking to adults about.

"I think that it is a show that really tells the ugly truth about life and teenagers' lives, and the message that it shows regarding underage sex and unprotected sex really helps the audience understand the consequences of these elements and issues."

If you go

Performances are at 7 p.m. May 10, 2 p.m. May 12 and 7 p.m. May 16-18 at the Shorewood High School auditorium, 1701 E. Capitol Drive.

Tickets are $10.

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