A unique opportunity led a group of teenagers to open up about tough topics that are on the news from sexual assault to mental illness.
The teens are putting on the show, "Spring Awakening," set in 19th century Germany that details the trials and tribulations of teens growing up. Even though the show is about teens, the cast is often played by adults because of the mature themes like rape, mental illness and sexuality. However, a large portion of this cast is made up of teenagers because they wanted to make a point.
"These characters that are in the show are 15-years-old and dealing with this, and that's happening in real life, whether we address it or not," said Jenna Carol the show's director, choreographer and producer.
"We have made leaps and bounds in the past 100 years with all of these topics, but we have so far to go," added Easton Smith, who plays Moritz in the show.
The teens said they have all seen these themes in recent news headlines, particularly the large amount of women who have come forward about sexual misconduct allegations against high profile men. We set up a round circle discussion for them to talk openly about the headlines and how they're reflected not only in their upcoming production, but also in their daily lives.
"Sexual assault in our society is normalized, but not criminalized," said Ciara Hart. She plays Marta in "Spring Awakening."
"It's hard to talk to your family about these issues. It's hard to take it out of a safe space because you feel vulnerable," said Leila Collins, who portrays Anna in the show.
"I personally have friends, very close friends, who have suffered very intensely from things like this," said Zachariah Sterner. Sterner plays Melchior in the show. He uses those emotions to reach his character, who is a part of some of the show's tough themes.
Through our conversation we learned that these emotions and experiences weren't exclusive to their friends; some of the cast had felt the pain too.
"As a member of the LGBTQ community, the sexual education for homosexuality is seriously lacking," said Sean McGlynn, who plays Rupert.
"It was so hard to tell my parents that I was contemplating suicide, and that I desperately wanted that, and it was also hard to say that it wasn't because of anybody else, but purely because I hated myself so much," said Abby Frey, a member of the show's ensemble.
Another member of the cast, Sydney Kleinholz, knows these same pains.
"The first time I told someone in my family that I was contemplating suicide, I was met with a lot of anger and screaming at me," said Kleinholz. She went on to share another story. "I didn't really even realize I was assaulted until two years later, I was like, oh yeah, it shouldn't keep me up at night and freak me out."
The show has allowed the cast to learn more about each other and themselves during the two and a half month rehearsal process.
"The show is amazing. But having the group to talk about what the show means and what it does in our lives, that's what has the real impact for me," said Collins.
"It's easier to talk about these kind of things when you know people are going to listen and support you," said Smith.
"You learn just from that, just from listening," said Sterner.
The cast will be performing at the Bartell Theatre this weekend. For more information on times and tickets, click here.
After the Saturday matinee, the cast will be opening up a discussion like the one we had at their rehearsal in this story. They will answer questions about the show and about the tough topics. They will also be able to direct you to community resources via the post show discussion and in every show's playbill.