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'Spring Awakening' Themes Resonate With Students After Parkland Tragedy


SAWYER GARRITY: (As Wendla, singing) Mama who bore me, Mama who gave me no way to...


This is a scene from the musical "Spring Awakening." It's a show about the consequences when young people are not taken seriously. And it was playing last spring in a small theater in a South Florida strip mall, tucked behind a Dunkin Donuts. Christine Barclay was directing it.

CHRISTINE BARCLAY: It's about a cry from children for a voice. It's a cry to be understood. It's a cry to say that we're human, too, even though we're teenagers.

GREENE: And it is hard to describe how those themes resonated here. Christine's theater, Barclay Performing Arts, is just a few miles from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. And a student from there, Cameron Kasky, was playing one of the leads.


CAMERON KASKY: (As Melchior, singing) All alone. And still, I hear their yearning.

GREENE: The production was in the middle of rehearsals, a year ago, when 17 people were killed in a mass shooting at Cameron's high school.

BARCLAY: That was the conversation of - what do we do now? Do we cancel rehearsals? Do we cancel the season?

GREENE: Christine called off rehearsals for two weeks, and then she met with the cast to see if they could handle going forward.

BARCLAY: We just made the decision that if we said we weren't going to do it, we were shying away from something that I think, at that point, we all really believed in - was a story that needed to be told. And I think we all believed that it was a group of kids who had voices that deserved to be heard.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters, singing) Oh, I believe all will be...

BARCLAY: And when they sang "I Believe" when we all - after we made this decision, it was, like, the coolest experience of my life to just watch all these kids who had just gone through all this stuff hug each other through "I Believe" and then just jump off the stage and gallivant around the theater, jumping on and off chairs singing.

GREENE: But it wasn't easy. Many of the cast, like Cameron, had lost friends in a real tragedy. And onstage, Cameron had to be an actor in a scene that had him kneeling before a friend's grave.


KASKY: (As Melchior) Look at all these little tulips.


BARCLAY: I tried to give him that direction. And he was just like, I have it. It was almost - who am I? It was almost insulting for me to try to give him direction in that scene. And when you're a kid doing a scene that's already, for any actor at any age, beyond challenging to do on top of it being so incredibly tangibly close to what that person is actually going through...

GREENE: But the show went on. Christine's theater was filled with big audiences. Christine is hoping that her theater is a space where young people can express themselves and feel heard.

BARCLAY: I'm trying to create a ball of light in our world, trying to create a space where everybody can just exhale and create. And - I feel like if I can do it here in West Boca behind the Dunkin Donuts, then maybe someone else will want to do it somewhere else. And maybe someone else will pick up the model somewhere else. And little by little, we'll have these little balls of light in these communities that will slowly glow. And if maybe we had a few of those balls of light glowing, then we'd have a few less really crappy Valentine's Days.

GREENE: While it is Christine's job to mentor and teach, in this case, this young cast - many from Parkland, Fla. - gave her a gift.

BARCLAY: I will be forever, ever and ever grateful to those - all of those kids in that cast for their consistent bravery because they gave me a gift. I've wanted a performing arts school, to own one, since my father passed away the year I graduated college - which is why it's named after him. And they did. They gave me my dream.


David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.
Victoria Whitley-Berry is a director and producer for Morning Edition. They also briefly helped to produce NPR's history podcast Throughline. They joined NPR in 2016 as an intern for All Things Considered on the weekend. Born and raised in Tallahassee, Fla., Whitley-Berry has a bachelor of arts degree in journalism from Texas Christian University.
Eric McDaniel
Eric McDaniel edits the NPR Politics Podcast. He joined the program ahead of its 2019 relaunch as a daily podcast.