In the midst of mourning friends and sparking an urgent national movement to change gun laws in their memory, a question hung over a group of students who survived the February mass shooting that killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Would the show go on? Could it?
Before the attack that claimed 14 students and three adults, several of the victims’ classmates had been cast in a community theater production of the Broadway musical Spring Awakening, whose themes of angst and confusion are rooted in the failure of adults to take seriously the teenage main characters’ questions and fears.
Set in late 19th-century Germany but with contemporary rock music and lyrics by Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater, the show was a Tony-winning sensation during its original run in 2006 — and it suddenly felt newly relevant to the Parkland students who vowed to go on after February’s massacre.
Their determination is captured in a 17-minute documentary, Awakening: After Parkland, premiering Monday on Topic.com and excerpted exclusively above.
“We got back [to rehearsal] after everything happened, it was about two weeks later, and we were just all thinking, like, are we even going to do this show anymore? Like, should we do the show? Can we do the show?” lead actress and student Sawyer Garrity says in the clip.
“But I think we all unanimously felt like, yeah, we have to do the show, because we need this show now more than ever,” she says.
Filmmakers Cristina Costantini and Darren Foster visited the Boca Black Box theater and the show’s director and cast in the wake of the Parkland shooting, and their documentary artfully frames the anxiety and purpose that propel the production forward.
Beyond the stage, the show’s teen lead performers, Garrity and Cameron Kasky, both are seen in the roles they assume as activists in the #NeverAgain movement. They engage with anchors on CNN and speak out at the March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C., as they and their peers rally for gun violence prevention.
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Then, alone offstage and during the show’s rehearsal process, they explore what it means to participate in the musical. The director and cast wrestle with whether to include a gunshot in a pivotal scene depicting a teenager’s suicide, leading to a moment that finds Kasky’s character in a cemetery confronting the loss of those he loved.
“Spring Awakening is a lot about young people paying for the negligence and dishonesty of their elders,” Kasky says in the film.
He is currently participating in a two-month bus tour, along with fellow March for Our Lives student activists, to educate others about gun violence prevention efforts and to register voters ahead of November’s Congressional elections.
Sater, the writer of Spring Awakening, is shown in the documentary telling the young cast members on their opening night that he began work on the show “very much in reaction to Columbine,” the 1999 Colorado high school shooting that killed 12 students and one teacher.
“Duncan and I had this dream, and we made this determination in 1999 to touch the troubled heart of youth around the world,” he says, “and I think we just never would have had any idea that this show could have the kind of resonance it’s had.”
Says Garrity in the film: “This whole entire play is about kids speaking up against adults who are trying to hold us back. There are so many adults telling us that we’re not going to make a change because we’re teenagers.”
“The reality is that we are what is going to make the world different,” she says.