Theatre vs. Teens: A Battle for Representation

Jyothi Cross

I know what you're thinking: “Teens? Representation? You have to be kidding me - teens are the most represented people in theatre.” And sure, there are plenty of shows which feature teens: Dear Evan Hansen, Heathers, Mean Girls, but can we really say that these shows truly explore teenage life? Nah.

Sure, high school/secondary school/whatever you call it is one of the biggest parts of being a teen - I know, it's happening right now for me, but are our lives really only based around school? Around what cliques and classes we have? I mean, I guess maybe if you're American... But across the pond our lives are only maybe 20% of this. When every show focuses on simply three girls being mean to another girl, they aren't truly representing teenagers, but instead what adults see of them; perhaps this is where the first problem lies! All the shows that garner attention, that go anywhere, are written by adults - people who understood at one point but whose minds (and, dear adults, I don't mean this badly) have been almost polluted by what they see on films and TV - their memories simply become another spin off of Heathers. Perhaps a first solution, in the battle for representation, would be to encourage more teenagers to write plays and make art about their life; a little extra never hurt anyone!

 Photo by monkeybusinessimages/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by monkeybusinessimages/iStock / Getty Images

Now, I know what you're thinking, “my school experience is/was just like these shows: I was bullied; I joined drama club (I'm writing for a Broadway blog, k?); I fell out with my parents because of my toxic friends and then realized how important they were”. And I know some of these elements are true, but really is that it? Are we stuck to this stereotypical representation of the lives of teens?

Another issue lies around topics covered, because although watching children's cartoons live on stage is so so cool and nostalgic, that's not what teenagers are all about. I spend 3 hours a night doing homework, I do sports, I actually enjoy spending time with my friends (why does nobody in musicals enjoy spending time with their friends?) but when I see or hear musicals they don't talk about topics relevant to me or my peers. Sure, they talk about school - and, like, they really talk about school - but I, as a teenager, want to see shows about coping with stress of life, about going on a mad holiday with my friends, about falling in love and getting rejected (no, not falling in love Spring Awakening style).

I want an Inbetweeners musical.

That's the kind of musical teens need to feel represented. Or, something harder, like Dear Evan Hansen with more risks because teens are tired of being put in a bubble of regularity. At the moment, teenagers are leading the world to change: whether that be March For Our Lives or people like Malala Yousafzai. Teenagers are more than Broadway, or the West End gives them credit for. We are at a turning point where representation is a key topic at any point so why can't we let teenagers voices be heard - but their real voices this time.

I know what you're thinking: “Teens? Representation? You have to be kidding me - teens are the most represented people in theatre.” And sure, there are plenty of shows which feature teens: Dear Evan Hansen, Heathers, Mean Girls, but can we really say that these shows truly explore teenage life? Nah.

Sure, high school/secondary school/whatever you call it is one of the biggest parts of being a teen - I know, it's happening right now for me, but are our lives really only based around school? Around what cliques and classes we have? I mean, I guess maybe if you're American... But across the pond our lives are only maybe 20% of this. When every show focuses on simply three girls being mean to another girl, they aren't truly representing teenagers, but instead what adults see of them; perhaps this is where the first problem lies! All the shows that garner attention, that go anywhere, are written by adults - people who understood at one point but whose minds (and, dear adults, I don't mean this badly) have been almost polluted by what they see on films and TV - their memories simply become another spin off of Heathers. Perhaps a first solution, in the battle for representation, would be to encourage more teenagers to write plays and make art about their life; a little extra never hurt anyone!

Now, I know what you're thinking, “my school experience is/was just like these shows: I was bullied; I joined drama club (I'm writing for a Broadway blog, k?); I fell out with my parents because of my toxic friends and then realized how important they were”. And I know some of these elements are true, but really is that it? Are we stuck to this stereotypical representation of the lives of teens?

Another issue lies around topics covered, because although watching children's cartoons live on stage is so so cool and nostalgic, that's not what teenagers are all about. I spend 3 hours a night doing homework, I do sports, I actually enjoy spending time with my friends (why does nobody in musicals enjoy spending time with their friends?) but when I see or hear musicals they don't talk about topics relevant to me or my peers. Sure, they talk about school - and, like, they really talk about school - but I, as a teenager, want to see shows about coping with stress of life, about going on a mad holiday with my friends, about falling in love and getting rejected (no, not falling in love Spring Awakening style).

I want an Inbetweeners musical.

That's the kind of musical teens need to feel represented. Or, something harder, like Dear Evan Hansen with more risks because teens are tired of being put in a bubble of regularity. At the moment, teenagers are leading the world to change: whether that be March For Our Lives or people like Malala Yousafzai. Teenagers are more than Broadway, or the West End gives them credit for. We are at a turning point where representation is a key topic at any point so why can't we let teenagers voices be heard - but their real voices this time.