Monday, August 23, 2010


This weekend the family went to see my cousin Brianne's play, 13 The Musical. It was put on by the local Children's Musical Theaterworks.

Honestly, all the kids were very talented. Brianne is seriously the happiest-looking kid when she is singing and dancing, and that really shown through her performance. Since it looked like the rest of the ensemble was sleepwalking through their dance moves, she looked rockin'.

And, it was also a really strange and interesting play.

Perhaps it's the part of me that wants to believe that 12 and 13-year-old's are innocent (or maybe I was just seriously naive when I was 13), but the play dealt with themes that I don't think I was ready to hear 12 and 13-year-old's poke fun at and sing about.

Since I try to do most of my thinking before I take to the blog,* I am pretty sure I've figured out my beef with the play.

I spent four years doing junior high ministry at my church, called the Edge**. While many of the kids attending Edge dealt with the problems that 12 and 13-year-old's in the play faced (like divorce and "crushes," among other stuff of modern teen culture), we spent our time trying to build the kids up instead of letting them further absorb the dangerously, but secretively, poisonous junk that the modern culture can thrust onto them.

Sure, we live in the real world. Things get heavy. Things get serious. Things can get tragic. But the Core Team serving in Edge were adults who wanted to show the kids that despite all of these circumstances that were out of our control, and all of the heavy, serious and tragic things that can happen, we as Catholic Christians have immense hope.

Jesus came to Earth, died for us, and rose again. God's guidance through the Holy Spirit and His Church is an ongoing, real part of our lives. And, if we let Him, God can put the big picture stuff for your life totally under His wing. He exposes the dangerous, secretive, poisonous junk for what it really is.

So, for me, since this play was sort of wallowing in the modern teen culture junk, I was a little turned off. I guess the director in me wished that it could have been a bit more uplifting in a different sense. It certainly wasn't meant to be a religiously-themed play (well, except for the main character's impending Bar Mitzvah).

It just reminded me that 13 is a very impressionable age. Kids will absorb what's around them. Hopefully their parents, families, friends and other important figures in their lives will help them see that there are bigger, better things worth absorbing.

*You're welcome.

**'Cause those kids would drive us to the Edge. Just kidding. Old Core Team joke there. Sorry.


  1. jen,

    the grossest part for me was the way the play dealt with the issues of power and gender. here's what i mean — the majority of the plot revolves around male figures (and i don't remember any of the names) attempting to manipulate the bodies of the people around them, and at the center of those different maneuverings is one (nearly) completely passive female character. i mean, the only time she makes a decision of her own (to wear a purity ring) is presented as "after" the main action of the play has taken place (the actresses & actors have all taken their bows by this point).

    at the same time, the one female figure who attempts these same sorts of manipulations is supposed to be seen as completely unattractive and totally despicable. hence, the play seems to me to rearticulate the idea that the natural or realistic path toward "becoming a man" involves manipulating others, particularly women. at the same time, to be female and attempt these same power plays is totally out-of-bounds.

    by the end of the play, i feel like the play's critique of the main male character is at best implicit, if there is one at all, since the audience is *still* asked to identify with him. he's even let off the hook, in a way, since the message seems to be something to the effect of "well we told you those people weren't worth your time."

    but the critique of that female character and her attempts to manipulate those around her are always explicit, and present throughout the entire play.

    particularly because part of the effect of the play is predicated on its "realism" (actresses and actors playing characters who are roughly the same age), it feels to me like it teaches or at least reinforces the "reality" of jr high/high school, and what it means to be a participant in those communities. and if that's the case, then it seems to me that the play sanctions a kind of masculinity that's enacted through coercions that are both physical and emotional, as long as those manipulations are for the "right reasons." so, here's how to be a teenage boy (bound to grow up into a totally patriarchal male).

    at the same time, it more explicitly teaches/reinforces teenage girls NOT to act in this way, NOT to make an effort to demonstrate that same kind of agency or power, but rather to be passive, make decisions quietly, and stay out of boys' ways.

    it's not that i really condone those sorts of power games on any level, but i was really disturbed by the uneven (perhaps, for the male figure, even unarticulated) critique as it occurs along gender lines, and how that might shape how these kids think they are & who they are supposed to be.

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  3. For me, I didn't like the manipulations of either gender and don't think they should be "supported" by presenting them in the way they did. I like how you brought up how one gender's actions seem to be presented as more redeemable.

    By the way, sorry about the late comment. Thanks for your always interesting thoughts, Matt.