I’ll just put it out there:
I’m going to be in a musical.
A university production of Sweeney Todd, to be precise. Not in any major role, just as ‘ensemble member #9’ or something equally anonymous, but it’s still rather exciting, particularly considering that around six months ago I hated musicals.
That was before I’d watched Glee. I know, it’s become a bit of a cliché to even talk about the show. It seems to be one of those things that you love…or you just don’t get. I’ve introduced it to numerous people who respond with something along the lines of: “Yeah, it’s pretty funny. I don’t get why they’re singing.” But for me, a frequent and severe victim of pathos, it makes me happy like little else. The only show that’s come even close to leaving me beaming after each episode the way Glee does is The West Wing, in which singing was infrequent.
I’m not really sure why, exactly. I’ve had conversations recently about what I find appealing about teenaged characters (beyond the school uniforms). Depictions of teenagehood as a transitional period into maturity seem to me farcical. Where the characters of our teenage dramas are allowed to express their fears, frustrations and insecurities, the conclusion is inevitable adulthood. But rather than some sense of actual maturity, growing up seems to be about ‘just getting on with it’, even in the face of exactly the same fears, frustrations and insecurities. So to me, teenage angst is a fantastic, socially acceptable outward expression of the same shit we all have to deal with but pretend we don’t.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that Glee, with a cast of teenaged characters dealing with the weekly problems of an after school special, is designed from the outset to make us feel all mushy inside. And that’s okay! I don’t know why we don’t seek out those feelings more often. I’ve said before that I respect a person who can be brought to tears by television or a book or a song or whatnot. And there’s singing in Glee! Not serving as a barrier to pathos, but rather as its conduit, abstracting it out so that rather than get caught up in the ridiculousness of some of the plotlines you can just sit back and know that even though you shouldn’t care about whether or not Rachel and Finn end up together, they’re singing about it and it’s just wonderful.
I suppose if that wasn’t the case I might find it hard to relate to the show’s presentation of the same, familiar yet unreal American high school environment that I know I never experienced. Jocks and nerds? Cheerleaders and choir girls? If my country high school was characterised by anything it was apathy. Sure there was some bullying early on—I was too much of a loser to be immune to that—but after a while no one really cared anymore. We didn’t have outlets like school plays or choirs to ‘express ourselves’, but I’d be lying if I said that meant my teenage years were filled with starry eyes and dreams of an imaginary, inaccessible stage. But then, every once in a while I’d look across to the other high school—the one my brother didn’t go to and so seemed out of the question for me—the one with the drama and music programs, and think that maybe I’d be doing something other than drinking and getting stoned most weekends if I’d had the guts to admit that deep down, in the place where we all know that for each of us it’s true, I’m a star.
And so even if Ohio’s William McKinley High School Glee Club is merely a means to expression in the face of the oppression of a fictional high school as far from my teenagehood as the SATs and American football, Glee makes me happy.
Realising this six months ago in midst of a Prague winter, I immediately set to acquiring a selection of musical soundtracks, hoping to find something I would enjoy more than the songs from Mamma Mia!, which became my first experience of musical theatre on a high school excursion when I was sixteen. So, upon the recommendations of my cousins, I armed myself with Sondheim and a newfound conviction that when I got back to Australia I should audition for a musical. I did, and to my surprise, I got in. Although this all seems a bit sudden, and I can hardly say I’m fulfilling some dream I’ve had since I was eight years old, in some way maybe I am. Maybe I’m getting that high school experience after all. Maybe this will be the moment I realise, in the words of The Decemberists, I was meant for the stage.