Teen Angst

Urban Dictionary Defines Teen Angst As:

When teenagers, for any number of reasons combined with their hormones and stress from school, get depressed. Contrary to popular beleif, some teenagers actually do have it rough and have to deal with shit most adults don’t have to. Other teens don’t and just like to pretend they do. Either way, everyone has a right to be pissed off

Does any adult remember what it was like to be a teenager? Does any adult remember it sucking so much? I don’t, and most people I know don’t. We all think of our teenage years as care-free, fun, exciting. Yes, of course there was some hardship in there,some bullying, some bad chunks of time (especially if you were/are a theater kid) but the bulk of memories we have of our teenage years, are positive ones. Why is that? Is it because we were honestly so happy as teenagers OR is it because we grew up and realized our teenager problems aren’t as bad as the real life ones we have to deal with now OR is it because as teenagers everything felt like it was the most important thing? I honestly, don’t know the answer.

The past few weeks have been a challenge for me as a teacher. I have been dealing with a lot of students who look imagesmiserable and unhappy. High school does not seem to be sitting well with them and I find that every week the bags under their eyes get worse and the little glow in their faces dim a bit. They walk heavier, they smile less, they laugh less and they hug each other more. At first I thought they were out partying or have been up late studying, but the longer I spend with them, the more I realize it is more than that.  I keep wanting to tell them, ‘you ain’t seen nothin yet’ but that doesn’t seem as though it will accomplish anything. So I sit on the sidelines and wait for an opportunity to let them express themselves through their dancing, vocals or even lines in a show. Some shows make make this easier than others. As discussed in a previous post, very few theater students nowadays want to do Guys and Dolls, Oklahoma… why? Because they don’t connect to the characters or the stories. Shows like Spring Awakening are what draw students in because those characters are dealing with the same issues (I hope not ALL the same issues) as them. Here’s a new show to add to the teen angst list…. Carrie: The Musical.

Carrie the musical, based off the horror movie of the same name, has proven to be a show where the kids are ready to get it all out. The opening number which features all the ‘students’ in the show, is a rock number about how much they all want to fit in.  With lines like ‘God it’s rough staying tough, wondering what the world will say. Make a plan, be a man. All this fuckin bullshit gets in the way’ and ‘ what about me? I dream, I drown, I wait’.  This number begins the show with power, anger and a really good representation of the world we are about to see, which apparently, isn’t much different than the kids every day lives. Hopefully, there is no raging fire at prom that kills the entire school but generally speaking, the students in the show are a modern day representation of high school.

The opening number is the one of biggest choreography piece in the show, only second to the Destruction at the prom. It is a movement based piece based on physical manifestations of frustration. Each kid gets to work with their own ‘tick’, as I call them, a move that they do when they are angry, frustrated or nervous. For example, some crack their knuckles, some play with their hair, ring their hands, shake their leg etc. The intensity behind the vocals also drives the force behind the movement. To date, it is one of my favorite numbers I have every choreographed and when it is done with honesty and power, it gives me chills from start to finish.


It is getting to the honesty part of that was tricky. While the kids were able to use their own movement and the vocals sounded great, there was still a level of ‘Lexie told me to do this move now so I will’, to it. It didn’t feel organic. Some numbers are meant to feel like dance, some are meant to feel like insight into a world. This is the latter and I wanted to make sure it got to that point. So what did I do? Method acting! A technique where you use your own life to connect with the character. While this technique was meant to help the number, therapist Lexie also thought it could help get out some of the anger they were feeling, much like going to the gym.  Raise your hand if you think this was a good idea.

So, I handed all the students a blank piece of paper. Their instructions, write down something that makes you angry. It wasn’t allowed to be something temporary like ‘my boyfriend and I are in a fight’ because in three days that potentially wouldn’t matter anymore. It needed to be something down to their core that upsets them. They were not allowed to show anyone, including me, they just had to keep it in their hand while they did the number.

‘Places for the top of ‘IN” I shouted. As I turn to hit play, BOOM, I have a girl crying in the back with kids rushing to her side.  I should have stopped the exercise right there or  performed some sort of circus routine to get them to laugh and  calm down but no, I just hit play.

A few measures in they have scream the world ‘failure’… BOOM, there two more crying.

A few measures later they have to say ‘Will I be alone on Saturday night? ‘ BOOM 1 more

Original Off Broadway Cast - CARRIE

Original Off Broadway Cast – CARRIE

‘And I worry, what could I possibly do to fit In’ BOOM 1 more

‘What if I do snap, holy crap, I’d crawl out of my skin’ BOOM 2 more

‘And someday, if I don’t stand out one bit. I may be normal enough to fit in’ BOOM 2 more

‘Shoot me please put me out of my pain. And I mess, yes, totally INSANE’ BOOM 4 more

I stood watching these stunning kids fight their way through this number and I almost felt like I was interrupting them. I almost felt like they were in their rooms or some private place, pissed off, angry and wanting to be alone. I looked at each of them throughout and had some general idea of what was on their paper. By the end of the number, the papers had been ripped up, thrown on the floor, stomped on, mangled into this pile of heaping angst. The number got past the point of honesty. It is what we call in acting school ‘too hot’ but I was glad they finally felt the number to its highest potential.

As the sniffles and the snot and the excessive hugging started at the end of rehearsal, I went about my business only to find a few breakdowns happening in the other room, a handful of kids sitting in corners sulking, some kids storming out in anger. It was overwhelming. I got hit with a wave of TEEN ANGST. Everywhere I turned someone was going through an emotional tizzy. I entered the twilight zone, a teen therapist’s office, an episode of ‘The Secret Life of an American Teenager’. Rehearsal was finished, the number was done but the aftermath of my little experiment left me even more concerned about the kids than when we started.

The students eventually calmed down, most with the help of their friends and castmates. Theater kids, while emotional, are also so loving and caring. Most of them will take the shirt off their back for their friends. Thank God, because I would have never been able to clean up the mess I made alone.

After rehearsal I went to another rehearsal with teenagers for a production of Godspell. Of course, I got there as they were crucifying Jesus. The kids on stage were all screaming and thrashing and crying. I walked in the door and thought ‘you can’t make this stuff up’. Teenage emotion overload.

I am not quite sure if I did the right thing with my rehearsal nor if I handled the aftermath correctly. Is there a right way and wrong way to deal with teenage emotion? Is it better to let them freak out and cry and get it all out in rehearsal or is it better to as Miss Abby Lee Miller says ‘Save it for your pillow’? I don’t know the answer. All I know is that for MY personal sanity, no more method acting.


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