Blogged Bookends (#notgone)

“I’ll walk now with them. I’ll call on their names,
And I’ll see their thoughts are known.
Not gone-
Not gone-
They walk with my heart- and I’ll never let them go.”

I figured, it started with a blog post…it should end with one, too. (Plus I just have too much to say…who is surprised.)

Nearly 15 months ago I was given the chance of a lifetime; the Dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts at JMU saw a passion ignited in me and paid for my trip to go see Spring Awakening at Deaf West in LA. I reached out to DJ Kurs, the artistic director of Deaf West, and he told me I could interview the cast about their experience so that I might bring back ideas and methods of inclusion to my own campus/theatre department. (You can find those interviews here.) I knew the trip would impact me, but I never imagined how much it actually did. It ended up changing the entire direction my life was going, and I will never be more grateful for that.

I happened to arrive in LA on closing weekend of SA at ICA; at that point, that was actually going to be their closing. They hadn’t yet heard about moving to Beverly Hills, and they definitely had no idea that Broadway would soon be their destination. I was welcomed into their closing night celebration where we went bowling and drinking on Hollywood Boulevard. I saw the emotional toll closing night took on the whole cast/crew…they performed together for 3 months and yet I have never seen a closer cast. They were a family. It was pretty incredible to be invited into their world for what they thought, at the time, to be the end of a journey.

As we all know, that night was definitely not the end. Tonight is their last performance on Broadway, and yet I have a hard time calling it the end of their journey. Honestly, I believe it is only the beginning. This production has touched so many people, and changed the face of Broadway with its diversity and accessibility. This cast/crew/team have started a movement, and I don’t think tonight is any kind of ending to that movement. It is just the opposite.

It’s strange that at this very moment Spring Awakening is happening on the Brooks Atkinson stage for the last time. I feel privileged to have gotten to see it twice on that very stage…both times I was overwhelmed with inspiration, sadness, joy, pride, and profound love. This show helped me through my senior year of high school, when I was the new kid and was still figuring out how to navigate the waters of school, sexuality, friendship, family, and identity. I would listen to “Totally Fucked” or “Blue Wind” and nothing seemed quite so bad. When I got accepted to JMU it seemed to be a sign that the mainstage musical during my freshman year was Spring Awakening. It was continuing to help me through such a pivotal and formative time in my life. And now, my senior year of college, it seems only fitting that the Deaf West revival, the production that helped me figure out my purpose and passion in life, is closing. It’s almost as if it’s telling me, “Ok, Kelsey. We got you this far, now it’s time to try it out on your own.” Thanks to this show, this production, and these people, I feel ready.

I spent a good hour typing up a little message to every friend/cast member but then removed it after it got too long [and sappy]. However, please know that every single member of this company (from ICA to Broadway) has touched my life (and thousands of other lives, as well).

There is one person specifically who I couldn’t bear not thanking. Ironically, it’s one of the few people who will likely never see this post. Michael Arden, thank you so much for your bravery, your creativity, your ambition, and your overwhelming talent. Thank you for teaching your cast about overcoming fear so they may spread that message to others. Thank you for the lives you have changed, and the passion you have inspired in others. Thank you for telling such an important story. I can only dream of being half as talented, creative, and dedicated as you. Thank you for the Spring, and the purple summer.

In about fifteen minutes the cast will take their final bows. Not only will the audience applaud, but every fan who couldn’t be there tonight will be applauding as well. Thank you for inviting us on this journey with you. You won’t stray from our hearts.