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How “Dear Evan Hansen” Sparks an Important Conversation Among Teenagers

%22Dear+Evan+Hansen%2C%22+the+story+of+a+socially+anxious+teenager%2C+makes+audiences+think.++%28from+%22Hollywood+Reporter%22%29

"Dear Evan Hansen," the story of a socially anxious teenager, makes audiences think. (from "Hollywood Reporter")

"Dear Evan Hansen," the story of a socially anxious teenager, makes audiences think. (from "Hollywood Reporter")

Shea Baker, Staff Writer

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One in five American teens live with a mental health condition–that’s around 5 million people, yet somehow, it is so easy for these teens to feel alone. It is so easy for these teens to think that they are the only ones feeling the way that they are.

That’s where Evan Hansen comes in.

Evan is the protagonist of the new Broadway hit, “Dear Evan Hansen,” written by Staples High School graduate Justin Paul and his writing partner Benj Pasek. The music and show are unapologetically honest. They aren’t afraid to tackle subjects like depression and suicide. They don’t shy away from the harsh realities that come with having a mental illness. They embrace them.

Evan Hansen is a fictional character, but he is still very real. Played by “Pitch Perfect” star Ben Platt, Evan is a socially anxious teen trying to find a place in his community. Evan wants very much to feel like he is a part of something, but he can’t bring himself to step outside of his comfort zone.

The show also touches on themes of social media and our human need for connection with others. ”

Evan struggles with crippling social anxiety, and they do not hide any of the its physical effects. When seeing the show just a few weeks ago, I couldn’t help but cringe at how awkward Evan is. He stutters, he fidgets constantly, it almost seems that he has no control over his hand gestures. There are parts of the play where words are just spewing from mouth with no way of stopping it. As awkward as it is, it is just too real for many teens struggling with social anxiety. Many kids can see themselves in Evan, and find comfort in knowing that they’re not the only one who is like that.

However, the show isn’t only reaching teens. Parents often see the show and come out of it with an entirely new perspective. Evan’s mom, played by Rachel Bay Jones, is a single mother struggling to get through to Evan, who seems to be in his own world. Cynthia Murphy, played by Jennifer Laura Thompson, is another mom trying to help her family through the death of Connor, her son, and to hold on to Connor’s memory. The show opens with “Anybody Have a Map?” a song sung by the two moms about trying to connect with their kids who they desperately want to interact with, but never seem to know how to do so.

It’s content that parents of all teens can strongly relate to. Parents often come out of the show with more of an ability to forgive themselves. Parents watch the two mothers in the show make big mistakes and fail at times, and it helps them to allow themselves to move on from the things that they have done wrong.

Another aspect of the show that is reaching people is Zoe Murphy’s story. Zoe Murphy is the sister of Connor, who passed away very suddenly. Played by Laura Dreyfuss, Zoe is fighting her own battles, trying to be resilient during a time when everyone is expecting her to grieve. Zoe never had a good relationship with Connor, and is trying to move on and be her own person after his death. Zoe is inspiring teens to be more resilient and to keep fighting when they are faced with hard times.

The show also touches on themes of social media and our human need for connection with others. On stage, there are massive screens with images from social media–youtube, Twitter– that are choreographed to move with the songs and interact with characters; they are a reminder that despite living in a world where more and more “socialization” can happen through the internet we still feel alone because we aren’t making that virtual connections are not genuine.

All in all, “Dear Evan Hansen” is doing what a good Broadway show should do- start a dialogue. “Dear Evan Hansen” has started a conversation not only about mental health in teens, but our need to have genuine connections in such a virtually intertwined society. By creating real characters with extremely raw emotions, the show has reached teens and adults alike, showing people that no matter what is going on in their lives, they are not alone.

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How “Dear Evan Hansen” Sparks an Important Conversation Among Teenagers