It wasn’t the physical abuse in the latest school play, “Spring Awakening,” that made some of the audience make audible gasps. It wasn’t the mental abuse either, nor the incest, masturbation, suicide or sex scene that caused cringing and verbal discomfort.
It was moment when the song, “The Word of Your Body Reprise 2,” began to play, and two male actors, front and center on the stage, kissed – twice.
Sophomore Dalton-Jesse Cummins and senior Eric Monzel were the actors playing the characters Ernst and Hanschen, two young men who are in love. And the reactions they got from some were contentious.
“I hate faggots. I hate faggots, and I’m a homophobe,” said one male student who asked to remain anonymous.
There were other negatives comments made too, and whispering, giggles and gasps.
“I think the funniest thing was listening to the crowd’s reactions to it,” Cummins said.
During the Thursday performance, there was a noticeable shocked reaction from the audience.
“There was a combination of people murmur uncomfortableness … There was one guy, I’m assuming it was a guy because it was a bass voice, in the front, I couldn’t see him because I was turned, and I just heard, ‘huuurghhhh,’” said Monzel, making a vomiting sound.
Sophomore Jared Ungar admitted to feeling uneasy sometimes when confronted with aspects of homosexuality.
“Homosexuality doesn’t make me uncomfortable … sometimes I feel uncomfortable around very flamboyant men, that’s all. I don’t have anything against two guys holding hands or kissing though,” he said.
Cummins and Monzel said they figured there would be mixed reactions from some students, but both said they understood the roles as just acting, nothing else.
“Initially I went, ‘oooh,’ because I didn’t research the show before I auditioned … It’s just one of those acting things, sometimes you’re going to have to do things that you normally wouldn’t do and you just treat it professionally and just make sure you’re both comfortable with it,” said Monzel.
“I think that if you audition for a show, you shouldn’t be ashamed by any role you get because you tried out for this and it’s what you want to do. So I think sometimes a part has its sides to it and you just have to live with it,” said Cummins.
Theater professor Harry McEnerny, who directed the play, heard the audience’s feedback too, but took it as a gasp of shock, rather than disgust.
“There were sometimes verbal responses to that kiss, there was gasping. It’s possible that the gasping that was happening was because the audience was so involved in the show and they didn’t expect these two characters to kiss, I think it is unexpected in the show. So I chose to believe that a lot of the surprise was it was these characters, not that it was a male on male kiss, because that’s frankly the world in which we live in, not surprising anymore.”
Second-year nursing student and cast member Doug Yaremchuk tried to add perspective about how he felt the audience should react.
“People should want to turn away because of the intimacy, not because of the perceived nature of the intimacy,” he said.
Junior Nick Marshall, the lead in the play, said he was surprised by some of the reactions because of the purpose of the actors’ characters.
“The healthiest relationship in the play is the gay relationship,” he said.
But there were positive reactions to the kissing scene as well.
Junior Kayla Allard saw the play and was bothered by the audience’s reaction – not by the kiss.
“I thought it was great! I noticed a lot of people giggled and made like weird comments about it, but I didn’t think it was something to giggle about or make a scene about. It was normal to me, it made me kind of mad when people laughed,” she said.
Sophomore Rosalie Burke enjoyed it as well.
“I thought the whole play was really great and well put together. All the actors and actresses played their parts so well. I thought the scene of them kissing, well I anticipated it so it wasn’t that shocking, and I thought it was funny! I thought it was good that they didn’t think it would be too much for the students,” she said.
And Monzel and Cummins had fun with the reaction of some.
“There were friends of ours like, ‘woooooh,’ said Monzel laughing.
Students and professors were surprised by the hateful reaction of some that the kissing scene had on the liberal college, but said it may still be a little indicative of our society, sadly.
“The fact that Michael Sam has to come out, he’s on the front of Time Magazine this week, this quote that says, ‘I’m not the only homosexual player in the NFL,’ and that should be the title cover of the magazine cover, ‘Duh! Of course you’re not,’ but why is that even news,” expressed McEnerny.
“Why does it even matter,” asked Fryover as a follow-up question.
Jenna Lee, who works for the Pride Center in Burlington, is an advocate for intimate partner violence, sexual assault, and hate violence.
“I think in Vermont we have an image of being liberal, open and accepting and to hear that being said in our community is sad. In college, a lot of the time that is when people explore their sexual identity … it could make somebody feel very alone,” she said.
McEnerny expressed that a play’s success is measured by the ability to challenge the audience, challenge each other in the theater and music department, and watch the characters develop over time. He said this play succeeded on all fronts.
“That was a very passionate kiss. Those boys did a good job with that kiss. And it’s a very difficult acting challenge. Both of the dudes have long-term girlfriends, so this was an acting exercise for them. And the fact that people are uncomfortable with it means that those dudes were totally successful. They were not trying to make people uncomfortable; they were trying to make it believable.”