The SAGeeks series is all about celebrating the geeky and nerdy sides of all of us working in higher education and student affairs. The series is edited by Jenn Osolinski and Lynne Meyer. Check out our resources page for more geeky goodness.
Being a “geek” is an ever changing term, where once those who identified as “geeks” may have tried to hide, I like to think that people are now more willing to wear their geekdom on their sleeves. My walls are covered in Broadway window cards both signed and unsigned, I trade playbills like baseball cards, and my iPod is 98% show tunes. I am unequivocally and without shame what some would call “Broadway trash”.
In the last two years, as I went through graduate school and obtained my masters my I began to see my love of Broadway in a new light. Suddenly I was broadening my horizons through the subject matter, seeing the parallels between the inclusivity we strive for on campus and the inclusivity playing out on stage, and using Broadway subject matter as a way to connect with students.
Being part of the Broadway fandom is like having a ticket into a welcoming and nurturing community. Fellow fans who always want to talk about shows, meeting actors at stage doors and being able to tell them the impact their show has had on you, and through social media and beyond seeing the tight knit relationships between actors even when their shows may be competing against each other. Take for instance, the combining of the Broadway community to do the special recording of What the World Needs Now to support the victims of Orlando. It took only two days of organizing to get everyone from Idina Menzel, to Lin-Manuel Miranda, to Carole King, Audra McDonald, Wayne Brady, and so many more. The support given between members of the Broadway world is part of what makes you feel like you are being hugged by this community, being a member of the Broadway fandom is like being part of the happiest family reunion you could attend.
Tying my life as a Broadway geek into my life as a student affairs professional wasn’t something that I consciously decided to do, it really came about in a more organic way. Suddenly, as I went through my graduate coursework, saw the topics and issues happening within higher education, and worked with students, I began to see the same scenarios playing out on stage. While I saw the fight for transgender rights paying out on campus, I saw Darren Criss’ portrayal of transgender rock star Hedwig and her struggles play out on stage in Hedwig and the Angry Inch. As I learned about disability accommodations and the resources that some institutions have and others don’t, I was able to witness the near seamless implementation of deaf talent and ASL come together in the Deaf West revival of Spring Awakening (a show that also included Broadway’s first actress in a wheelchair). Similarly, when I witnessed student leaders educating themselves on working with students who may lie on the spectrum, I was able to help them understand a bit more by explaining to them my love of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime (both the play and the book).
In a world where students just want to see people like them represented, striving for equality and equity and perhaps thinking that it won’t happen, I ask them to look away from the mainstream media where they may not see themselves and instead perhaps look to outlets that are getting it right. Lin-Manuel Miranda, the man who first put his name on the map with In The Heights a musical shining a light on life in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York, is now telling the history of our country then as told by our country now. Diversity is prevalent in Hamilton, from telling a story of immigrants, to casting a diverse set of actors, to using hip-hop on stage.
I am a Broadway geek at heart, I love getting lost in the whimsical worlds of Wicked or Aladdin but I also love the stories shown on stage that shine a light on today’s issues, issues being discussed on campuses. Whether that is relationship abuse, shown in The Color Purple and Waitress, racial tensions in classic musicals such as West Side Story, struggles with gender identity seen in Kinky Boots or Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and about every other topic that the arts can help portray. The Broadway community is like a big loving family, and as part of that family I strive to use my geekdom to spread that loves on to others.
Hannah Berling is a recent graduate of the Higher Education in Student Affairs from Salem State University. She is currently undergoing her full-time job search and is looking to obtain a position within student activities or student success and retention. In addition to her passion for student programming, she hopes to one day be able to work with and provide resources and advocacy for undocumented students within higher education. Through her love of Broadway she encourages students to, in the words of Pippin, find their "corner of the sky". Connect with her on Twitter.