We’re all familiar with the theater kid: dramatic, shameless, and utterly captivated by obscure and mainstream musicals alike, they are a vital aspect of the quintessential American high school experience. But the question is: what makes somebody a theater kid, and better yet, why is it that these characteristics brand theater kids as “cringe” across the country?
To understand this cultural phenomenon, we must first delve into the general qualities of theater kids. The first, and perhaps most significant, is the cultish feel to the group. Due to the very nature of high school theater — rehearsal all day, everyday — they tend to stick together in a close pack.
This may also produce a lack of boundaries, which may also be exacerbated by quick changes in front of one another in-between scenes that are indiscriminate of gender. The result of this takes shape in the following ways:
1. Cuddle-puddles (not to be confused with those done during raves with Ecstasy; it’s merely a display of physical affection between multiple people, all at once).
2. Inside jokes incomprehensible to anyone outside the drama bubble.
3. Dating solely within the theater group (which more often than not overlaps in an incestuous manner).
Obviously, most of the theater kid variety are preoccupied by musicals and drama productions. Some popular examples include “R.E.N.T,” “Hairspray,” “Hamilton,” “Spring Awakening,” and many other plays that most people wouldn’t have heard of. They often show their love for these shows by abruptly breaking into song or dance, many times in situations where it is not socially acceptable — for instance, in the middle of an AP Calculus lesson.
“A lot of it comes down to general weirdness — from singing to performing, there are many “please don’t do that in public,” moments that most students trying to survive in a high school social climate would not be caught dead taking part in.”
Theater kids are widespread and notorious in American high schools, as seen in multiple prevalent media depictions. Musical-theater geeks’ dramatic antics can be found in the hit show “Glee,” especially in the captain of Glee Club, Rachel Berry, a competitive, self-proclaimed diva that eventually works her way to a Tony Award.
She simultaneously dazzles and irritates viewers, who love her voice but despise her attitude. This is probably an apt metaphor to apply to the general public’s opinion of theater kids, except mostly without the dazzling.
“Saturday Night Live” has poked fun at theater kids in their “High School Theatre Show” skits (with Reese Witherspoon, Elizabeth Banks, and Emma Stone) portraying junior thespians attempting to address world issues in a theater show with an “avant-garde” spin, showcasing the awkwardness of inexperienced teenagers striving to express themselves.
So, what is it that makes them embarrassing, even “cringe?” A lot of it comes down to general weirdness — from singing to performing, there are many “please don’t do that in public” moments that most students trying to survive in a high school social climate would not be caught dead taking part in.
A great example of this can be seen in the viral TikTok captioned, “At a Denny’s? Really?” in which drama kids are seen unabashedly performing the song “Summer Nights” from the acclaimed musical “Grease” at a Denny’s. Drama kids simultaneously danced in a circle, belted out lyrics, and swiveled their hips as restaurant patrons looked on. Many comments on this video included wistful calls for “bullying to return” as well as an overall sentiment of embarrassment and agitation.
While there is no doubt that some performances should be kept for the stage, there is something oddly endearing about these kids. In a space where apathy is the expectation, they are abnormally earnest, even passionate about what they’re doing. And despite the cringiness surrounding this group, they are never known to be ill-natured or mean. At that age, when every oddity and flaw wounds us so easily, it is a relief to find an accepting community that welcomes you and all your strangeness with open arms — and that is theater kids to a T.