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"Teen Suicide in the Contemporary American Musical" a critical analysis by  Matthew Treiber

Dartmouth College

May 9, 2018

Advisor: Dr. Irma Mayorga

Senior Theater major Matthew Treiber desired to complete a long-form, multi-chapter work of dramatic criticism for his Honors Thesis project. Most specifically, Treiber located numerous representations of suicide by teenagers in recent, highly successful works of musical theater. This disturbing and illuminating trend became his focus.


The completed study is comprised of an introduction, three chapters, and an epilogue:


  1. "127 Years of Teen Angst: Representations of Suicide in Spring Awakening"

  2. "'Jesus, I’m on the Frickin’ Bus Again ‘Cause All My Rides to School Are Dead': Bullycide, the Werther Effect, and Psychosis in Heathers: The Musical"

  3. "Danger in the Plaster Cast: Problematic Representations of Teen Mental Health in Dear Evan Hansen"


Students who have completed at least five major courses and who have an average in the major of 3.4 or higher (and a College average of 3.0 or higher) are eligible to apply for the honors program. An honors project normally extends through two terms and receives two major credits.

In the first term of his project, Treiber conducted extensive research on musical theater history, on existing dramatic criticism about the three musicals of his study, and research on teen mental health, suicide as a social phenomenon, and depression as a mental condition.

Following this research, for the second term of his project, Treiber generated and fine-tuned his three chapters of critical analysis over the course of 15 weeks. Each chapter consists of approximately 22-24 pages.

Pedagogy on this project included guiding the student through the Honors Thesis application process and serving as an intellectual inter-locutor for each chapter’s theoretical ideas and critical investigations. Advisement also closely counseled attention to each chapter’s focus and writing.

Mentorship for this project also included conceiving of a performance leaning presen-tation of the final research. Matthew Treiber is an accomplished performer and therefore sought to incorporate numbers from each of the musicals of his study. These numbers were executed during a 50 minute presentation of selections from his chapters. An ensemble of outstanding student singer/actors accompanied Treiber in a presentation of research that moved between his critical work and performance. To achieve this presentation, Treiber also gained com-petitive funding awards from numerous on-campus sources to engage a professional pianist. 

Mentorship and collaboration with the student also included weekly one-on-one consultation meetings throughout the project for development and counsel. 


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