Okay, we're back with part two (if you missed part 1 you can find it here)! So – just how exactly does my reading way too far into Avenue Q relate to college and to Tufts blogging? Well, insofar as that it reflects the main message of the musical, the gestus of Avenue Q will indubitably concern post-collegiate life – specifically, the pursuit of purpose. Purpose itself, as it turns out, is a huge deal in Avenue Q; an entire song is dedicated to it later on, and (although there are a host of delightfully obscene subplots) the question of Princeton’s purpose drives the play’s plot points fairly consistently throughout its two acts.
How convenient, then, that What Do You Do With a B.A. In English questions exactly these same ideas – although it asks “What is my life going to be?” and founds Princeton’s fears in the very real threats of unemployment and debt, it nonetheless ends on a positive note – “I can’t shake the feeling I might make a difference to the human race!” In this way, the song foreshadows the dramatic action of the rest of the show – it starts off by asking a lot of deep, “what’s the meaning of life”-type questions, then sinks to a fairly depressing place towards intermission and the beginning of act two. Finally, when all of the subplots have been happily resolved, Princeton once again returns to having an optimistic outlook on life.
The most interesting part of Avenue Q, at least for me, is that Princeton never discovers his purpose – the main plot of the entire musical, that which we were introduced to in the precious first moments of the show – remains, technically, never resolved. I say “technically” because the show does give us something of a resolution in the finale. After a bit of dialogue in which Princeton lampshades (i.e. deals with a potential problem with a creative work – usually a commonly-used trope or a threat to the audience’s willing suspension of disbelief – by calling attention to it) the fact that it’s the end of the show and he still hasn’t found his purpose, we’re finally given an answer when Princeton says “But… then, I don’t even know why I’m alive!” To this, the response is: “Well, who does, really? Everyone’s a little bit unsatisfied…” – and that’s all the audience gets!
Avenue Q keeps things real by reminding us that plots don’t always resolve nicely, and that one’s “life purpose” is, oftentimes, something that’s never found. Instead, the show promotes living in the moment, and enjoying the fact that you’re alive, healthy, and well-off enough to be watching a Broadway musical.
Not once in this blog two-parter have I mentioned the relevance of the themes of Avenue Q to current undergraduate students and soon-to-be-alumni, as they’re fairly evident. Purpose, meaning, indecision, expectations, existential crisis, the conflict of idealism and realism – all of these concepts are things that college students nowadays are asked to consider on a daily basis. What should my major be? What clubs do I join, what classes do I take, who do I stay in touch with? Am I doing enough? Am I good at anything? How will I survive “in the real world”? How will I pay off my student debt? And what, honestly – what do you do with a B.A. in English?
My answer to these questions, as well as my guiding philosophy for my new life at Tufts, is the answer given in Avenue Q. The finale, For Now, claims that everything is ephemeral and nothing lasts forever – thus, as long as you’re healthy and happy, you’re succeeding at life. In the same vein, I’m going to try to fret as little as possible about my undergraduate life. I’ll do the things I’m passionate about, meet amazing friends that make me happy, and get the most enjoyment out of the four years of life that I’m so lucky to be spending here.
Since we started with the first verse of the musical, I think it’s only fitting to end with its final words:
Don’t stress, relax!
Let life roll off your backs.
Except for death and paying taxes,
everything in life is only for now!