“Really?! You’re going to do Spring Awakening?! In Bangor? With young people?” These were among the most common statements I heard when I announced the play choice for the launch of our Young Adult Series at Penobscot Theatre. My answer? “You bet I am.”
Having spent what I have now realized is seventeen years working as an educator in some capacity, I spend most of my days with and around youth. I hear them talk about struggling to become adults. It is no secret that our children face the same challenges that we did during our own growing pains. It is also no secret that they face a myriad of things in a way that we, perhaps, did not. Teen pregnancy, suicide, depression, substance abuse, and violence all seem to have become a regular part of our social discourse. Why then do we find the artistic presentation of it so shocking?
It has always been my belief that the art of theater serves to allow humanity to examine itself. To hold a mirror to ourselves that we might become more self-aware and reflect on what it means to be human. With that in mind, it has always been a wish of mine to direct Spring Awakening with age appropriate actors. So that they might have an outlet, a place to express both the fear and frustration they feel alongside with the joy and excitement they experience.
Frank Wedekind’s original text “Spring’s Awakening,” written in 1891, was met with so much resistance that it was in fact never performed until 1906 and was often censored or banned entirely. It was criticized for its exploration of taboo subjects. I assure you, these subjects are just as relevant to our children today as they were in 1891, if not more so. I hear students discuss how their ideals clash with society around them (Melchior); I hear kids who long for their parents just to talk to them and tell them the truth (Wendla); I am constantly aware of students crumbling of the pressure of school and ultimately succumbing to suicide because they believe it is the only way out (Moritz); I am notified when one of my students has suffered sexual abuse at the hands of a family member (Martha, Ilse); and it goes on and on and on. It is now wonder then that the musical adaptation by Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater became wildly popular on Broadway, receiving eight Tony Awards in 2007.
I believe our kids want to grow up to be their best selves. I believe we have a responsibility to help them do so. Yes, some kids are having sex. Yes, some kids drop the “f-bomb.” Yes, some kids are considering ending their lives. These are realities. Over the years, I have found that giving these challenges a productive context can be the first step in solving them. I think it is the responsibility of our art form to give those kids a place to express that, to explore what it all means in a safe environment, and most importantly to begin a discussion in our community that address these things. The challenges our children face are our challenges as well as we seek to guide them to take our places in society. As Ilse sings in the finale of the show:
“Listen to what’s in the heart of a child,
A song so big in one so small,
Soon you will hear where beauty lies
You’ll hear and you’ll recall
The sadness, the doubt, all the loss, the grief
Will belong to some play from the past;
As the child leads the way to a dream, a belief,
A time of hope through the land…”
Spring Awakening will be performed at the Bangor Opera House August 9,10, & 11 at 7 p.m. PLEASE NOTE due to mature themes, Spring Awakening is not appropriate for those under the age of 14 and those under 17 must be accompanied by and adult. Tickets are $10 adults and $5 for students. Reserve your tickets today by visiting our website at www.penobscottheatre.org or call our box office at 942-3333.
“Working on Spring Awakening is really a blessing to me. Honestly before I started rehearsals I was a little nervous. I mean I LOVE the music but I was a little nervous about talking about the content of storyline and I thought it would be really awkward. Sexual abuse, suicide, sex, abortions? But after our first read-through together, everyone was joking around and smiling and there was no awkwardness at all. It actually felt good to talk about the themes of the show in a friendly environment together with a new group of friends. And as we started rehearsing I found that the show is actually not all about heavy depressing things in life, but it is actually really funny! We all joke around and have so much fun together like a big goofy family. We were all a bunch a strangers coming into rehearsal, but we all love to rock out together and be silly and serious because we ALL want the show to succeed and have a lot of fun while doing what we love. Even when we do have to act out serious scenes, it opens up so many conversations I never thought I would have. Having circle time and talking about how serious these topics are as a cast has actually bonded all of us together in a really cool way. The cast is so supportive of each other and everyone is always ready to give you a hug when you need it. I have learned so much already, and I find it astounding that these topics were a huge part of people’s lives back in the 1890’s just like they are today in 2012. This show is truly timeless and the music rocks! And at the end of the day, it is really nice to “hug it out” at the end of rehearsal with such a wonderfully talented group of cast mates. I encourage everyone to come see Spring Awakening because I guarantee that even though the flood gates might open in some parts, you will be rolling on the floor laughing or just simply rocking out in other parts. The message this show sends about sitting down and simply talking about growing up is really important, and I hope to see everyone at the show ROCKING OUT!!”