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Opinion | Lessons to be learned from Spring Awakening

By Hailey Gilman
On January 24, 2013

In my experience, musical theater generally elicits a wholeheartedly positive or vehemently negative response. There are those that plaster every corner of their rooms in cherished Playbills and show posters and could recite every word of "Good Morning, Baltimore!" before they knew their times tables. They know the names of each member of the original Broadway casts and insist that Les Miserables, while an excellent film, will never match live productions.

Unfortunately, others regard the theatre with general disdain, disgust and overwhelming disinterest. While it is anyone's prerogative to view musicals in such a way, I must extol the work of the cast and crew to present a story and a message in such an artistic and entertaining manner, advocating a theme that would otherwise be presented in a boring leaflet or lecture. I can think of no better example than that of the recent Miami University Stage Left production, Spring Awakening.

Perhaps one of the most controversial plays of the twentieth century, Spring Awakening has faced widespread opposition, both in historical and more modern settings, due to its mature nature and tendency to portray children as likable protagonists, while adult characters remain monotonous and ignorant. The musical weaves the story of several German teenagers in the late nineteenth century, discovering the joys and terrors of puberty, sex and love.

Because of its mature subject matter, the show only premiered in 1906, though Frank Wedekind wrote it in 1890. Later, Spring Awakening faced various court cases and attempts at censorship, until 2006 when Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater adapted the drama into a rock musical, where the show gained its notoriety.

Indeed the show has a reputation for its blatant, visceral approach to such taboo topics, yet much can be learned from the show's story.

Spring Awakening opens upon a young Wendla Bergmann, begging her mother to explain the creation of children, while Frau Bergmann insists that a child simply comes about from loving one's husband, no more, no less. Fittingly, Wendla soon comes across Melchior Gabor, a teenage boy with a well-conceived knowledge of reproduction and its inner workings. After several meetings, the two have sex, Wendla without any understanding of the act they have committed, until a doctor pronounces her pregnant.

Thus comprises the major plot of the show, yet the audience is also exposed to Martha, a young girl abused by her father each night; Moritz, an adolescent boy plagued by lust and a cold, uncompromising father that ultimately commits suicide; Hanschen, a boy confused by homosexual desires; and Ilse, a girl forced out of her home and into a bohemian lifestyle.

The stories of these hodge-podge characters are interspersed throughout the show, giving glimpses into their lives and ultimately passing on what I believe to be the show's greatest message: no one's life is without struggle or imperfection.

Indeed, my attachment to the production comes from my own personal experience working with Stage Left, yet I sincerely stand by the fact that this show should hold meaning to everyone. While set in the 1890s, the points made by Spring Awakening will never be irrelevant. The lessons learned are timeless and quintessential to any audience member, regardless of age, sex, religion or economic status.

If anything, Spring Awakening stands up for teenagers and young adults and extols their right to knowledge. Sheltering youngsters from sex, lies, drugs and desires may almost always end in catastrophe. Indeed, our nation continues to add to the number of girls like Wendla, pregnant out of wedlock, with no one to turn to, and the teens like Moritz, driven out of their mind with the belief that life simply isn't worth enduring.

We must take notes from the pages of Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater. Uncomfortable topics should never be skimmed over. We must address all taboo talking points and learn from mistakes, while also understanding that mistakes are inevitable in life. Yes, we will all stumble, but eventually spring will come and with it, an awakening much deserved.

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