Notes from the Dramaturg
From Bud to Flower
Frank Wedekind was born on July 24, 1864 in Hannover, Germany. In 1891, Wedekind published his most famous play, Spring Awakening, although it wasn’t produced in Germany until 1906 due to its content. The first English language production of Spring Awakening was performed in the United States in 1917. The show was shut down before the curtain rose. Since its creation, Spring Awakening has had a long and tumultuous relationship with censorship. Its portrayal and discussion of subjects such as atheism, abortion, suicide, homosexuality, masturbation, and pre-marital sex were not acceptable dramatic topics for the moral majority. Fast-forward a century to December 10, 2006 and opening night of the musical version of Spring Awakening at the Eugene O’Neill Theater featuring music by Duncan Sheik and Lyrics by Steven Sater. It was a groundbreaking musical that swept the Tony’s. Despite focusing on the same taboo topics as the Wedekind original, the musical adaptation was heralded as a beautiful piece of theater with some touchy subjects. “The sadness, the doubt, all the loss, the grief will belong to some play from the past.” (Sater and Sheik) Although the events of this play may belong to the past, the feeling of blooming, of awakening, of coming into ourselves is a universal human experience.
Frank Wedekind’s Spring Awakening has survived all these years because his play is revolutionary in the way it “harshly condemn[s] middle-class prudery and education that taught German children the facts of German history, but not the facts of life.” (Fishman) As the Father of German Expressionism, Wedekind was exponentially ahead of his time in terms of style and his content was so frank that many of his works were never produced until after his death in 1918.
Give and Take
Part of a dramaturg’s job is explaining to the audience, “Why this show and why now?” It often feels like the political state of our country hangs in the balance as we struggle with divisive issues fueled by partisan rhetoric. Like many of the adult figures we meet in Spring Awakening, U.S. political figures try their hardest to establish rules and legislation that will-- at best-- guide the country to a better future-- or at worst-- do what seems right for their special interests or value system. Like the children in Spring Awakening, many people feel they have no control over their lives and no one who understands them. Some may turn to violence in order to exert dominance or at least feel some sense of control.
Power is a tool, and a dangerous one in the hands of misguided people; Spring Awakening serves as a reminder of this.
Fishman, Sterling. "Suicide, Sex, and the Discovery of the German Adolescent ." 1970. Jstor . 24 12 2013 <http://www.jstor.org/stable/367024>.
Sater, Steven and Duncan Sheik. Spring Awakening . New York : Musical Theater International , n.d.