Exploring Spring Awakening: Week One, Blog One (Written by Mary Rose Nicholas)
This year’s musical SPRING AWAKENING is such a huge undertaking that we wanted to share some deeper insight into the artist’s process. Follow along as we get a recap of three different individual journeys (lead actor, ensemble member, and assistant director) each week leading up to opening weekend.
We kick off this series with Mary Rose Nicholas who is in the ensemble as well as THEA Understudy.
“Words make you think thoughts, music makes you feel a feeling, but a song makes you feel a thought.” –E.Y. Harburg, Lyricist for The Wizard of Oz
Frank Wedekind’s Fruhlings Erwachen or Spring Awakening, is set in an unnamed, provincial, seemingly idyllic German town in 1888. While the characters are fictional, Wedkind incorporated many semi-autobiographical experiences of the trials he faced growing up in a socially conservative, religiously dominated, highly censored age.
But in Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik’s musical adaptation, which opened on Broadway at the Eugene O’ Neill Theatre in 2006, there is no trace of restrained, classic German Romanticism. The score is ageless pop-rock, relatable to anyone who has ever locked themselves in their room with plenty of feelings and a record, cassette, CD, iPod, or streaming service.
The musical style of Spring Awakening underscores how human youth continue to fundamentally develop, cope, and self-express in the same way, even across the decades. But this work also begs the question, what else has not changed? From the 19th to the 21st century, how far has society actually come in making growing pains any easier for children?
How far have we come on the issues? Equality for men and women? Equality for the LGBTQIA+ community? Access to education? Sex education? Addressing consent? Sexual assault prevention? Gun violence prevention? Suicide prevention? Safe and legal abortion access? Suffocating pressure from parents, educators, and the church?
But while the conflicts facing teenagers may seem timeless, the musical storytelling in Spring Awakening is revolutionary: The characters alternate between speaking in Victorian cadences and singing like American rockstars. Their words weave images of seas and forests, angels and ghosts, broken hearts and broken promises. The story is uniquely told and uniquely important to tell.
Our challenge is how to tell it best. The content is overwhelming and powerful, yet immersive and intimate. With these qualities, it is a production simultaneously suited to one thousand seat proscenium theaters, and neighborhood storefront stages in the thrust –like ours.
But how to encase the drama and energy of Spring Awakening on a 20 square foot stage? How to make a ship for Otto rise and fall with the tide, while Moritz’ vessel spins out of control and sinks into an ocean of despair? How to create a world of dreams, or nightmares, within a mirror for Wendla and Melchior? How to make choices that resonate so that an unknowing audience can feel our thoughts, even when our teenage characters cannot articulate them? How to track our individual footprints, while collectively authoring the map of our show?
With the insight and leadership of our amazing director, Marie Tredway, we already have the answers to so many of these questions. And it’s only week one.