“Spring Awakening” (Frühlings Erwachen), also known as “Puberty,” is a tragedy written by the German dramatist Frank Wedekind. As a matter of fact, the plot is known to be based on the author’s experience during his teenage years. But the point is, the play is not just an ordinary story about teenagers growing up. Rather, back in the 1890s when “Spring Awakening” was published, it was the center of controversy. That is, the drama was so poignant and real in depicting an ugly portrait of the society. What’s more, throughout the play, it openly criticizes the sexually oppressive and philistine society at that time. No wonder the play was censored. It was not until 15 years later that the play was first performed. Although “Spring Awakening” acutely reflects the German society in the 1890s as an historical play, it was harshly refused by the public, as it was too much to take in. However, time has passed. After more than 100 years, the play is also now being performed by Chung-Ang University students from the Department of Dramatics. What awakening will it bring to the audience?
Into the Play
Melchior Gabor: Although he has a certain knowledge about sexual reproduction, his early progressive ideas create problems later on.
Wendla Bergmann: A 14-year-old innocent girl who is victimized by sexual ignorance as a result of her conservative mother's influence.
Moritz Stiefel: Melchior’s best friend who is traumatized by his sexual awakenings. Unable to concentrate on anything, he fails out of school and ends his life.
Principal: He represents the hypocritical nature of adults who emphasize morals, not to protect students, but to maintain his authority.
It is Germany, 1891 - an ascetic and conservative society where adults hold all the cards. As children grow up, they couldn’t hide their sexual curiosity and physical changes as they reach puberty. However, grown-ups, who are caught up with their conservative values, avoid their questions and distort the truth. While Wendla wonders aloud where babies come from, her mother consistently gives vague answers, leaving her ignorant of the facts. Moritz, who grows up in a strict and conservative household, is not only stressed out by his low grades, but also so traumatized by puberty that he cannot concentrate on anything.
Among them, Melchio is the only one who knows what he is going through and tries to enlighten his friend Moritz by writing an essay about sexual intercourse. However, already distraught from failing in school exams and having no one to listen to his plea of help, Moritz commits suicide. The principal harshly criticizes Melchio’s written essay and wastes no time in pinning the crime of Moritz’s suicide on him. Melchio is also the one who got Wendla pregnant. Conscious of the way people will think, Wendla’s mother forces her to have an abortion and Wendla loses her life during the operation. After all the consequences, Melchio grieves in guilt.
Flipping through the Production Note
Wooden Stage Tells Us All
Most of the sculptures on stage are made of wood. On the floor stretches old roots that tangle around the corner of the stage. The frameworks made of wooden boards stand dangerously beside the walls. The material and rough design of the stage is all intended as they represent impoverished society and the insecurity felt by teenagers. The stage neither describes the background of the era nor reproduces a particular place. But the wooden stage is formed well enough to explain the plot and effectively captures the general atmosphere of the whole play. It also allows the audience to imagine further on without limit as there is no clear distinction between the interior and exterior of the stage.
Lights Build Up Tension
The lighting effects are another visual way to effectively show distinct contrasts between teenagers and grown-ups as the plot progresses into a conflict around them. By using a different range of lights, the play vividly shows the growing tension as teenagers’ curiosities get repressed by adults. In addition, the play visualizes characters’ confusion by controlling the brightness of the lights shown upon them. Another notable lighting effect is the Cross. From Moritz’s funeral, it appears as one of the main motifs of the play. Instead of using props, the play cleverly alters light into the shape of a cross by shining on the wooden boards intersecting at a right angle.
Actors Flown from the 1890s
One of the important factors to take care of, especially in an historical play like “Spring Awakening,” is making sure that the audience can infer the times in which the plot is taking place. As seen from above, the stage does not directly refer to German society in the 1890s. Instead, the time setting is expressed through the actors’ clothes, shoes, accessories, and hairstyles. The play does not miss the details as there are lines in the beginning of the play where Wendla’s mother comments on Wendla’s dress, saying that it is too short and Wendla muttering that her mother wouldn’t let her have hair short. On top of that, it would have been tricky for actors to delicately portray the sensitive emotions that teenage characters are going through. However, thanks to the actors’ excellent performances, the audience could easily get immersed into each character’s mind.
“Spring Awakening” shows the tragedy of three teenagers brought by nothing other than an older generation’s hypocritical ethics. Teenagers are more sensitive and unstable, but isn’t it more natural for them to act this way? Their physical and mental changes should not be oppressed by authority. It was a play that awakens adults once again to their important roles and responsibilities of guiding teenagers well without hurting their emotions or turning their backs on them. “Spring Awakening” reminds the audience of a famous line from T.S. Eliot’s poem, “Wasteland,” “April is the cruelest month.” Perhaps it is the teenagers who are in the middle of April and the play’s message will definitely carry on as long as teenagers bloom without being brutally defeated by the older generation.
Location: Space 1959
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