Spring Awakening has never been a shy musical. Based on German playwright Frank Wedekind’s 1891 tale of teenagers awakening to their sexuality amongst adults who failed to provide any sexual education, Spring Awakening is a loud, musical exploration of teenage sexuality and all the controversy that comes with it.
The original 2006 Broadway production – with music by Duncan Sheik and book and lyrics by Steven Sater – won the Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Book and Best Original Score in a decade that saw mounting political pressure to promote “abstinence-only” sex ad and social push back against the growing movement for same-sex marriage rights.
Much has changed since the musical’s first iteration. The rise of social media and widespread use of the internet have given us new ways to connect with others and find information. Today’s teenagers are a Google search away from answering any questions they may have about their experiences. Despite advances, purity culture remains as looming a threat as it has ever been. Critics of comprehensive sex education have begun to dedicate themselves to their task with renewed fervor. Individuals on the far left and far right police each other in the public sphere, aggressively shunning anyone who falls out of line. While same-sex marriage is now enshrined as law, it remains a contentious issue along with women’s reproductive health.
In light of the current cultural environment, what does Spring Awakening have to say to modern audiences? Four actors from Round House Theatre’s upcoming production shared their thoughts.
“This show highlights the consequences of censorship,” says Kalen Robinson, 22, (Thea). “To what extent should we limit young people’s access to information and why? What consequences does this have? Puberty is not a great experience even when you do understand what’s happening.”
There is certainly a lot to be said on the topic of educating teens about sexuality. The recent kerfuffle over a Teen Vogue article on sexual awareness is emblematic of the conflict that still exists between generations regarding appropriate topics for sexual education. New challenges, such as the proliferation and accessibility of internet pornography, have spawned more questions than answers. Censorship remains a reality in Western culture.
Spring Awakening goes even further in addressing the ideological shifts which occur from generation to generation: “The idea of a younger generation claiming the world they want instead of the world that their parents or the generation before gave them,” says Sean Watkinson, 25, (Moritz), “is extremely relevant with all of the fighting in our cultural environment. Today’s younger generation has very different thoughts about how the world should be.”
Cristina Sastre, 23, (Wendla) describes Spring Awakening as a show about the ‘growing pains’ of adolescence. For today’s young adults, coming of age is often accompanied by awareness and worry about looming societal problems. “For the younger generation, Spring Awakening is especially politically relevant to our concerns about the environment, fighting for gun control so that kids aren’t being shot in school and even the conversation around consent that’s taking place along with the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements.”
Spring Awakening also offers the opportunity to showcase the way younger generations address body image and identity.
“Being black and being a little bit ‘thicker’ has presented a challenge in some ways,” Kalen Robison shares, “Musical theater is just not as open to people like me. I’m used to being the only black girl at the dance call. Its been nice to get my foot in the door, but I am excited for the future when it becomes more open. I hope I can be one of the black girls who help continue that process.”
Katie Rey Bogdan, 24, (Anna) agrees. “Being an actor and a plus-sized woman in an industry where it is very much about the ‘look’ – especially in musical theater – has been somewhat difficult in that people are unwilling to take a chance on me. They only see me as someone who is ‘larger.’ I’m so thankful that this production has body type diversity as well as ethnic diversity.”
These young actors hope that Round House’s production of Spring Awakening won’t just attract young audiences. The production, they say, can offer an important opportunity for older generations to see how their decisions impact younger generations.
“The youth in the show are trying to make the world a better and safer place for themselves and those around them,” says Watkinson. “They’re having to compete with an older generation that’s concerned with what will happen to their political views and their power. Young people are trying to make changes because they don’t see enough happening in the older generation.”
“This show has always shown adults the uncomfortable truths about themselves,” adds Bogdan. “The story we’re trying to tell here is very different from some productions of Spring Awakening. How we’ve focused on current issues makes them seem very pressing, especially since its an election year.”
“Spring Awakening is about challenging and dismantling power structures, which is exactly what’s happening right now in our culture,” says Sastre, summing up the overall feeling about the musical, “This makes our production that much more exciting and necessary.”
Spring Awakening plays through February 23, 2020 at Round House Theatre—4545 East West Highway in Bethesda, MD. Tickets can be purchased online.