Saturday, January 10

Spring Awakening: The Angstiest, Dirtiest Musical Ever.

I saw Spring Awakening on Thursday night with a friend from high school slash work. We are both English majors and post-play we did nothing but analyze the shit out of it. She made the remark that if she had seen this at 14, her brain would have exploded. Or something to that effect, as this play tackled just about every issue a teen faces. Sexuality, masturbation, defying authority, self worth/failing, domestic abuse/sexual abuse, abortion, suicide. The only thing not addressed was body image, but I think that might be a slightly more modern issue than the characters living in 1891 could probably handle, since, you know, the Girls Next Door weren't gallivanting on screen in front of them.

I’m about to go all English major on your ass, so if you don’t like analytical theories and only read this for our scathing, often rude humor, stop reading, or keep going to enlighten yourself. It's up to you. And there might be some SPOILERS so if you’re the plot loving theatre-goer, stop reading as well.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

A little background: Spring Awakening was first written in 1891 by Frank Wedekind and was banned by German Authorities. Wedekind is credited as a founder of modernism, the movement that gave us playwrights such as Beckett and Brecht and Pirandello. As an avid participant in Banned Books Week, I love banned things, so when I read that in my souvenir program, my blood started to boil with a little more excitement than it already was. Then, in 1974, the British National theatre staged the first uncensored English language production of Spring Awakening. And then Duncan Sheik reincarnated himself from 90’s pop hell and took over… And thus, Spring Awakening as we know it was born.

With it’s German roots this play was very Brechtian, and explained why all the names were so jankity: Melchior, Wendla, Moritz, etc. and can definitely be categorized as Epic Theater, or Dialectical Theatre, as Brecht preferred. For his goal with his theatre was to present ideas to people for them to judge and think about, all while constantly distancing the audience and reminding them this is fiction, but forcing them to face the issues going on around them, making the theatre more than just a form of entertainment. As a play of magically appearing microphones, Spring Awakening distances the audience with the sudden incorporation of mics-- be it from a coat pocket or passed out by a fellow cast member or through a strategically placed mic stand-- and an interesting technical aspect of having audience members on stage, mixed with chorus members who pop up to sing during some of the songs. This brings the music into the audience, breaking the fourth wall and the bubble environment most plays exist in. The minimal set also allowed for the audience to focus on the issues at hand, not the amazing feats of design and lighting. Even though both design and lighting are impossible to ignore, as that is what creates the scene in this play’s case, not the moving sets carted on and off stage, as that does not occur. If they are under a tree, the lighting changes, if it is night, exposed light bulbs come down from the ceiling and act as stars, the back light turns amber as the characters lose track of time in their talking, all amidst the duration of one song.

Now, my first impression of what this was going to be like was SEX EVERYWHERE!!! Even though there is nudity and a pretty explicit sex scene, I was proven wrong. Parents be warned, there is a website for you to use as resource in learning how to talk to your kids about the issues Spring Awakening tackles, because it is very explicit and I can see why people are made uncomfortable by the play. Seeing it in Houston, TX the audience was small, because I don’t think Houston is ready for what Spring Awakening does. People are scared of it. It makes people uncomfortable. Especially when an actor masturbates for a whole song. Yep. On stage. A whole song. Awkward much?

My one beef was during the reprise of “Word of Your Body” (the sex song), the gays of the show tackle the issue of their sexuality. One boy doesn’t know it but everyone else does, and one boy knows he’s a Big Gay Homo. Yes, that is a technical term. Well, it may have been the way the Clueless Gay played the scene—as a very feminine man, with all the right punches in all the right places to get the laughs—but the audience found something humorous in the fact that, just as heterosexuals do, homosexuals were discovering their desires. It may have just been the Houston audience, but what makes gay discovery funny? Where is the humor in someone discovering their sexuality? Who said it was ok that that can be used as fuel for humor? I do understand that sometimes the only way to deal with coming to terms with your sexuality is humor. I do it all the time. I mean, do you read the blog? Please. Humor of the self deprecating variety abounds. I get it. It’s necessary. But it is unfortunate that it has become a necessity to cope. That homosexuality is treated different than the discovery of a heterosexual’s own desires. So I guess the dialectical theater worked for me, as that scene made me want to go out and make a change and not just have my reaction exist within the scope of the play, but put into action in a very real way.

So you might be asking? Did the lesbian like the play, or not? I definitely enjoyed it. I recommend it as something everyone should see at least once. The opening number is THE SHIT. The actress who played Marta in this touring company was stomping like there was no tomorrow. Often compared to RENT (with that logo, how can it not be?), Spring Awakening does not do what RENT did in a political sense, because RENT is very relevant within it’s contextual time frame. Spring Awakening is more universal, with social issues and issues of personal discovery, and no one cornily comes back to life in the end, thank the baby Jesus. So I did enjoy it, the music was unlike anything I've heard in my limited-but-probably-more-extensive-than-the-average-person-exposure to musical theatre. But I definitely enjoyed the discussion it spawned and the analysis it provided more than the play itself.

Dialectical theatre Score.

And the fact that my neuroses can now entertain you people.

Here is an example of the GESTUS used in the play: Wendla's self-fondling is an action that flows throughout the acting in the play. Then, you get to see the girl's rock out. But it's a little less awesome, as there is no way TV can bring to you that special echo the stage brings. All the jumping and stomping adds to the music and it just pumps you up. I got chills down my right side during all of the numbers this Tony performance highlights. They started in my scalp and ended in the ink of the tattoo on my right calf. Oh, and ignore Zach Braff's lame attempt at comedy. Stick to Scrubs, man. Stick. To. Scrubs. And Lea Michele (The original Wendla who you see singing here) is the most gorgeous Jewess I have ever seen in my entire life. I only wish I got to see her boob on stage in the original production...

I also noticed that the adults in the play were played by one man and one woman, giving the Authority Figures, the bad guys, the opposition only one blanket face and allowing the variety of teens to stand out with their uninhibited actions and crazy hair.

Did anyone else notice the 6th member of New Kids on The Block?

And since I don't know where to put this: This is the tour promo video of the cast we saw in Houston. Marta (the chick in the stripes) was totally my favorite. And this is a bit more rocking than the Tony performance with the original cast, since they are all censored and shit.

Side Note: Did I mention everyone in the cast looks like they are about 12?



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  1. excellent analysis, kathy! my favorite blogger talking about crazy hair and brecht's epic theater and censorship and SPRING AWAKENING??? almost too much greatness for me to handle.

  2. Hey Kate!

    Andy actually addresses the issue of gay representation in the vinyard scene that you mentioned, so you might be curious what he has to say...

    you adopted sister,