Local theatre company exitStageLeft’s new production is a rock musical that tells the story of teenagers discovering their sexuality in an oppressive society.
Spring Awakening is based on a play written in 1891 by Frank Wedekind. The play had a limited run and was revisited in the United States beginning in the 1960s. It was developed for Broadway in the early 2000s with music by Duncan Sheik and a book and lyrics by Steven Sater.
The play is set in 1890s Germany and follows a group of teenagers as they come of age sexually in an authoritarian and repressive society. Though the play covers such themes as sexual assault, suicide, abortion and sexual repression, the rock music soundtrack gives the audience a chance to relate with the characters and see them as real people.
Amelia McCluskey, the youngest member of the cast at 15, said that the play is “at moments . . . comedic, and at others it’s very romantic and [then] there are some really dark themes. It all fits really neatly together.”
“There are moments that are very real and impact a lot of people,” she added. “I think that Spring Awakening is focused around the characters and community . . . these things are still happening right now. These characters still live now. It’s much more about depicting something that is universal.”
Members of the cast have jumped headfirst into their roles. While it may be incongruous seeing mature themes come from such young people, they feel that they are opening up difficult topics for discussion and inviting the audience to think about things they might not be comfortable with.
“It’s real life,” said cast member Patrice Bowler. “There is mature subject matter . . . suicide, abortion, physical, sexual and emotional violence. Anyone who has dealt with that might find it triggering, but it’s totally palatable because you have this amazing soundtrack.”
Cast member Kahlila Ball said that getting into her character was the hardest thing she’s had to do.
“It has also been one of the most rewarding things. My character has a difficult scene with her friends and the first time we worked that, I could feel the energy and the power it held,” Ball said. “The more I’ve been able to work it, the more I feel like I’m able to hopefully bring a bit of justice and truth to the stories.”
The driving force behind this play comes from the young cast.
“It wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for them,” said company co-director Christina Penhale. “They’ve dedicated their whole hearts and souls to stepping into these characters and doing this story justice. It has been incredibly inspiring and humbling to watch them go through the process.”
ExitStageLeft’s decision to perform Spring Awakening this year brings extra awareness to the struggles still faced by young people today. The current political climate is one that fosters intolerance, discrimination and oppression, and Penhale explained that this was the company’s way of speaking against that.
“I think it’s important to give a voice to acceptance and tolerance and to open the discussion,” Penhale said. “Since this is a piece being told from the perspective of youth who are being silenced, we just kept coming back to it.”
“It’s going to affect each audience member differently,” she added, “if they can just stay open to whatever they may experience.”
Spring Awakening opens at ArtSpring on Aug. 31, and continues on Sept. 1, 5, 6, 7 and 8. The show begins at 7:30 p.m.