By Tara Bennett
In a tiny German village, no one speaks of sadness, sex or anything improper. This does not stop the young teenagers who want to explore and experience the world, but they have no idea of the trials and difficulties that lie ahead. Their lives will change forever in Theatre Baton Rouge’s production of “Spring Awakening.”
Part of the Turner-Fischer series and sponsored by John Turner and Jerry Fischer, “Spring Awakening” opened in the Studio Theatre on Friday, Oct. 24 and will run through Nov. 2.
Written by Frank Wedekind, “Spring Awakening,” premiered in Germany on Nov. 20, 1906. Controversial since the beginning, the work has been banned or censored numerous times because of its content: nudity, swearing, rebellion, sex, child abuse, suicide and abortion. Despite that (or because of that) the popularity of the show has increased in recent years, with Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater creating a musical adaptation of the drama in 2006. The story now makes its way to Baton Rouge.
“I think it’s very timely, with all of the things that happening around the world right now with bullying, and with teen suicide and with the trials that teenagers these days specifically face on a regular basis,” said Production director and Theatre Baton Rouge Managing Artistic Director Jenny Ballard. “You just didn’t hear about stuff like this once upon a time.”
According to Ballard, “Spring Awakening” has the most chance of bringing in the 18-and-older age demographic Theatre Baton Rouge is trying to grow.
“By bringing in younger folks, you’re building your audience of tomorrow, you’re growing your actors of tomorrow, you’re growing your volunteers of tomorrow,” said Ballard. “These are also the people that are eventually going to settle down and make roots in Baton Rouge. Hopefully as they age and build their families, they have a theatre home base to go to. They’re the future of our audience and the future of our talent.”
The musical tells the story of a group of young children who are questioning their maturing bodies (and the urges that along come with it), but find no help from the adults around them. The lack of guidance from the parental figures is apparent right from the opening scene when Wendla asks her mother the age-old question: “Where do babies come from?”
“She has a very strict mother who shelters her from pretty much everything,” said Emily Heck, who plays the role of 14-year-old Wendla. “She doesn’t tell her about what’s going on with the changes in her body. She doesn’t tell her about how life actually works. She just shelters her from everything and thinks she’s a good parent in doing so.”
“Spring Awakening” is a dream show for many of the actors involved.
“It’s probably one of my all-time favorite shows,” said Gentry Williams, who acts as the intelligent and rebellious antihero Melchior. “Melchior has been a dream role of mine for about four years. I love the music a lot, I love the style of the show and Melchior’s songs are fun to sing.”
“Spring Awakening has been a musical I’ve been in love with since it came out,” said Jacob Voisin as Moritz, a character who struggles with his awakening sexuality. “I fell in love with the music, the staging and how they could completely contemporize an old Germanic play.”
While the show is a favorite amongst the cast, it was not without its problems as some actors struggled to see the issues of the play through the characters’ eyes.
“Because it was so serious, we tended to play it really serious,” said Haley Schroeck, who plays the role of Martha. “Everything was really dramatic and everything was really awful, and Jenny did a really great job of being like, ‘Your characters wouldn’t think it’s that awful, they don’t understand yet. This is the norm for them.’ You have to play it matter of fact, which makes it much more disturbing because none of it should be normal.”
According to Ballard, this show will push the most boundaries due to its themes, subject matter, sexuality, music and how the show will challenge both the actors and the audience.
“I think it’s just really important to do theatre like this,” said Ballard. “It’s this generation’s RENT. There’s no doubt about it. It’s a show everyone wants to be a part of that everyone feels super attached to. It’s the play of the younger generation.”
“It’s very different from the shows that get done a lot in the south or Louisiana,” said Williams. “It’s really raw and explicit so if people like rock music and really explicit subject matter then it’s a great thing to take advantage of while it’s happening.”