By Garrett Wissel
Elm Staff Writer
On Nov. 10 and 11, the Washington College Department of Theatre and Dance presented “Spring Awakening,” the seminal coming of age drama by Franz Wedekind, translated by Jonathan Franzen. The production was a Senior Directing Thesis by Rosie Alger, and, like the other directing theses, the play was held in the Tawes Theater in the Gibson Center for the Arts.
Written in 1891 by Wedekind, Spring Awakening wasn’t actually staged until 1906 in the Deutsches Theater in Berlin, where it gained notoriety for its controversial subject matter, a topic which has led to the play being banned or censored multiple times over the past century.
Set in a small provincial village in 1892 Germany, the show discusses a variety of sensitive and painful subjects, namely sexuality, rape, homosexuality, suicide, and abortion. What makes the show all the more challenging is that the main cast is largely comprised of children, specifically teenagers aged 14 or 15, hence the show’s original subtitle: “A Children’s Tragedy.”
Although the script may have proven difficult to digest at times, with both sexual assault and suicide occurring on stage and various cases of child abuse alluded to in the script, Alger and her cast approached these themes in a sensitive, artful manner.
“I was really proud of it,” Alger said. “Production was such a long process and finally seeing it on stage was surreal. There comes a point when you just have to let it go and it takes on a life of its own, which is not easy, because you put so much love into it. But it’s not my project, it’s everyone’s, and I was happy to let them take ownership.”
The technical side of the production, especially the lighting design done by alumni Brian Klose, Class of 2017, helped establish dramatic effect. The efficient use of stage space immersed the audience in the show’s unique setting.
With a show as intense and emotional as “Spring Awakening,” the character performances shone through. Senior Nate Krimmel and freshman Victoria Gill played the male and female leads, Melchior and Wendla, and senior Olivia Libowitz was cast as Moritz, Melchior’s best friend who takes his own life after failing out of school.
“My favorite part was the collaborative effort. It took such a big ensemble, and I’m proud of the work we’ve done together as a team, the magic happens there,” Alger said.
For a student cast, the challenging subject matter proved difficult to act.
“It was definitely one of the most unique shows I’ve been a part of here at WC, with the most emotionally challenging roles I’ve personally ever had,” said junior Iz Clemens, who played Martha, Mrs. Bergmann, and Starver. “However, at the end of the day it was a really awesome experience, getting to be a part of a show that so aggressively challenges the education system, rape culture, all these different things that are just as important today as they were when ‘Spring Awakening’ was written, if not more so.”
As for any senior undertaking a directing thesis, Alger chose her show for a reason.
“I knew I wanted to do a play about gender and women’s issues. I read a lot of modern plays, but I kept coming back to that script. It’s messy, but it makes the audience put the pieces together for themselves. With sexual assault and mental health, it’s better to have a story that’s messy and complicated rather than to oversimplify it,” she said.
She also wanted to open discussions that are often avoided due to their uncomfortable and sensitive nature.
“‘Spring Awakening’ asks us to examine the parts of ourselves that we don’t want to talk about,” she wrote in her Director’s Note in the show’s playbill. “I was drawn to this script because it pushed us to lean in to uncomfortable situations and conversations, and to feel what silence around these topics can do to us.”
“Spring Awakening’s” impact on the community was evident in the audience’s reception.
“I’ve honestly never seen anything like it, and I mean that in the best way. There were obviously parts of the show that were meant to be brutal to watch, but the script forces you to think about topics that you really don’t want to, and the acting was incredible,” junior Brett Van Hoven said.
Alger’s production refused to shy away from the fact that many of the issues in “Spring Awakening” are still relevant in the U.S. today, namely the blatant lack of sexual education in American schools. In a way, “Spring Awakening” is a cautionary tale, and many of the problems that the children encounter are rooted in their lack of understanding about puberty and sex, and Alger argued that increasing education for these issues would help to prevent youth from suffering the same fate.
In her playbill, she included an informational pamphlet on sex education in the in hopes that if audience members, especially WC students, take anything away from her show, it’s that discussion about these issues are vital for youths as well as adults.
“By exploring ‘Spring Awakening,’ I hope to encourage others to change the course of similar stories that are all around us. Speaking up may hurt, but silence kills,” she said.