Penobscot Theatre’s Young Adult Series takes on the first local production of Spring Awakening in the state of Maine
“Really?! You’re going to do Spring Awakening?! In Bangor? With young people?” These were among the most common statements I heard
“Really?! You’re going to do Spring Awakening?! In Bangor? With young people?” These were among the most common statements I heard when I announced the play choice for the launch of our Young Adult Series at Penobscot Theatre. My answer? “You bet I am.”
Having spent what I have now realized is seventeen years working as an educator in some capacity, I spend most of my days with and around youth. I hear them talk about struggling to become adults. It is no secret that our children face the same challenges that we did during our own growing pains. It is also no secret that they face a myriad of things in a way that we, perhaps, did not. Teen pregnancy, suicide, depression, substance abuse, and violence all seem to have become a regular part of our social discourse. Why then do we find the artistic presentation of it so shocking?
It has always been my belief that the art of theater serves to allow humanity to examine itself. To hold a mirror to ourselves that we might become more self-aware and reflect on what it means to be human. With that in mind, it has always been a wish of mine to direct Spring Awakening with age appropriate actors. So that they might have an outlet, a place to express both the fear and frustration they feel alongside with the joy and excitement they experience.
Frank Wedekind’s original text “Spring’s Awakening,” written in 1891, was met with so much resistance that it was in fact never performed until 1906 and was often censored or banned entirely. It was criticized for its exploration of taboo subjects. I assure you, these subjects are just as relevant to our children today as they were in 1891, if not more so. I hear students discuss how their ideals clash with society around them (Melchior); I hear kids who long for their parents just to talk to them and tell them the truth (Wendla); I am constantly aware of students crumbling of the pressure of school and ultimately succumbing to suicide because they believe it is the only way out (Moritz); I am notified when one of my students has suffered sexual abuse at the hands of a family member (Martha, Ilse); and it goes on and on and on. It is now wonder then that the musical adaptation by Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater became wildly popular on Broadway, receiving eight Tony Awards in 2007.
I believe our kids want to grow up to be their best selves. I believe we have a responsibility to help them do so. Yes, some kids are having sex. Yes, some kids drop the “f-bomb.” Yes, some kids are considering ending their lives. These are realities. Over the years, I have found that giving these challenges a productive context can be the first step in solving them. I think it is the responsibility of our art form to give those kids a place to express that, to explore what it all means in a safe environment, and most importantly to begin a discussion in our community that address these things. The challenges our children face are our challenges as well as we seek to guide them to take our places in society. As Ilse sings in the finale of the show:
“Listen to what’s in the heart of a child,
A song so big in one so small,
Soon you will hear where beauty lies
You’ll hear and you’ll recall
The sadness, the doubt, all the loss, the grief
Will belong to some play from the past;
As the child leads the way to a dream, a belief,
A time of hope through the land…”
Spring Awakening will be performed at the Bangor Opera House August 9,10, & 11 at 7 p.m. PLEASE NOTE due to mature themes, Spring Awakening is not appropriate for those under the age of 14 and those under 17 must be accompanied by and adult. Tickets are $10 adults and $5 for students. Reserve your tickets today by visiting our website at www.penobscottheatre.org or call our box office at 942-3333.
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