This weekend, the USC School of Dramatic Arts will present the German play Spring Awakening. Often censored, Spring Awakening tells the story of a group of teenagers and their subsequent sexual awakenings. First performed in the early 20th century, Frank Wedekind’s play holds truth today in a world in which sex is omnipresent throughout media and is constantly discussed.
Taking place in Germany during the mid-1890s, the play follows the lives of teenagers experiencing their sexual awakenings while coming of age. The play does not shy away from sensitive topics — masturbation, sexual attraction and rape — and because of it, Spring Awakening was often banned in its early productions out of the fear of being “taboo” or too inappropriate for audiences. Yet today, when sexuality plays such a big role in society, Spring Awakening can be the necessary reminder that audiences need to have serious discussions around sexuality and its complexity.
“The play is about sexuality and how it can be the crux of our expression of identity, but there are just so many different ways of desiring things,” said Laura Flanagan, an assistant professor of theatre practice and director of Spring Awakening. “For example, the main character could be understood [as] going through gender confusion in today’s culture.”
Today, more people accept that sexuality is fluid, yet there were hints of this knowledge during Wedekind’s time. An Austrian-German psychiatrist, Richard Freiherr von Krafft-Ebing sought to better understand sexual behavior in the late 1880s in his book Psychopathia Sexualis. Works like Krafft-Ebing’s helped shape Spring Awakening’s plot.
“The play doesn’t represent sexual deviancy as deviant, but rather, as ways people desire other people,” Flanagan said. “It leaves sexuality open, much like in Krafft-Ebing’s work, which is why it is so crazy Spring Awakening was written back then, and why it’s still so crazy now.”
Throughout history, people have struggled to grapple with the concept of sexuality — and sexual identity remains an elusive concept even today. Not every aspect of sexuality can be accepted by the public, and certain actions can lead to certain consequences. Exploring one’s sexuality with different genders can be beneficial. However, actions like rape cannot be justified. Spring Awakening, in nature, does not make its answers very clear and thus leaves the audience debating the morality behind certain plot points. To make it even more complicated, the stress of the time period and the fact that the main characters are struggling adolescents makes the plot messy and gray in terms of right and wrong.
“There’s an argument in the play to be made, that morality is relative — it’s a choice,” Flanagan said. “It’s an empty argument for us now. Morality is not imaginary — our actions have an innate effect on us and others. We’re trying to look at the play through that lens.”
The production consists of 15 students, who will each play one to three characters in the show. The set design, music and costuming was also completed by SDA students, making the play a student-run production at its core. Spring Awakening’s complexity and depth will transport viewers to Germany in the late 19th century and allow them to enjoy a more abstract, theatrical experience.
“[Spring Awakening] doesn’t really adhere to the rules of time and space entirely,” Flanagan said. “There are elements in it that seem farcical, and there are elements that are very realistic. It’s a very mysterious piece of writing, and it’s why I think it’s so powerful and potent.”
The show had its first showing on Thursday in the McClintock Theatre and will continue running throughout the weekend. More information regarding showtimes can be found online.