Spring Awakening

Institute History

  • 2000 Theatre Lab


Duncan, Michael, and I want to create a contemporary musical version of Wedekind’s notorious Symbolist masterpiece, Spring Awakening. A version which time-jumps from 19th Century Germany to Millennial America – from a repressive social environment, which only serves to exacerbate sexual yearnings, to an anarchic, image-driven cyberspace, which fills the mind with sexual know-how but leaves the contemporary child as emotionally clueless as his 19th Century predecessor.

I’ve long been drawn to Wedekind’s brooding lyricism and still feel his work retains its relevance and power to provoke. Completed in 1881, Spring Awakening wasn’t performed in English until 1974 in its complete, unexpurgated form. From its tender, early scenes of pubescent melancholy and sexual exploration, through its great Expressionist conclusion – with the headless dead boy and the Masked Man in the graveyard – the play evokes the furtive allure of Sex and Death.

“The flesh has its own spirit,” Wedekind once remarked. And surely, the body of his play already has the soul of song within it. In the version we envision, the songs will present the emotional truth of the characters: a truth which, we believe, remains unchanged from generation to generation. When the children sing, they step out of the 19th Century German framework and – in the guise of contemporary American characters, drawing on contemporary dialect and musical vocabulary – address us directly.

Ultimately, music will be used in two ways: First, to underscore dialogue – much as in Ancient Greek tragedies – to intensify and particularize moments of heightened feeling; second, in songs which voice only private thoughts and feelings – much as internal monologue is used in 20th Century fiction. Characters will not serenade one another in the middle of scenes. Rather, each student will give voice to his inner landscape.

The completed work should provide both the dramatic punch of the “kindertragodie” and the traditional pleasures of musical theater. There is room for love duets and rousing comic numbers. As any particular character breaks into song, the other children act as Chorus – extensions of the character, admitting us to further aspects of his or her inner world. In speaking, these provincial, Gymnasia-educated children use a simple, classic diction, which throws into higher relief the colloquialisms and post-modern poetry of the song lyrics – to say nothing of the electronic (musical) arrangements.

—Steven Sater, Michael, Mayer, and Duncan Sheik

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