Totally F***ed: the Lines Between Fiction and Reality in Spring Awakening
story | Paul M. Jerusalem, Guest Contributor
photo | Xuerui Yang
By the time this review is published, much would have been said regarding the utter mastery that drenched every single aspect of (aside)’s production of Spring Awakening, from the acting to the singing to the choreography to the lighting to the direction. It is unfathomable that a production of such a caliber could be put together in 10 weeks by a student group barely over a year into its existence, comprising college students each with their own host of academic and other extra-curricular commitments.
And yet it happened, and I would stop short of calling it a flawless production. There were flaws of course: minor vocal accidents, a misstep or two in the dance sequences, the remote microphones not well-secured and the subsequent ruffling against the actors’ faces heard from time to time; but these flaws were sorely necessary in order to convince me that this was, at the end of the day, not a professional production. And yet, if I were to forget that the cast and crew were comprised of my friends and schoolmates, it wouldn’t be a difficult task to convince me that this was not a student production.
Even more intriguing than the sheer level of accomplishment were the artistic decisions made. When the audience walks in, it sees immediately the metal crisscross structures holding up the platforms on stage, one for the musicians, and one as an elevation for stage depth. While these platforms would usually be covered with a black skirting to hide the ugly metallic structures supporting the play, it is curious that a production backed by generous school funding would opt otherwise.
As the musical proceeds, it seems plausible that the choice of leaving the metal platforms bare could perhaps be emblematic of the project of Spring Awakening to expose the structures surrounding adolescent sexuality. Whether or not this is true, something that cannot be denied is the effect that it has: calling attention to the lines between fiction and reality. This effect is similarly achieved by having the musicians on a raised platform behind the main stage. As a result, we are constantly made conscious that this is a staged production, only a bunch of stories cooked up by one Frank Wedekind in 19th century Germany.
Paradoxically, this demarcation of the line between the stage and real life resulted in a blurring of that line; the consciousness that what was unfolding on stage was merely artifice (as confirmed by seeing the musicians behind the actors all the time, waiting for their turn to play) served the counterintuitive function of pointing out that the stories are happening not just on stage, or in 19th century Germany, but even today.
During the post-show dialogue, it was clear that members of the audience felt that the issues discussed in Spring Awakening continue to be relevant today, particularly the themes of suicide, childhood sexuality, homosexuality, and consent, in addition to others that weren’t specifically mentioned in the dialogue, such as gender-based violence.
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In response to a question asked regarding the minimalistic set design, co-director Kristian-Marc James Paul ’19 said that a minimalistic set “would make [the audience] focus more on the story …. We wanted to show how relevant these stories still are… so it doesn’t matter if the story happened in 19th century Germany or 2016; these stories resonated with both [co-director Natasha Loh ’19] and I, and we hope that it resonated with all of you too”.
And resonate, it certainly did. Somewhere a girl loses her virginity while barely grasping the concept of sex in an environment where sex is taboo, having been told by her mother that to conceive a child one simply has to “love her husband… with her whole heart”. Somewhere a depressed boy dives further into his suicidal thoughts, lying to himself that he does not “do sadness”, unable to even fathom seeking help thanks to toxic masculinity.
And all these did not just happen in 19th century Germany, or merely on stage. These happen today.