Spring Awakening: The Directors’ Interview
November 14th, 2017
Omaha, NE—This week, UNO Theatre will begin its run of Spring Awakening, the hit rock musical by songwriter Duncan Sheik and playwright Steven Sater. Based on the 19th century play of the same name by Frank Wedekind, Spring Awakening is the story of German adolescents struggling to understand sexual intimacy in a society that doesn’t even permit the thought of it. It won eight Tony Awards during its Broadway run, starting in 2006.
As expected from any acclaimed Broadway production, the musical offers dynamic songs, choreography and engaging dialogue, but it also negotiates weighty themes, such as sexual abuse, teen pregnancy and suicide.
One major difference between the original play, the first run of the musical and the Broadway performance was the treatment of a rape scene, which drastically changed the overall story. Considering the musical’s thematic importance in a contemporary setting, directors Doran Schmidt and Wai Yim have decided to stay close to the original text.
“When they brought me into this project to co-direct with Doran, we had a meeting and talk about the original play versus the musical,” Yim said. “So the main thing about the play was the graphicness of the date rape scene, and since this is a university production, I just don’t want to shy away from it. The Broadway production had a softer feel on that subject matter, and we’re not changing the musical. We’re not changing the words or the scene at all, but the visual aspect of how graphic the sex or the realness of the event. We don’t want to romanticize it, especially in the university setting. We don’t want to give permission, and we don’t want to encourage that they can they can romanticize something and turn it into something horrifying. No is a no.”
The conflicts of Spring Awakening are arguably caused by the students’ societally induced naiveté on the issue of sex, and Schmidt believes this is still the case is the world today.
“We do have sexual education now, but I would say that we definitely don’t have enough,” Schmidt said. “There needs to be a more broad understanding across all institutions—just the way that we in day to day can talk about these issues and can learn about these issues and learn about the repercussions of them and how to be safe and how to still have enjoyment, and that it’s not dark and it’s not dirty—that we can learn about sex in a way that prepares us to not experience tragedy.”
Since starting work on this production, many real instances of sexual abuse have been revealed in media, including the acts of actor Kevin Spacey and comedian Louis C.K.. Most notably, accusations against film producer Harvey Weinstein prompted the #MeToo campaign, a call for social media users to share their experiences as victims of abuse.
“I remember one rehearsal which was extremely heavy because it was the day or the night after the Facebook #MeToo movement, so we all kind of know it’s happening everywhere—in theater, in schools, in everyday life,” Yim said. “They all have friends, you know, Facebook friends, and we saw those and we kind of said, ‘You know what? That’s why we’re doing the show.’ And that’s why we need to say, ‘Look, it’s still happening every day.’ We all have experienced it personally or witnessed or know somebody else that has done it, so that kind of really centered the whole group in saying, “Yeah, let’s not be afraid. Let’s just go for it.”
Overall, Yim and Schmidt believe that the cast has come together to put together both a highly entertaining and serious dramatic performance.
“In any production in the theater, any time you have a cast, it’s a family, and we talk about that in order to have this space that we can create, it has to be a safe space,” Schmidt said. “It has to be a space that we can all take risks, and our cast has been just wonderful about coming together. They do think of themselves as family, and even outside of rehearsal they talk through these things.
“And the reality is that these themes still exist and in all likelihood in the cast itself and in every single one of our audiences, we are probably going to have one or multiple people that have experienced a date rape or have experienced teen suicide or a death of a family member or abuse, and so that does become difficult—you know, how to separate the creation in the show itself from your real experiences. How do you step into this place? How do you take that risk to actually live through this moment every night at rehearsal and you know for eight shows?”
Spring Awakening, directed by Doran Schmidt and Wai Yim will show at the Weber Fine Arts building on UNO’s campus November 17th and 18th, the 29th and 30th and December 1st and 2nd. Previews of the show are November 15th and 16th. Doors open at 7:00pm with a 7:30 curtain. For more information or tickets, search “UNO Theatre” online.