-Excerpts from Spring Awakening: In the Flesh by David cote
Frank Wedekind, the author of Spring Awakening, was born in Hanover, Germany in 1864. As a young man, he often fought with a tyrannical father who wanted his freethinking son to be a lawyer. Wedekind attended high school in Switzerland. He went onto a notorious
and celebrated life as a bohemian, social critic, journalist, songwriter and actor. He was also, naturally, a hugely influential playwright. His first drama, Spring Awakening, written in 1891, was instantly banned.
It’s fairly safe to assume that the majority of people coming to see Spring Awakening have never heard of the original play before. But it’s not an obscure work: In literary and theater circles, Spring Awakening has long been part of the canon—albeit a difficult part.
Even though Frank Wedekind had to publish the script with his own money and didn’t see a production until fifteen years after it was written, during his lifetime, the work was hailed as a groundbreaking exposure of bourgeois hypocrisy and, later, as a forerunner of German expressionism and the Theater of the Absurd. The play’s production history is long and storied. The great German director Max Reinhardt managed to get a censored version produced in 1906 at the Kammerspiele Berlin. Its 1912 American premiere was at the Irving Place Theatre in New York. The production was in German, which may account for the fact that it wasn’t shut down by the police.
The next American version, five years later and in English, wasn’t so lucky. After just one performance, it was banned. Eric Bentley’s translation was performed at the University of Chicago in 1974. London audiences finally had the chance to see an unexpurgated version in Edward Bond’s 1974 translation for the national Theatre. Then, in 1978, director Liviu Ciulei brought his stark vision of the play from the Juillard Drama School to the Public Theater in New York. The next significant production of Spring Awakening is the musical version of the play you will see at Theatre Horizon.
The idea behind the musical is to place the scenes in 1891 provincial Germany. But when the kids sing, as Steven Sater, the author of the book of Spring Awakening, explains “you give voice to the pain and longing expressing by those young people that remain mute.” When the songs happen, the action stops and we are inside the minds, hearts and souls of these kids, through a contemporary musical lens.
Caption: Frank Wedekind in 1883 at the age of 19