Art Showcases What the Soul Hides
A look at what “Spring Awakening” means
Esther Irene Eagan
History has a tendency to repeat itself and there is history being repeated that goes unnoticed unless someone uses an art form to convey what a sense of the destruction that happens. Art has been used over the years to express situations that people are naive to or may not know the full truth of what is going on.
According to Micah Crosby, in a packet he created for the University of Central Florida’s theatre department, Benjamin Franklin Wedekind wrote a play based on the horrors that were going on in Germany during the 19th Century. Adolescents were seen as children up until they finished school and were treated being treated as children. They were restrained from sexual education due to heavy religious control by the Catholic or Protestant church. Boys went to school were they would be heavy competition to move up to the secondary school. Only 8% of boys would move up to the secondary level and 1-2% would be allowed to move up to higher education. Such academic pressure was put on students that if they should fail then their families would make them feel the shame of their failures. Children were meant to carry on the family name and had all the pressure that came along with that. During the time period “Spring Awakening” is set children started committed suicide at a more frequent rate than ever before. The play was written by Wedekind due to instances that were happening to him as a child growing up in 19th century Germany. Wedekind describes that the idea came to him by “merely aiming to set down whatever appeared to me. The plan emerged after the third scene was compiled from my own personal experiences or the experiences of my class-mates.”
Following the aftermath of the Columbine shooting Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater had a an urge to write a musical and felt that “Spring Awakening” would showcase their feelings. The two men changed a lot of what Wedekind had written to fit more with a modern audience and what was going on in the world in the 21st Century. They felt the need to tell the story of how abuse and bullying could affect children and teens. The affect would be that of pressure to succeed and if one does not succeed then the only option they see for themselves would be to take their own life. They wanted to show that even though these things had happened in 19th Century Germany that in the 21st Century the same things were occurring.
History was repeating itself and maybe people did not understand that teens were going through these things. That pressure from education or abuse in the home might lead a teen to taking their own life or the lives of others with theirs. Bullying is a serious subject and “Spring Awakening” was written to bring more attention to the subject, and showcase the true brutality of what goes on for teenagers as they deal with sexual maturity and abuse.
In most recent years there have been news stories of teens killing themselves due to bulling in school or cyber bullying. Teenagers go through turmoil when being bullied and feel they have no one they can turn to for help. A study was done by the Yale School of Medicine that found victims and their bullies had a link to suicides that had been committed in several countries. According to the New York Times, the study showed there could be a link but “wasn’t clear whether the behavior actually increases risks for suicide or whether kids already at risk for suicide are more likely to becomes bullies or their victims.”
In the play there is a nod at what happens to a girl who might become pregnant out of wedlock in a strictly religious format. In the time period of the play girls were taken to underground abortion clinics where a lot of times they died due to un-sterile environments. If the girls or their families could not afford such practices then they would take chemical douches or attempt to severely injure the fetus in anyway possible, for example falling down the stairs. Since sexual education was not taught to girls they had no idea what would befall them if experienced sexual contact with the other gender. “Spring Awakening” touches on the subject of what happened when teenagers are not given the correct information regarding sex. They don’t have an idea of what is going on in their growing body and why they feel this urge for the opposite gender.
At the time the Wedekind had the play produced, the general public in Germany did not agree with the play’s content. They found it too graphic in nature and banned the play from the country. He had to publish the play himself in Switzerland and many German people did enjoy the play and understood many of issues that the censors had banned the play for. The play remained banned until 1908, 12 years later, and was censored due to the offensive subject matter.
The musical version of “Spring Awakening” by Sater and Sheik went on to win awards and was well received among the Broadway generation. They set out for a story to be told that they were passionate about so that other people would understand more clearly of what an oppressed child goes through. The choices those children make for themselves and the kind of parents those children will become.
The play and musical were both written for people to better understand these things so history won’t continue to repeat itself. USC Upstate’s Shoestring Players will be putting on a production of “Spring Awakening” from April 10th till the 14th. Lee Neibert, USC Upstate professor and director of Upstate’s “Spring Awakening,” has said that the theatre department wishes to “make it clear this pay is no intended to shock or offend, but to tell a story that provokes thought about the challenges of transition from childhood to adulthood in the very strict economic and religious environment of 1891 Germany.”
If any student is going through abuse or bullying then please contact the on campus counseling services at 864-503-5195. Their hours are Monday through Friday from 8:30 am to 5 pm. The Greenville campus office hours are Thursday and Friday from 9 am to Noon. The services are free of charge to students and completely confidential. If you know someone who might be in an abusive situation please contact The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.