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The Dartmouth
May 27, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Displaced Theater Company takes on ‘Spring Awakening’

“Spring Awakening” explores topics of sexual enlightenment, mental health and social repression through theatre.

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On Friday and Saturday, student theatre group Displaced Theatre Company put on a production of Steven Sater’s “Spring Awakening” in the Onion. Set in 1890s Germany, the 2006 play follows young adolescents exploring their sexuality amid the repressive culture of the time.

“It’s a story of a group of adolescent kids discovering how their views either align or differ from the world that they grew up in,” director Annabel Everett ’25 said.

Gwendolyn Roland ’25 acted as stage manager, while Logan Smith ’27 played Melchior, the rebellious male lead. Melchior becomes entangled with his former childhood friend, the innocent ingénue Wendla, played by Ellie Langdon ’27 — beginning a sexual relationship that ends in Wendla’s pregnancy. 

Smith said Melchior is a catalyst for change among the play’s other characters.

“Compared to a lot of the other characters, he’s very curious,” Smith said. “He asks a lot of questions that the authority figures in his life don’t like him asking. The other characters describe him as a radical, but he’s pivotal in revealing knowledge and being the step that causes big changes.” 

Although the show centers around Wendla and Melchior’s fatal affair, Everett said the show is an ensemble effort, delving into the lives of Melchior’s and Wendla’s friends and classmates as they “navigate themes of life, sexuality, repressed expression and disagreeing with the way that you were raised and how society is telling you … to be.” 

Everett added that “Spring Awakening” analyzes darker aspects of adolescence, including struggles with mental health, abuse and suicide. 

“These are topics that sometimes people would rather avoid,” Everett said. “There’s this idea of authority, bringing down this iron fist, and the kids have to navigate figuring out right and wrong when they don’t necessarily know if the adults are really giving them the right guidance.” 

According to Everett, she and Roland hired an intimacy coordinator for the production.

“We wanted to be considerate of the fact that the actors would be performing this in front of their peers and potentially professors and their families,” Everett said. 

Although the original Broadway production includes a full sex scene, Everett said she and Roland chose to portray that scene in a less explicit way. She explained that they used a hanging bed sheet to conceal the actors and allow the audience to witness them only as silhouettes — which Everett said she hoped would create a “dreamlike, fantasy” effect.

“There’s a lot of things in the show that are shown very explicitly in the original production, but we just didn’t want to necessarily tell the story that way,” Roland said.

Ryan Hill ’27 plays the second male lead, Moritz, Melchior’s best friend and classmate. Moritz struggles greatly with his studies, causing his mental health to plummet. He is kicked out of both school and home before ultimately taking his own life. Hill said he sees the play’s reflections on suicide, though “uncomfortable,” as “important.”

“I think it’s very important that people are challenged by what they see in the media they consume,” Hill said. “Moritz especially deals with a lot of heavy topics and issues, which along with the other themes and topics discussed throughout the story are things that are still very prevalent and important to address today.”

Langdon also said the play’s themes — which include coming-of-age and mental health — provide necessary representation. 

“One of the reasons that I felt motivated to do this show is because it covers topics that are so human, and I’m sure people our age can relate to,” Langdon said. “It’s so important to feel seen, heard and represented.”

Despite the play’s difficult themes, Langdon said she hoped the audience would ultimately discern a hopeful message.

“Something you see with the adults in the show is the way they perpetuate so much harm that was probably ways in which they were harmed as children,” Langdon said. “The show questions how we can break that cycle and raise the future generation of people and leaders to be more kind and caring and just make the world better.” 

“Spring Awakening” portrays the tumultuous transition from youth to adulthood. It manages to capture the liveliness of youth through its soundtrack — a mix of classical and rock performed by a live band — and its moody, academic setting.

“I really appreciate the teenage angst, classroom setting of this show,” Smith said. “Some of the songs are a lot more like rock than you see in some other shows, so it’s fun to explore that.” 

Hill also said the soundtrack played a role in making the show “feel modern” despite its historical setting, reminding viewers that the play’s concerns are “still very prevalent today.” The modern feel was heightened through the use of a live band.

Calvin Benson ’25, the band’s drummer, said the sheet music allowed for creative freedom. 

“I’m a lot more used to improv drumming, so reading off precise sheet music was definitely an adjustment and really hard,” Benson said. “But I still get the opportunity to improvise. There’s this one song called ‘Totally Fucked’ where the sheet music just says, ‘sloppy teen drum break,’ and it’s just blank and open to interpretation.” 

Pianist Janel Sharman ’27 said she enjoyed the opportunity to explore a new musical avenue.

“I’ve never actually been in a pit band, so it’s been a really exciting adventure for me, particularly getting to learn each other’s musical styles and feed off of each other,” Sharman said. 

Violinist Aila Owens ’25 said she appreciated both the soundtrack’s blending of musical genres and the band’s collaborative effort to produce a cohesive sound. Owens added that she combined the original score’s string parts into one, using only her violin.

“It’s been really cool to mesh together all different styles,” Owens said. “We’ve been combining parts because there’s harpsichord and piano, and there’s supposed to be a viola and violin. We’ve been transcribing all the different keys into one sheet.” 

Whether it is soundtrack or script, “Spring Awakening” is attempting to capture the difficult, multilayered experience of adolescence. Ultimately, Everett said she hopes the play can empower young people.

“The idea of giving power back to younger people, allowing them to express themselves fully and freely, was my initial attraction to the show itself,” Everett said. “It reflects how difficult it is to be young and not have answers to the questions that you want to ask because the adults in your life can’t always provide the right answers.”