What constitutes a rebellion against conformity? Is the desire for revolution a matter of action or simply a state of mind? In the 1990s, America’s counterculture was founded on the alternative, grunge, and punk rock movements that embodied the spirit of intrapersonal tension and social upheaval. The ideas emphasized through this counterculture have utilized and influenced many art forms, including theatre. Steven Sater’s Spring Awakening exudes the same unruly spirit of the ‘90s, but the musical’s setting, 19th century Germany, does little to connect contemporary audiences to the themes. To accentuate the rebellious spirit inherent in the script, an adaptation of the play will be set in America during the 1990s. Furthermore, the internal conflicts within the three protagonists, Wendla Bergman, Moritz Stiefel, and Melchior Gabor—who each represent a facet of Sigmund Freud’s map of the human subconscious—will be externalized through the characters’ use of live musical instruments onstage. In each of the Poetics’ categories, alterations will be made to the original production in order to liberate its underlying turmoil.
The plot will be restructured as a framed narrative, known as the Chinese box device. Essentially, Spring Awakening will become a “story within a story.” The first scene, in which Wendla asks her mother about human conception, will be truncated and will serve as the external frame of the story. Wendla’s mother will conclude the scene with “In order for a women to conceive a child…” (Sater 17). Then, plot will jump to the subsequent scene, which begins inside the framed narrative and proceed as normal. After the song “Those You’ve Known,” the musical will return to the first scene, the framing device, and conclude with “The Song of Purple Summer.”
The use of a framed narrative serves two purposes. Firstly, it creates a new level of didacticism in the production; the musical literally tells a story to the audience members, who are then free to interpret the story as they see fit. They may condone or condemn the characters’ disregard for social conventions, but regardless of their judgment, they will understand the nature of the protagonists’ struggle and inevitable defiance. Secondly, the frame allows Spring Awakening to concluded with a sense of hopefulness, not only for the characters, whose disparaging fates are not technically “real” and are only part of the “story within the story.”
Spring Awakening utilizes three protagonists—Wendla, Moritz, and Melchior—who each play a significant role in the musical. For this production, they will each represent one of Freud’s three subconscious divisions: the superego, the ego, and the id. Wendla personifies the superego in body, voice, mind, and, through her musical stylings, imagination. She is physically inhibited by the boundaries of society, moving around stage with trepidation and reservation. She speaks clearly yet tepidly to whomever she encounters, and she psychologically...