MT Spotlight’s ‘Spring Awakening’ explores how sexual repression endures today

Corr’s production underscores the material’s timelessness through staging, with ensemble members dressed either in old-fashioned costumes or in contemporary attire such as ripped jeans and t-shirts.(Courtesy: Emma Neeb & Sage Wong-Davies)

This past weekend, Spotlight MT, the 5C student-run musical theater club, connected past and present with its production of “Spring Awakening, a coming of age musical about young teenagers newly exploring their bodies without adult guidance. The musical, which premiered on Broadway in 2006, is adapted from a groundbreaking and controversial play by German writer Frank Wedekind in the 1890s, and covers lightning-rod topics such as abortion, sexual violence and suicide.

For Rosie Corr PO ’23, director of the Spotlight production, the play’s subject matter is still shockingly relevant.

“Wedekind was in 1890s Germany, writing about abortion and its dangers,” Corr said. “Here we are in a post-Roe world in 2023, using this show as a period piece to say the same thing and bring up the same issues. The fact that it hasn’t changed in the past 130 years, I think, is really scary.” 

Corr’s production underscores the material’s timelessness through staging, with ensemble members dressed either in old-fashioned costumes or in contemporary attire such as ripped jeans and t-shirts. In many of the scenes, the modern cast acted out lyrics to songs or mirrored the movements of the principal characters, symbolically intertwining the two time periods to emphasize the similarities.

“The line between our world and theirs became blurred,” Lucy Kirkpatrick PO ’24, Spotlight’s production manager, said.

Kirkpatrick explained that when selecting “Spring Awakening” as part of Spotlight’s season, the board was eager to choose “stories that resonate with the 5C community.” 

“Even though the topics are dark and difficult to talk about, they are that much more important to give attention to,” Kirkpatrick said. 

The show does not shy away from taboo subject matter. In the very first scene, the ingénue Wendla Bergman, played by Isha Singh SC ’23, asks her mother to explain how babies are made. Her mother, too embarrassed to look her daughter in the eye for the sex talk, proceeds to put Wendla’s head on her lap, and cover it with her skirt, causing audience members to laugh with knowing recognition. From there, characters who are unschooled in matters of human biology and attraction test out their sexual impulses onstage.

This material is challenging under the best of circumstances, explained audience member Priya Julian PO ’26, who was eager to see the show as she was in a production of “Spring Awakening” during highschool.

“The line between our world and theirs became blurred.”

“My high school production was a lot just because the show in itself was a lot. It definitely forced the cast to have a lot of tough conversations as a group about the content we were putting on the stage,” Julian said.

As a result, Corr put intimacy direction at the forefront of her rehearsal process.

“I am lucky enough to have a cast that really bought into it,” she said. “I’m sure many of them grew up doing theater and not having these kinds of practices in place, but they’ve really risen to our community guidelines of setting boundaries, consenting and checking in with each other, which is all the more important in this show where a lot of the intimacy is mixed in with violence and charged material.”

Creating a safe environment for the production’s tense moments allowed the cast to let loose in the show’s upbeat numbers like “The Bitch of Living” and “My Junk.” Songs like these express the pent up anger and resentment children feel towards adults who are complicit in enforcing repressive sexual customs.

“My favorite scene has to be ‘Totally Fucked.’ It’s the ultimate stand up to authority moment in the show and just hits every time,” ensemble member Jadin Porter PO ’26 said. The emotion, the music, all of the cast being involved, it’s beautiful.”

To center and specify the cast’s storytelling, each actor created their own document and wrote down why the show was important to them and why they wanted to share it, a dedication which appeared to resonate with audience members.

“I think what made the show so amazing was just how the cast committed to every aspect of the show and to their characters and I feel like you could really see that shine through,” audience member Kira Sekhar SC ’26 said.

Corr, who is graduating this spring, founded Spotlight MT her first year and has loved watching the club evolve. 

“When I started the company, the goal was just to get a musical happening,”  she said. “Now we have the knowledge and resources to be so much more and create an incredible space for BIPOC inclusion and queer inclusion and to just be centering all these boundary and consent practices.”

Corr hopes that the club continues to grow, building interest within the 5C and even larger Claremont community. 

“I think it would be so cool if one day Spotlight was doing a musical that needed younger kids and was able to bring in children from the local schools and really interact with the Claremont community,” Corr said. “To me, Spotlight is so much more than just a 5C club.” 

Follow @spotlightmt on Instagram for updates about upcoming shows and events.

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