Updated Friday, 3:50 p.m. with comments from Shorewood High School Drama Director Joe King
Suicide, teen pregnancy and sexual assault, among other sensitive subject matter, will take center stage at Shorewood High School this spring, as drama students tackle the controversial Tony Award-winning Broadway musical Spring Awakening.
The rock adaptation of Frank Wedekind’s 1891 expressionist play tells the story of 19th century German teenagers facing issues related to their sexuality. The play had been banned in Germany (and in the United States) due to its controversial subject matter. The musical adaptation hit Broadway in 2006.
Students planning to audition for the play — auditions started Friday — must bring a signed permission slip from a parent authorizing their participation.
Principal Matt Joynt sent an email to parents about the show, outlining why they are taking on the production: "While the show deals with controversial material, including teenage pregnancy, homosexuality, child abuse, sexual assault, and suicide, our school’s drama department is hopeful that the musical will become a flashpoint for more open and honest discussions about these important topics among our parents, students and community members."
The drama department has also scheduled a community forum for March 21 at 7 p.m. to discuss how the musical’s topics relate to teenagers.
The drama department has tackled controversial productions like Avenue Q, the The Laramie Project, and Rent in the past; Joynt said the administration is confident the student body is mature enough to handle the subject matter.
"Given the content of the show, some may formulate questions regarding its progressive nature," Joynt said in an email. "Our goals for performing Spring Awakening are to produce a high quality and moving theatrical performance and to use the content of the show to encourage young people and adults to engage in dialogue about the real challenges our adolescents face. This is an opportunity to produce powerful theater and powerful conversation to support the young people we all serve."
Based upon the results of a youth risk behavior survey completed by Shorewood High School students in 2011, Joynt added, it’s clear many students are struggling with the topics and situations portrayed in the show.
Shorewood High School Drama Director Joe King echoed Joynt's sentiments saying he chose the production because the topics are relevant to teenagers, and he wants to link those topics to the results of the survey, and start a dialogue.
"One of the reasons we are doing the show is because we think dialogue is important, and that we should talk about these things," he said.
There isn't a high school version of Spring Awakening available, King said, though some schools have put on unsanctioned versions.
He added the students are excited and he saw more actors audition for Spring Awakening than for other shows.
"I've received positive feedback from parents, if you ask the administration, you might tell you that they have got more of a mixed review, but that it still skews heavily toward, thank you, or we applaud you, it's very courageous," King said. "It's been overwhelmingly positive."
Last spring, the Beacon School, an “alternative public high school" in New York, became the first school to produce an uncut Spring Awakening, according to a New York Observer article.
"... They are simulating masturbation, unprotected sex, abortion, teenage homosexuality, teenage lesbianism, group masturbation, masochism, child abuse, insubordination, and out-and-out total adolescent rebellion," the article said, summarizing the subject matter of Beacon School's production.
King said Shorewood might be the first traditional public school to put on a production of Spring Awakening.
Once the show debuts in May, talkback sessions will be held at the end of the performances on May 12 and May 17. During these sessions, cast, crew and audience members will openly discuss the production.
The drama department is inviting youth-serving community agencies, as well as experts in the field of adolescent development, to attend a performance and participate in a session.
Furthermore, after each performance, school counselors will have extra availability so students affected by the material in Spring Awakening will have support and someone to talk to.
"Many of the students in our drama department feel very positively about the opportunity to present the musical to their community as well as the candid conversations that might spring up because of it," Joynt said.
Spring Awakening will run May 10 trough 12, and May 16 through 18. All shows will start at 7 p.m. except for the Sunday matinees, which starts at 2 p.m.