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Feven Getachew
May 6, 2024
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Michael Lozada
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Nathan Hoffman
Nathan Hoffman
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Harvey Wilhelm `24.
Harvey Wilhelm
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Spring Awakening: A feminist retelling

“And there’s heartache without end …” sings Melissa Melloy ’16 in the song “Whispering” of the musical “Spring Awakening.” That statement is a good representation of the show’s beautifully-performed themes, which explore abortion, homosexuality, rape, child abuse and suicide. The performers capture the frustration of individuals living in a society of repressed sexuality, but with a twist—audiences of “Spring Awakening” should be prepared to reinterpret the play through a feminist lens.

Grinnell’s reinterpretation of “Spring Awakening” is directed by Anna Banker ’15, who was inspired to push the feminist themes in the original musical further through her rendition. The two-act play is set in a small German village in the late 19th century, and tells the story of a group of teenagers attempting to discover their sexuality in a culture of repression. 

“In my work as a director, I’m always interested in questions of feminism and violence against women,” Banker said. “‘Spring Awakening’ was a really unique opportunity to work within a text and find the feminism in it. Because it really is all about the violence against women under patriarchy. It’s just romanticized in the Broadway production, which obviously I don’t do.”

“It’s about young people trying to discover their sexualities, but it’s also about women not really [having] control over their bodies during that practice. The men are kind of abusing the women’s bodies to discover their own sexualities,” added Melloy, who plays Wendla in the play. 

Banker had previously directed the one-act play “I Dream Before I Take the Stand,” an absurdist drama about a woman who dreams about the upcoming trial of the man who sexually assaulted her.

Ebony Chuukwu ’16, who plays Martha in the play, has previously acted in Banker’s one-act, and tapped into a similar mindset for her role in “Spring Awakening.” 

“My character in [“I Dream Before I Take the Stand”] … insinuated that she is sexually assaulted, so I did have that under my belt,” Chuukwu said. “I was able to understand Anna’s working and what she looks for in those types of characters.”

For the other performers, Banker’s feminist interpretation of the musical allowed the actors to channel a new perspective for their characters.

“When I went into it, I didn’t think Wendla would turn into who she turned out to be, which is really exciting. I tried to make her feminine, but a little spunky, with a little resistance to the man,” Melloy said.

The feminist influence is notable in the play, despite the fact that almost all of the lines and all of the songs are kept the same from the original Broadway musical. In one scene between the main characters Wendla and Melchior, when Wendla first stumbles upon Melchior in a meadow, sexual tension rises between the two as each considers their physical desire for the other. In the Broadway play, the sexual desire is left relatively mutual, but Banker’s interpretation of the scene portrays Melchior’s actions towards Wendla as increasingly more aggressive while Wendla is increasingly resistant. 

“Our interest is really about the women and their struggles during this time, rather than a masculine portrayal of the show that is typically done, I think,” Melloy explained. “In the play, she is raped. In the Broadway show, they tried to make it more palatable to the mainstream audience, so she is pretty much raped, but they don’t [explicitly] show it.” 

Melloy came up with the idea of performing “Spring Awakening” this semester after finding a lack of musical theater in the College.

“It’s always been a show that I’ve always wanted to put on and this character has always been a character that I’ve wanted to play,” Melloy said.

“Spring Awakening” is especially important to its cast and production crew because the entire production is student-run. Aside from buying the rights to the musical, the entire budget of the production was 400 dollars. The College does have a musical theatre management group called Grinnell Independent Musical Productions, but it was inactive until Melloy and Banker teamed up for “Spring Awakening.”

The musical features Melloy as Wendla Bergmann, Emma Sinai-Yunker ’15 as Ilse, Chuukwu as Martha Bessell, Lorraine Blatt ’14 as Anna, Geneva Guadalupe ’17 as Thea, Sharon Tan ’14 as Nadine, Halley Freger ’17 as Adult Woman, Michael Kelley ’16 as Melchior Gabor, Luke Saunders ’12 as Moritz Stiefel, Deshaun Peters ’14 as Hanschen Rilow, Ben Vaughn ’15 as Ernst Robel, Aaron Lapkin ’15 as Otto Lammermeier and Gabe Lehman ’16 as Adult Man.

The music is being directed by Tan and Max Herzberg ’14 with Austin Morris ’15 conducting.

“If you’ve ever seen ‘Spring Awakening’ before, do not expect what you’ve seen,” Melloy said. “The lines and the songs are the same but it’s going to be hard-hitting in a way that most productions of ‘Spring Awakening’ are not.”

The musical will be performed on Saturday, May 3 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, May 4 at 1 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. All performances will be held in Sebring-Lewis Hall in the Bucksbaum Center for the Arts.

Spring Awakening - Shadman Asif
Aaron Lapkin ’15, Michael Kelley ’16 and Luke Saunders ’12 rehearse for “Spring Awakening.” Photo by Shadman Asif


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