Spring Awakening :: How a Musical Changed a Sixteen Year Old’s Life

27 May

Earlier this month, about two weeks ago, I saw a community theatre production of Spring Awakening up in Portland. It was very good for community theatre. The actors were great, the singing was phenomenal, and all the costumes, set, and lighting were superb (not the mention the kid playing Hanschen was sexy as all get out). I had seen Spring Awakening three years prior when it toured nationally, and I had forgotten since then just how enamored I was with the musical.

Spring Awakening is a musical about teenagers awakening to their sexual desires in 1892 Germany. The musical, written by Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik, is based on the play of the same name, written by Frank Wedekind. It was a very taboo subject for Wedekind to be writing about in 1906, since the play involves such themes as: abortion, rape, homosexuality, incest, suicide, child abuse, and intercourse amongst teenagers. The musical kept the same themes in it, but updated the dialogue to sound more modern and weaved in a gorgeous pop-rock score.

After seeing the production up in Portland, I started remembering my experience of first discovering this play. Spring Awakening is a musical that spoke volumes to me when I first heard it five summers ago. I’ve written before about my limitations of the knowledge of sex growing up, but here’s the skinny: Looking back, I’m fairly certain I was fifteen by the time I finally understood all the logistics of sex. It’s a late age to fully grasp the concept, I know, but I was fairly undereducated on the subject throughout my young adolescent life (but more on that later). While I understood how sex worked by the age of fifteen, I found that I could not wrap my head around the role intimacy played in intercourse. While I saw how it brought people closer together in movies and television, it didn’t quite click for me. Did people just do “it” because it felt good? Was that all?

I was sixteen going on seventeen the first time I listened to Spring Awakening, and suddenly my eyes were open to this whole other world. The songs enlightened me so much about sex. Songs like ‘Bitch of Living’ made me realize I wasn’t the only one who had all these strange urges down below the waist. ‘Touch Me’ taught me that, while sex is glorified amongst men, it can be just as pleasurable – if not more – for the woman. Not to mention the song ‘My Junk’ was pretty much one giant thumbs up in favor of masturbation. This musical was, in turn, the start of my own “spring awakening”, as it were. It wasn’t necessarily telling me, “Hey! You! Go have sex! Now!” It just simply told me that it was okay. I’m ashamed to admit that, at that age, I was sort of judgmental when I found out girls in my class were already having sex. I was in the mindset before that sex was an act reserved for “mature adults”, not silly teenagers. Spring Awakening helped me see past that and, in the end, come to terms with my own sexuality, and while I’ve never had sex before I definitely now know where I stand on the matter.

Not only did this musical help me come to terms with sex, but it basically set me on the course of reconsidering the world I lived in. The song ‘All that’s Known’ became my mantra senior year of high school. My belief in God continued to lessen as I grew, and I began to question the adults I was surrounded by. I began to question politicians, teachers, and society in the ways they acted and the things we teenagers were taught to believe in.

“All that’s known, in history and science,
Overthrown at school, at home, by blind men.
You doubt them and soon they bark and hound you,
Till everything you say is just another bad about you.
All they say is “trust in what is written”.
Wars are made, and somehow that is wisdom.
Thought is suspect, money is their idol,
and nothing is okay unless it’s scripted in their bible.”

It’s also pretty fascinating how relevant Spring Awakening still is in this current time. In the play, Melchior gets reprimanded for writing up an essay for Moritz that describes the act of sex. Writing such things to inform the ignorant minds at that time was not permitted. It brings to light how today it’s still up for debate if Sex Ed should be taught in schools, or if it’s better to leave kids ignorant and ill-informed.

A pretty silly rationale.

I attended a middle school where our Sex Ed consisted of the boys going in one room and the girls going in another room. I have no clue to this day what the boys were told, but I can remember the girls were told this: A) Sex = Babies, and B) Don’t have sex until you’re married. And that was it.

In high school we kind of got a sex talk from Patty G as seniors, but from what I can recall it was really more of a continuous slideshow of pictures of STD’s and some talk about contraceptives. I know that I went to Catholic schools until college, but even so that’s pretty ridiculous. And yet, I was lucky. St. Mary’s taught me about all the different forms of contraceptives, which lots of schools don’t even bother to teach. I’ve learned in the Human Sexuality class I’m currently taking that when kids aren’t taught about the proper forms of birth control, they tend to not use any at all. This, again, harkens back to Spring Awakening. Wendla asks her mother where babies come from, and her mother gives her false information. Because of this, when Wendla and Melchior have sex and she becomes pregnant, her mother is also to blame for not educating her daughter properly. When we don’t educate our youth about sex, we get really stupid shows like Teen Mom and Pregnant at Sixteen, or whatever the hell those shows are called.

Because of my school’s neglect on the subject of sex (and the fact my mother died before the talk could ever be had), I was left to my own devices. I was very much the Moritz of my circle of friends. I was having all these dreams and wants I couldn’t understand at the time, which left me paranoid and worried constantly that the world would judge if I ever spoke of them, except I had no Melchior to turn to. I didn’t make any of my friends my Melchior, because, quite frankly, I was too embarrassed. I was supposed to know this stuff already, wasn’t I? They certainly did, and when they’d joke about the subject that I knew so little about I would just smile, nod, and pretend I knew what the fuck an erection was. So I turned to movies, television, and literature. The media was an all right tutor, but sex is so over glorified on the big screen. I’ve never had sex, but even I know that it’s never quite as steamy as movies and television make it out to be. While I saw how the act was done, the media always seemed to skimp on the intimacy factor. It was all about getting it on in really risky places and doing the deed with people who were almost complete strangers. I even turned to other musicals to help me understand sex, but no offense, songs like ‘You Can Be As Loud As The Hell You Want’ (Avenue Q), ‘Contact’ (RENT), and ‘Lovely Ladies’ (Les Miserables) weren’t exactly the guidance in sex my young, naive mind was looking for.

That’s where Spring Awakening came in. Suddenly there were these characters my age talking about the “word of [my] body” and an “itch you can’t control”. It filled in the holes of my knowledge (no pun intended). It made me comfortable with the subject and helped me grow as a person. It really was a life changing musical.

Touch me, just like that
Now we’ll wonder down where the sins cry…
Love me, just for a bit
We’ll wander down, where the winds sigh…

One Response to “Spring Awakening :: How a Musical Changed a Sixteen Year Old’s Life”


  1. How I Listened to the Lysistrata Jones Soundtrack Four Times in One Bus Ride. « thegirlwholovesmuppets - July 5, 2012

    […] I wrote an entry a while back about how Spring Awakening helped me come to terms with my own sexuality, and that’s where […]

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