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Rock musical 'Spring Awakening' portrays emotional strife in adolescence



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Liz Hutson plays Wendla and Holli Burnfield plays Adult Women in "Spring Awakening." The musical will be performed at the Ivy Tech John Waldron Arts Center Oct. 20-28 at 7:30pm. Marlie Bruns Buy Photos

When asked what sex is, Wendla’s mother says it's what happens when a woman loves her husband with her whole heart, and nothing else.

“There, now you know everything,” the mother said in conclusion.

Ivy Tech Student Productions' performance of rock musical “Spring Awakening” runs Oct. 20 to Oct. 28 at the Ivy Tech John Waldron Arts Center. Tickets starts at $5 for students with an ID.

Set in late 19th century Germany, “Spring Awakening” tells the story of a group of adolescent kids dealing with the trials and difficulties of growing up. 

“It’s about teenagers going through their thing and struggling with love and loss and hate and all those things that come with the territory,” said Kaila Day, the actress playing Martha.

The show deals not only with adolescence but also other topics as well, such as abuse, depression and sex.

A schoolboy, Moritz, is struggling with school and grades when he starts having the sexual interests and dreams that begin in adolescence. A schoolgirl, Martha, reveals to her friends she is physically abused by her father almost nightly. Both characters deal with emotional stress without having any outlet for it.

“They obviously didn’t talk about what it’s like having depression at that time,” Day said. “They were just like, ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps and get on with it.’ All forms of health education, be it physical and mental, were completely neglected.”

In line with the adolescent topics and coming-of-age themes, the musical takes an unconventional spin on 19th century theater with a rock and punk rock score. A six-piece orchestra played the numbers.

“If you wanted to do a staged singing of the whole show, it’s an awesome concert,” Day said.

Some songs, like “My Junk,” discuss the importance of good friends, dreams and a desire to get out of their washed-up hometown. Others, like “The Dark I Know Well,” deal with physical and sexual abuse by the children’s parents.

In the song, Ilse talks about trying to deal with her father’s sexual abuse, singing, “I don’t scream, though I know it’s wrong. I just play along, I lie there and breathe.”

“It’s beautiful that the music can convey all of that and bring it home to people who don’t normally think about topics like this,” Day said.

Despite the serious physical and emotional themes the show deals with, a large portion of the music deals with sexual topics between characters. Songs like “The Word of Your Body” and “Touch Me” deal with how different characters react and try to make sense of that confused sexual interest.

“It’s right there in the title, awakening,” said Paul Daily, producing artistic director and an actor playing multiple roles. “Sexual awakening, intellectual awakening, spring awakening.”

Despite the adolescent focus, the story advocates for mental, physical and social health for everyone, Day said.

“It was written 125 years ago and still resonates today,” Daily said. “It’s important to realize that being an adolescent is being an adolescent.”

“Spring Awakening” is directed by IU graduate David Anspaugh, who also directed the films “Hoosiers” and “Rudy.” Adapted from a play written in 1891, the show has won eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical and has been produced in three separate tours across the United States.

Overall, “Spring Awakening” offers audience members the ability to better themselves as role models, Daily said.

“That’s all anybody in society can strive to do, is be better for the next generation,” Daily said. “I think this play forces us to question whether we’re going about it in the right way.”

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