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New York Knicks forward Precious Achiuwa (5) shoots over Philadelphia 76ers guard Kelly Oubre Jr., rear, in red, during the first half of an NBA basketball game in New York on Sunday, March 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Peter K. Afriyie)
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New York Knicks forward Precious Achiuwa (5) shoots over Philadelphia 76ers guard Kelly Oubre Jr., rear, in red, during the first half of an NBA basketball game in New York on Sunday, March 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Peter K. Afriyie)
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Pitt Stages takes on youth, sexuality with ‘Spring Awakening’

Actors+perform+in+%E2%80%9CSpring+Awakening%E2%80%9D+presented+by+Pitt+Stages+at+the+Charity+Randall+Theatre.
Courtesy of Pitt Stages
Actors perform in “Spring Awakening” presented by Pitt Stages at the Charity Randall Theatre.

The atmosphere in Charity Randall Theatre was electric with anticipation last Saturday as the audience waited for the opening notes of “Spring Awakening” to fill the packed theater. Set in late 19th-century Germany, the Tony Award-winning musical adaptation of Frank Wedekind’s 1891 play, “Spring Awakening,” follows a group of teenage girls and boys as they navigate the complexity of their blossoming sexuality.

The Pitt Stages production of “Spring Awakening,” which runs from April 6 to April 14, was directed by Department of Theatre Arts faculty member Ricardo Vila-Roger and stars first-year Andy Levin as Moritz, senior Gabriella Walko as Wendla and senior Hayden Bobbyn as Melchoir. The production features original music and lyrics by Duncan Sheik and book and lyrics by Steven Sater. 

Through angsty song and dance, the two-hour show explores the relationship between curiosity and consequences, youth and authority, love and agency. The theater arts website and programs provided content disclosures and help lines, and representatives from Prevention at Pitt tabled in the lobby because the show contains depictions of sexual violence, abortion, abuse and suicide.

Levin, a business major and theater arts minor, said the musical’s cruciality stems from its enduring relevance. He said “Spring Awakening” acts as a cautionary tale and conveys the need for youth education about hard to talk about subjects. 

“I think it’s very important for this show to be told, because I think there’s so many parallels to what’s happening now,” Levin said. “I feel like sex education and everything like that, it’s important for kids to understand. [‘Spring Awakening’] is needed because we don’t want to end up like the kids in the show.”

Actors perform in “Spring Awakening” presented by Pitt Stages at the Charity Randall Theatre. (Courtesy of Pitt Stages)

Aided by the dark set, use of fog and haunting lighting, the show’s cast of tortured yet tough adolescents represent the universal coming-of-age phenomenon. Generational trauma eats away at the youth in “Spring Awakening,” but suggests they are endowed with the power to break the cycle and change the story that victimizes them until the bitter end. 

Walko, a theater arts major, said Wendla’s overall curiosity and desire to understand makes her very relatable, and she represents anyone who struggles with the transition to adulthood.

“I think I definitely connect with her [Wendla] in a lot of ways … and I think a lot of people can connect with her, in the sense that when you’re 14, you really have this overwhelming need to know things, and this yearning to understand things that adults know that you don’t and just this want to experience life,” Walko said. “That bridge from childhood to adulthood is so complicated and so scary, and I think she is just an example of everybody who feels that way.”

Levin agreed and said despite the obvious differences between his and Moritz’s life, he is able to relate to him. 

“I think I do relate to a lot of what he does,” Levin said. “I think he’s trying to be the best version of himself … and the world just isn’t allowing him to do that.”

He said he is eager to see how the audience reacts to the production’s music, because even though rock music and morose subjects seem like a dubious pairing on paper, they collide seamlessly in “Spring Awakening.”

“I’m excited for people to react to the music,” Levin said. “I think when you’re looking at the show … it doesn’t seem like a rock musical, you know. But the music fits in so perfectly and beautifully, and it takes the audience on a ride.”

Walko said because “Spring Awakening” is a musical, not a play, it has an added level of difficulty.

“It’s just the challenges you find with any musical, which is being able to tell the story while also worrying about music, and singing, and all the technical stuff,” Walko said. “And making sure that you’re helping portray the story that the director wants to tell, because that can be really important, especially with such intense themes as the ones in this show.”

Even though “Spring Awakening” is Walko’s third show as a performer through Pitt and second musical as a singer with Pitt, she said performing choreographed intimacy and fights was a new experience. Choreographer Tonya Lynn’s guidance helped her, according to Walko.

“There have definitely been some interesting new things that I haven’t done as a performer before, such as really involved intimacy choreography and fight choreography. I’ve been on the other side as a stage manager, and I’ve been able to support the actors, but I’ve never been in the actor’s point of view for that,” Walko said. “Thankfully, our intimacy choreographer is amazing — she’s also our fight choreographer, Tonya Lynn. She is just absolutely amazing and maps everything out so everybody feels comfortable and really works with our boundaries and stuff.”

Actors perform in “Spring Awakening” presented by Pitt Stages at the Charity Randall Theatre. (Courtesy of Pitt Stages)

Walko also said the discomfort around certain scenes was manageable because their director encouraged self-advocacy.

“One thing that Ricardo, our director, says all the time is that he doesn’t just like to make the room a safe space, he likes to make it a brave space, so being able to advocate for yourself if you’re feeling any discomfort,” Walko said. “That doesn’t necessarily mean the discomfort will go away, but if everybody’s acknowledging it and especially just kind of desensitizing all of the stuff you are doing, it makes it a lot easier to do it.”

Isabel Sinnott, a junior theater arts major who is stage managing for the first time on “Spring Awakening,” said because it doesn’t negatively portray the kids’ curiosity about sex, it works to encourage open discourse and discourage discomfort.

“Having [sex] as a subject matter … will help stop the shame that is around sex and help make it just a common thing that is easier to talk about,” Sinnott said. “So that if kids are having issues with any of the subjects, they don’t feel like it is shameful or difficult to talk about.”

The audience appeared to thrive on the show’s humor-infused obscenity and crass pessimism. They responded to provocative dance moves with laughter, and a few whistles, and applauded the loudest for their performance of “Totally F****d.”

Aditi Choudhary, a junior history and philosophy of science major, attended opening night in support of her friend who worked on sound design. She said the production’s lighthearted jokes offset the dark subject matter without undermining it.

“Topics like suicide, abortion, teen pregnancy, that sort of stuff, there’s a lot of that in the play, and I think that they do tackle it with humor,” Choudhary said. “It’s humorous, but you also feel like it’s a very serious topic.”

Levin said “Spring Awakening” was a demanding production, but they were dedicated to doing it right and in the end, came out the other side. 

“It’s a very difficult show to do … and we discussed a lot as a cast how we’re gonna go about this, because we have to do it safely [and] in the right way,” Levin said. 

The audience’s lengthy standing ovation and thunderous applause on opening night was a testament to Pitt Stages’ execution of this landmark musical.

Walko said putting on “Spring Awakening” helps reduce the stigma surrounding its subject matter and can ultimately be a force for change.

“I think the opportunity to tell the stories is very important,” Walko said. “Understanding that it is so normal, that all of these things really do happen, just kind of bridges the gap. You’re able to start normalizing it and talking about it more, and then things can really be changed.”

About the Contributor
Daniella Levick, Senior Staff Writer
Daniella Levick is a first-year English poetry writing major. She is Australian, a shameless Oxford comma enthusiast and crazy cat lady who spends an embarrassing amount of time trying to stop her kitten from walking on her keyboard. In her free time she daydreams about a parallel universe where her to-be-read pile is not taller than her.