The South Eugene Theater Department is no stranger to controversy, but this year’s fall musical will push the boundaries even further than it has ever pushed them before. After much consideration, SET has been given permission to put on Steven Sater’s award-winning musical, “Spring Awakening.” This show is not only known for its beautiful music, but also for its thought-provoking storyline and controversial subject matter.
Undoubtedly, the mature nature of this play has raised some eyebrows within the community, causing some heated discussions within the halls of South and out in the greater Eugene community, which is exactly what SET was hoping would happen.
“It’s about starting a conversation,” SET Director Pat Avery said. “Teenagers deserve to be educated and to be spoken to openly. And frankly, I think that’s a powerful message.”
“Spring Awakening” is based on a play written in 1891, covering the same basic plot line. The story revolves around a group of sexually frustrated adolescents who have been isolated from sexual education due to their parents’ conservative tendencies and refusal to talk about anything sex-related. This renders the children completely ignorant and confused as they begin to develop sexually, resulting in disastrous outcomes.
“Every issue that we bring up in the play, even if it seems like it’s archaic or not a problem anymore, is something that people in the world have to deal with and kids have to deal with everyday,” said senior Hannah Montgomery, who plays Wendla, the leading female role. “The point of this play, although awkward at times and difficult for adults to face, is really something that needs to be addressed and understood because everything that goes on in the play is something that still happens in real life.”
Although the play was written more than a century ago, the message that Spring Awakening conveys to its audience still rings true.
“The very fact that it’s still appropriate and still an important and necessary message over 100 years after the original play was written calls into question how much progress has been made when it comes to our thinking,” Avery said of the musical and its significance.
Although it starts a necessary discussion, it was not an easy endeavor to get a musical of this high caliber and maturity approved for production.
“I wanted to make sure that we could do it well,” said South Principal Andy Dey, who was a significant proponent of this process. “I wanted to make sure that it wasn’t just some scandalous, in-your-face event, but it was part of a bigger conversation about how we educate and protect our young people.”
Although Dey had his initial reservations, he came to agree that the discussion from the show would be well worth any difficulty that revealed itself in the process.
“I know that it is something that we have to do, and by ‘it’ I don’t mean, ‘we have to show this play,’ but I mean that we have to have a conversation about consent education and abuse prevention,” Dey said. “As hard of a conversation as it is, we have a devastating epidemic in the state of Oregon and elsewhere around sexual abuse, and we’re not doing our job.”
As a result of Dey’s enthusiasm, the play was approved. However, for people uncomfortable with the risqué nature of this play and the acts involved, there is no need to panic. Parameters were set by the administration to shape the play into a piece of theater that conveys the same message while maintaining appropriate boundaries for high school students.
“There are ways to leave as innuendo what is, on Broadway, graphic and clearly depicted,” Dey said.
“We’re handling [sex] as a dance, and it will be evident how that experience ends for those two characters, but they’re not actually taking any clothes off or putting any hands where hands don’t belong,” Avery said in response to how he would handle some mature themes of the play according to the parameters set by the administration. “Any budding romance, in its own way, metaphorically, is a dance.”
The administrative response to Avery and Dey’s progressive ideas on how to handle such a sensitive subject was overwhelmingly positive, giving hope to many individuals who have been advocating for a conversation of this type for a long time.
In a final statement by Dey, the importance and necessity of this conversation was emphasized perfectly from an administrative point of view.
“I hope that it spurs a larger conversation and brings members of the community in. Whether they support our doing the play or are against our doing the play, I hope it galvanizes the community’s commitment to ensuring that we have the right conversations with young people, because when adults are not in the right conversations with young people, terrible, terrible things happen to them, especially young girls,” Dey said. “ I hope that the community, as a whole, supports our actors, comes to see the play, participates in talk-backs after the play, and sees how misguided it is to think that if we’re not talking about these issues, they don’t get discussed, and they don’t impact people’s lives.”
All are welcome to attend, but SET asks that all children under 14 years of age be accompanied by an adult due to the mature subject matter that the show presents.
The show will run from Nov. 3-19 in the SEHS auditorium and will surely spur some lively and important conversations.