Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Any Swarthmore student who was once (or still may be) a teenager should be able to appreciate “Spring Awakening,” the spring play directed by Professor Elizabeth Stevens featuring eighteen current students.
“Spring Awakening” was originally written in 1891 by Franz Wedekind, and has been attracting attention ever since. In 1917, a performance in New York was shut down by the Commissioner of Licenses, who claimed that the play was pornographic. The play is about a group of teenagers’ coming of age with all the attendant pressures, and is notably sexually explicit and violent. When it was first performed, explained Stevens “it was very risque… even today it doesn’t get staged very often, but it still feels timely.”
It will be Stevens’ first play here at Swarthmore, and is the biggest faculty-directed show in recent memory. Stevens is excited about tackling the directing challenges of the play. “There are two masturbation scenes… those present some interesting creative problems.”
Stevens was attracted to the material because “all of these kids are kind of precocious and intellectual… they’re smart and caring kids who get into terrible predicaments, partly because they’re not getting the respect and information that they need, but also because that time of life is an emotional maelstrom.” Stevens feels that “there’s not enough art that takes that time of life seriously… it’s a time when your mind is well developed, your body is confused, and society is treating you like a child.”
Stevens said that although the cast hasn’t been working with the text yet, “we’re just starting to find the characters… we’ve been talking about teen angst a lot.” The play will be staged as a period piece, with costumes from circa 1891, “but not in an overly fussy way.”
The play can’t be too fussy when the set, designed by Assistant Professor Marsha Ginsberg, is “a big junior high bathroom.” While the original play only calls for one scene to be performed in a bathroom, Stevens feels that it fits with the atmosphere of the play. “The bathroom was a flashpoint for what it was like to be in junior high because of the awkward juxtaposition of the private and public spheres.”
Stevens is using a translation that Jonathan Franzen ’81 completed for his honors thesis in German. This particular translation has never before been published or performed. Stevens called Franzen’s translation “one of the better ones… it tries to preserve the humor from the original.”
Furthermore, “Franzen uniquely understands the parallels between German kids in the rigorous Gymnasium system and what Swarthmore students are going through… some of the conversations sound like ones you’d overhear in Sharples!” But with more masturbation.
Franzen will be visiting the weekend that the play goes up. It is showing on the LPAC Main Stage on March 30th at 4:30, March 31st at 2 and 7, and April 1st at 7.