Sunday, October 18, 2020

"The Awakening of Spring" - a live virtual performance by Feral Theatre Company

Spring Awakening is one of my favorite musicals, so much so that 11 years ago I named my new kitten Moritz Stiefel. I've seen it on stage eight times, including twice on Broadway (the original run with most of the original cast, and the stunning 2015 revival by Deaf West). The musical is an adaptation by Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater of the ahead-of-its-time late 19th Century German play Frülings Erwachen by Frank Wedekind. The play was often banned or censored due to it's frank (no pun intended) discussion of the sexual awakening of teenagers in an oppressed society. Feral Theatre Company is offering us this 100+ year old play for 2020, complete with zoom and masks. The themes of this play - suicide, abortion, sex education, child abuse - never lack relevancy, and are perhaps even more important now as we approach this election. It's an ambitious undertaking for a new theater company, and they do a great job bringing this story to life within the limitations of the current world, with a talented young cast that gives raw and vulnerable performances to a camera, nicely edited together with graphics of modern social media communication.

the chat room (photo courtesy of Feral Theatre)
Rather than offer a recording to be viewed at certain times, or on demand, the cast actually performs the show live for each performance time (watch their Instagram story for some behind the scenes content). It's an exciting way to replicate (as much as possible in this weird 2020 world) the energy of a live performance, for performers and audience alike. A handful of the cast are together in one room (notably Melchior and Wendla, often wearing masks in scenes together), the rest are in separate locations. The kids meet over zoom and other chat applications to study or just hang out, giving the story a modern feel. But since the language is of the late 19th/early 20th Century, and the idea of a modern 14-year-old not knowing where babies come from is hardly believable, it becomes sort of a hybrid of eras. But it works; I think they needed to acknowledge the whole online/cameras/zoom box situation we're stuck in, and in fact they leaned into it and made the most of the technology.

Wendla (Myia Butler) und Melchi (Jack Bonko) in 2020
(photo courtesy of Feral Theatre)
It's remarkable watching the play how similar the plot, and even some of the dialogue, is to the musical adaptation. If you've seen Spring Awakening, you know that Moritz (Lance Urbick) is an insecure misfit who is overwhelmed by life, while his friend Melchior (Jack Bonko) is a smart and popular kid who thinks he knows everything, whose relationship with the naïve Wendla (Myia Butler) ends in tragedy. In fact, something I just discovered but that makes so much sense, the subtitle to this play is "A Children's Tragedy" or "A Tragedy of Childhood." Education, access to proper health care, a safe place to call home, adults who support them and tell them the truth, these things are as important to today's kids as they were 100 years ago. #vote2020

I commend Feral Theatre Company and director/Artistic Director Braden Joseph for taking on this project and producing live theater in a unique and creative way that's suited to these pandemic times.  It has a sort of DIY quality to it that's charming and raw and real, and works well with this story about young people 100+ years ago, and/or today. Leave it to young people to figure out a way to use technology to make theater in a pandemic.

There are four more live virtual performances of The Awakening of Spring left this weekend, click here to purchase tickets for just $10, or $8 for students.