The Censorship of Frank Wedekind’s Spring Awakening

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Frank Wedekind’s controversial 1891 play Spring Awakening – which follows a group of young German teens who struggle through their newly discovered sexual feelings without any guidance from their parents, which proves to be fatal for some characters – was subject to censorship for practically a century. It was being banned from being performed in Germany until 1906. It did not receive its first English performance in the U.S. until 1917, to which the city’s Commissioner of Licenses threatened it with closure as he claimed it was too pornographic. Then in England in 1963, it was performed for two nights only under heavy censorship. Even the popular 2006 musical adaptation by Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater  – whose staging includes partial nudity – eventually came out with a heavily edited school edition of the show that still causes controversy when it’s performed by colleges and even some high schools.

Due to its suggestive themes like rape, suicide, prostitution, homosexuality and abortion, many may agree with art being censored when it deals with subjects like this – especially when it’s through young characters like those in Spring Awakening. But, in my personal opinion, I believe that a play like Spring Awakening  should never be censored or edited. I can understand why these subjects could possibly be triggering or conflict with an audience member’s moral values. And I do think it’s important to keep performances of Spring Awakening marketed toward its target audience: teens and young adults. But obviously, not every audience member will find these themes as sensitive as some might. Because of this, I don’t feel that censorship does the play’s message any good.

The play’s events are meant to be a cautionary tale to its audience; it’s a story of what can go wrong when there is a lack of communication between parent and child. By censoring scenes that involve rape or violence, you’re doing exactly what the play warns against: being honest and upfront about the truth to children who are coming of age. The same can be said for editing, which is arguably even worse than simply censoring a rape scene versus taking it out altogether. It’s not the play’s responsibility to make you feel comfortable, it’s supposed to do the opposite. That is the genius behind Wedekind’s play, it forces you to step out of your bubble of safety and confront what makes you uncomfortable and consider it – and you how deal with it in your own life.

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John Gallagher Jr., Jonathan Groff (center), and Lea Michele in a scene from the 2006 musical adaption of Spring Awakening.

Spring Awakening represents a worst case scenario – how the censoring of content that could be seen as offensive, suggestive, or controversial can kill, if it goes on for too long. While Spring Awakening is only one example of censorship in theatre, there are many others. And if censorship in theatre and other art forms continues, its negative effects on impressionable audiences could be felt sooner than we seemingly thought.


What do you think about the censorship of Spring Awakening or other similar works? Share with me in the comments!

Review and Thoughts: Come From Away Cast Album

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On September 11th, 2001, pilots of passenger planes in the sky across the U.S. were delivered the worst possible news: there had been a terrorist hijacking. This caused the FAA to close the U.S. airspace and order all passenger planes to land as soon as reasonably possible, either making an emergency landing or heading back to where they had left from. Pilots had 30 seconds to make a decision otherwise air controllers would do it for them. Thus, Operation Yellow Ribbon was then initiated by Canada to assist in diverting all passenger planes to places away from possible targets in the U.S. Approximately 238 flights were diverted to airports across Canada. 38 of those flights with around 7,000 passengers and 19 animals among them were sent to Gander International Airport in Gander, Newfoundland. Those aboard the 38 planes were stranded in Gander for five days. Despite feeling terrified, hopeless, and helpless, they weren’t alone – for the citizens of Gander responded with hospitality, generosity, and kindness.

This event is the basis for the plot of Come From Away, a new musical that just opened on March 12th at the Schoenfeld Theatre and whose cast album was released digitally on March 10th. Starring Jenn Colella (If/Then) and an ensemble of eleven others, they portray hundreds of characters, from Gander citizens to the come from aways (the people of Gander’s name for those stranded) set to a score written by Irene Sankoff and David Hein that showcases Gaelic, rock, and folk influences.

Every song is sure to give you chills – it’s hard not to get wrapped up in the magnitude of the trauma the come from aways experience, as I’m sure anyone who remembers that day can also relate to. Songs like “28 Hours / Wherever We Are”, “Lead Us Out of the Night”, and “On The Edge” are examples of this – in the previous song mentioned, the come from aways are glued to the news, not willing to sleep or do anything else. Similarly, Jenn Colella as now-retired pilot Beverley Bass may bring a tear to your eye as she belts “Me And The Sky”, which encompasses Bass’ feelings regarding the sexism she faced when becoming the first female American captain and how her – and everyone else’s – world view has changed after 9/11. Contrastingly, the lighter side of the situation is shown in the songs “In The Bar / Heave Away” and “Screech In” when the come from aways are initiated as honorary Newfoundlanders – if they kiss a fish first.

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Jenn Colella and company in Come From Away.

Speaking as someone who was too young to have any memory of the attacks, Come From Away transported me to a different time full of emotions that just aren’t tangible if you read about them in a history book. But if you remember, it’s different. As the come from aways put it, “something’s missing”. Perhaps, if the pain of that day is too much to bear, you’d want steer far away from this cast album – a perfectly valid reason to do so. Although, I’d argue that Come From Away isn’t about 9/11; it’s about the days that followed, and what we all should do for each other in times of strife. It attempts to take tragedy and remind us all that there was some good in the world on that day. If you take one thing from Come From Away to heart, it’s a line from the final song on the cast album: we all come from everywhere, we all come from away.


The Come From Away cast album is now available digitally via Amazon Music, Spotify, and iTunes and will be released physically on March 24th. For more information, go to comefromaway.com.

I need your help with an upcoming post!

Hi everyone! As the title says, I need some help! I’m currently working on a post that’ll most likely be coming out in two weeks after my spring break – I won’t be posting during that week – and I need to collect some data for it. So I made a Google Form! It’s pretty straightforward (I hope) and shouldn’t take too long. There are a few written questions, but don’t feel pressured to write a whole lot if you don’t want to. I wanna keep the subject of the post this data is for a bit under wraps right now, but I can promise you it’s gonna be great. Make your guesses on what it is in the comments! I’m really excited for it.

Well, that’s all I have. Again, here’s the Google Form link – after you’ve taken it, share it with your friends too! And if you haven’t already, check out Friday’s post on The Public Theatre and how it’s influenced Off-Broadway theatre over the years. Tons of your favorite shows started out there. Of course, I’ll be back on Tuesday with another post as always. It’s a review of the extraordinary “Come From Away” cast album – the show opens tomorrow at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre!

Thanks again and have a great day!

 

Off-Broadway and The Public Theatre

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What do musicals like Hamilton, Fun Home, Hair, and A Chorus Line have in common? Nothing, right? Far from it, actually. They’re all considered to be among the greatest theatrical works of our time, and they all originated at The Public Theatre in New York.

Now known as the ultimate Off-Broadway hub for new, upcoming experimental works, The Public Theatre first opened in 1967, boasting the world-premiere of Hair, a rock musical known for its controversial themes rooted in the hippie counterculture of the 60s. After its run at The Public, Hair had a successful Broadway transfer and went on to be a cultural icon internationally as well as domestically; it was Tony and Grammy nominated in 1969. This allowed The Public to continue to grow as they cemented themselves to being committed to “embracing the complexities of contemporary society and nurturing both artists and audiences” – as its founder Joseph Papp wanted.

The next production housed at The Public that proved to be as culturally impactful as Hair came in 1975 – A Chorus Line. The show popularized concept musicals as it explored the complexities of seventeen performers audition for a Broadway show. Similar to Hair, A Chorus Line transferred to Broadway not long after its run at The Public and soon exploded in popularity and was showered with many accolades. It became the fifth musical in history to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and spawned many international productions across three decades. Without the borrowed $1.6 million from The Public to produce the show, A Chorus Line would mostly certainly not be the quintessential musical we know it as today.

More recently, The Public has produced two back-to-back incredibly successful Tony winners: Fun Home and Hamilton. After The Public, both shows went on to became immediate successes. As mentioned in my Fun Home review, it broke ground in its representation of the LGBT community. In 2016, Hamilton became the ninth musical in history to win a Pulitzer Prize for Drama and has become a nation wide success in a short amount of time.

It’s no secret that most impactful Broadway shows start Off-Broadway – just take a look at shows like Rent and Next to Normal – but history has shown that The Public Theatre is New York’s leader in bringing new, different, and innovative works to life. So if you happen to come across a show you think is the next huge sensation, chances are it came from The Public.


Have you been to The Public Theatre? What’s your favorite work that’s emerged from The Public? Let me know in the comments!

Spotlight On: Page to Stage Adaptations

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If you’ve taken a look at the musicals and plays of the past the few seasons and were surprised to find that you recognized a majority of them because you read the book version, it’s not just you. The 2015 and 2016 Best Musical Tony Award winners – Fun Home and Hamilton, respectively – were both adapted from previously written works. In fact, in recent years, Broadway has been dominated by book to show adaptations. American Psycho, Tuck Everlasting, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, and Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812, are just a few examples of this phenomenon from past seasons.

The rise of book-to-stage adaptations has resulted in an imbalance of adapted versus original works in modern theatre as of late. It’s arguably easier to improve on an already existing story and transfer it to a different medium rather than create your own. Of course, this isn’t a bad thing. Many adaptations like Wicked take the original source material and add new plot points to already existing ones, while other shows like Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 are adaptations of a much longer text like War and Peace and make the story feel fresh by doing something unique and innovative in the staging.

Despite this, the dramatization of books is certainly not a new concept. The concept dates all the way back to beginning of theatre with the satyr plays of the Ancient Greeks, which were based on epic poems or myths. And while literary adaptations of today may not be based on myths or legends, there’s definitely a huge benefit when it comes to show based on works people are already familiar with: a built in audience. Introducing someone who’s never seen a theatre show in their life is hard, but if they become enticed through an adaptation of something they already  have knowledge of, it becomes a little easier.

Although literary adaptations on stage may have a bit of a bad rap in 2017, we should give credit where credit is due. Stage adaptations of books can bring in new audiences and new innovations to theatre as a whole. So the next time you read a great book, don’t be surprised if you see it on stage sometime soon.


What are your favorite shows based on books? Is there a book you want to see a stage adaption of? Let me know in the comments!

Auditions: What You Need to Know

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In the theatre world, auditions are essentially like job interviews. If you don’t do well in the interview, you won’t get the job. And just like with any job interview, people are always seeking out tips to optimize their audition experience. Practically every theatre blog, forum, and actor under the sun have attempted to give their advice in the past, so today I’m going to try my hand at it and cover some audition advice you’ve probably heard before and some you might not have even considered.

Before the audition

If you aren’t given specific audition sides by the director, chances are you’ll need to pick a song and monologue yourself. Generally, it’s best to pick a song and monologue that are similar in style to the show you’re auditioning for. For example, if you’re auditioning for a Sondheim show, it’d be best to pick song from another one of his shows that isn’t the one you’re auditioning for. It’s widely accepted that you should stay away from overdone songs that hail from popular, more recent shows like Wicked, Rent and Les Miserables. Make sure you can cut both your song and monologue to the length specified by the director. Start studying up on the show and your song and monologue to the point where you’re comfortable enough you can show the directors you’re the right choice for the part. Starting practicing at least three weeks before the audition to ensure you have everything memorized and your interpretation of the character you’re auditioning for is solid. Keeping your vocal health in check during the weeks leading up to your audition is also a must.

During the audition

As soon as you enter your audition, you should be aware of yourself. One thing that I feel a lot of people forget but find incredibly beneficial is being nice to everyone you meet, from others who are also auditioning, to the accompanist. If the directors see you’re particularly personable towards everyone, this tells them you’d be easy to work with. If your nerves start to get to you during the lead up to you going in front of the directors, let them. While this seems counterintuitive, feeling nervous can actually contribute to your adrenaline skyrocketing, which can be used to your advantage to channel into your performance. After your performance, make sure to thank everyone before you leave. Don’t stress too much while waiting for the cast list! Just know that you did your best and even if you don’t get the exact part you want that that’s okay. That just means the directors saw something in you that you didn’t! If you don’t get cast, don’t worry. Not every show is meant for everyone. Keep auditioning and practicing. Now get out there and break a leg!


What are your audition tips?  Let me know in the comments!

The Impact of Next to Normal

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In life, I feel that most people eventually come across a piece of art – a musical or otherwise – that they can say definitively changed their life. It can change their world outlook or inspire them to make a change in themselves. In my case it did all of the above and more. I discovered that piece of art when I was thirteen years old: the 2009 rock musical Next to Normal.

In short, Next to Normal, created by composing team Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey, focuses on the character of Diana Goodman (originated by Alice Ripley), a mother with worsening bipolar disorder due to the loss of her infant son many years ago, and how her family is affected by her actions, her disorder, and their attempts to alleviate it through the help Diana’s doctor (originated by Louis Hobson). Moreover, Dan, her husband (originated by J. Robert Spencer), their teenage daughter, Natalie (originated by Jennifer Damiano), and her boyfriend, Henry (originated by Adam Chanler-Berat) must struggle and comes to terms with their situation all while dealing with their own underlying anxiety and depression, manifested in Diana’s hallucination of her and Dan’s son – now a teenager as well – Gabe (originated by Aaron Tveit).

To say Next to Normal is the first musical to deal with a topic like mental illness is an exaggeration. It’s simply not true; musicals like A Light In The Piazza and Spring Awakening have done it before. But I’d argue that Next to Normal has done it best, leaving audiences with a real, raw, and honest portrayal of what it’s like to be dealing with an illness that is all too often not taken seriously in media, despite the fact it affects so many seemingly “normal” families in real life – about 2.6% of the U.S.

Along with mental illness, dysfunctional families in media akin to the Goodmans in Next to Normal are typically pigeonholed into some kind of stereotype, i.e. “the crazies”. But in Next to Normal, this isn’t the case. Instead of a stereotypical portrayal, it’s a truthful one. Anyone who’s ever experienced a tough family situation – not necessarily in the dysfunctional sense – can relate to the Goodmans way of life, with already teen angst-riddled Natalie feeling like she’s been cast out into the background by her parents who are more focused on Diana’s disorder, and Dan attempting to keep his family together when things are certainly not as they should be.

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Jennifer Damiano (left) as “Natalie” and Alice Ripley as “Diana” in the original Broadway production.

Moreover, the show’s Tony performance in 2009 was introduced by none other than the late actress and writer, Carrie Fisher – who was an active mental health advocate and bipolar disorder sufferer herself. The show has also spawned many, many international productions after its Broadway closing in 2011. The most well known of which is Casi Normales (directly translates to “Almost Normal”), the Argentinian production, which ran from January 2012 to April 2015. The show is so popular in Argentina that original cast members from Casi Normales and Broadway came together in Buenos Aires in 2015 and 2016 to perform songs from the show in both English and Spanish.

At the Tony Awards, Next to Normal walked away with awards for three of its eleven nominations – it’s the opinion of many that it was robbed of the Best Musical award by Billy Elliot. In 2010, Next to Normal was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama – a high honor that’s rarely given to musicals, the last of which at the time was in 1996 for Jonathan Larson’s Rent, a show dealing with similar heavy subject matter.

During a lighter moment in the show, Henry asks Natalie to a spring formal dance that’s set for March 1st in the song “Hey #1“. She eventually agrees, showing up late to the dance. Henry claims she looks “like a star, a vision in blue” in the song “Hey #3/ Perfect For You (Reprise)“. The date in real life has become somewhat of a symbol for Next to Normal fans, as many take to wearing blue to signify their connection to the show. And although the fans often remember each year, two original Next to Normal cast members – who have since moved on to bigger and better projects – only acknowledge the date on Twitter. Without fail, every year on March 1st Adam Chanler-Berat (original Henry) tweets Jennifer Damiano (original Natalie) the word “hey”, and within minutes, Jennifer tweets back “hey”, just as things were said in the show.

When viewed at a first glance, Next to Normal is a Broadway show who’s impact might seem insignificant, but in reality is greater than one could ever imagine. To me, the impact of Next to Normal hits you when you truly accept its message: someday, things will be okay. Maybe not now, but someday – with time and support. The March 1st tweets are a sweet, yet subtle reminder of how Next to Normal and its message of mental health awareness have held strong throughout the years, bringing each new listener – and myself – the same words of hope sung in the show’s powerful finale – there will be light.


Do you have a special connection with Next to Normal or another musical or play? Share it with me in the comments!