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<i>Spring Awakening</i>
AASU takes on the coming-of-age musical
From left, Gabriel Mustin, Bobbie Renee, Brett Levine and Abbie Skaines in Armstrong’s production of "Spring Awakening." - photo by AASU

Spring Awakening

Where: AASU Jenkins Hall, 11935 Abercorn St.

When: At 7:30 p.m. April 11-13 and 18-20; 3 p.m. April 14 and 21

Tickets: $15 public at

Phone: (912) 344-2801

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

The uneasy passage from puberty to adulthood is explored in Spring Awakening, the Tony-winning musical based on the controversial 19th century German play of the same name.

Duncan Sheik's music and Steven Slater's lyrics color the story of teenage schoolchildren on their voyages of discovery in hues of fear, anger, confusion and, yes, joy.

Since its 2006 Broadway premiere, Spring Awakening has been translated and performed in more than 30 countries, its central themes about coming of age and the awkward gap between generations applying universally and across time.

It's the Masquers' turn. The theater students of Armstrong Atlantic State University have been working on Spring Awakening since the start of this year; accompanied by a live six-member band, they'll open the show April 11, for eight performances.

With songs like "Life is a Bitch," "My Junk," "Touch Me" and "Totally Fucked," Spring Awakening is about as far from Oklahoma! as a musical could possibly be.

This fact was not lost on AASU professor of theater Pam Sears, who discussed the play with her students for weeks before selecting her cast.

"I asked them at the auditions, did they fully understand what they were trying to be a part of?" Sears says. "And there were a lot of kids that were very active in our theater program that didn't audition, because of what it is. And because they were afraid."

The intertwining plotlines of Melchior, Wendla, Moritz and their friends cover previously-taboo theatrical subjects like masturbation, homosexuality, suicide and sex, sex, sex. It is rife with dark subtext.

And the adults, well, they just don't understand.

Many of the students, Sears explains — especially if they were honest with themselves — could find kindred spirits in the characters dreamed up by German playwright Frank Wedekind.

"It's very good for some of these kids to reflect on," she says. "If they're not still going through it, they can reflect on what the transformation was like for them, and what to take forward from that transformation."

Sears, who has an 11-year-old son, explains that she, too has learned a lesson from Spring Awakening — it's never too early to start communicating, to talk about the "uncomfortable" stuff.

"The relationship between teachers and their students, and parents and their children, hasn't changed," she says. "Regardless of whether the society in which they live has 'loosened up' or is just as strict.

"Of course, in the society in which it was originally written, the mores dictated it was a faux pas to discuss sex. But there are many, many households today, now, that feel the same way. Whether it's conscious or unconscious, people are so inclined to protect their kids.

"Not that that's a bad thing."

When Spring Awakening took the Tony for Best Musical, composer Sheik was both pleased and surprised.

"Our original hope against hope was that you could take this story from another century and pair it with music that's stylistically contemporary, more or less, and maybe there would be some alchemy and some magic," he told Connect in 2012, when SCAD was doing its own take on the show. " And you never know — sometimes there is and sometimes there isn't. In this case, people seemed to feel like there was. That was a nice surprise."

For Sears, easing her young charges' discomfort — not to mention ensuring they were behind the material all the way — was paramount.

"I was emphatic that they understand that to me, this show was not about sex," she explains. "Yes, it was banned for what it was banned for in Germany originally — but that doesn't have to be what the audience takes away from it. And won't be what we are hung up about.

"Having said that, I did have closed rehearsals because we do need a sense of safe space for discovery, and getting to know the material. When designers wanted to watch, they would let us know beforehand, and everyone was on the same page. People weren't just popping in to check it out. Because you have to have a respect for the process."