It’s the ‘bitch of living’ for the teenage characters in the UC Follies’ production of Spring Awakening, which opened at Hart House Theatre on December 1. Set in 1891 Germany, the musical is a coming-of-age story that deals with mature themes encompassing sex, abortion, homosexuality, abuse, and suicide.
The production was directed by William Dao, a second-year theatre student. “I knew that this would be the first play I directed at U of T, so I wanted to choose something that was special to me and I’ve always loved this musical a lot. The music in it is beautiful and I think the story is beautiful so I wanted to choose something that I’ve always wanted to do,” he said.
One of three worlds are usually emphasized in productions of Spring Awakening: religion, nature, or rock. Interestingly, Dao’s unique version of the show incorporates both the worlds of religion and nature. “I always believe that if you’re going to direct something, you should never do it the same way as anyone else. You should always put your own perspective on it and your own vision on it. The reason that I wanted to blend two was because those were two that spoke to me the most. I think it’s a fresh twist if you can take two things and blend them into one,” he explained.
The play has been adapted from the original production in a way that is thrilling and contemporary. It makes use of different levels of staging: the adult characters mainly appear on the balcony, while the kids stick to the lower platform. Multilevel choreography cleverly reflects the experiences and statuses of each character as they interact with the space.
In developing the play, Dao said, “I’ve taken the themes of the show that are about religion and kind of exploded them onstage. The set design mirrors what a church would look like and I played around with the world of nature in the play. In terms of the choreography, it’s very much movement based. I worked with my choreographer to create movement pieces based off of feelings and emotions.”
Spring Awakening is a timeless narrative with a sense of universality in its themes. While the subject matter is often dark and intense, the show featured some great scenes, underlining the teenage angst of the characters in songs like “Mama Who Bore Me,” and integrating comedic moments like in “The Bitch of Living.”
Standout performances were given by Amanda Gosio as Wendla Bergmann and Cole Currie in the role of Melchior Gabor. Dao also did an impressive job in his directorial debut. Strong elements of visuals, choreography, and choice of songs added to the show’s musical experience.
In connection with the themes of Spring Awakening, the UC Follies are collaborating with Planned Parenthood, a non-profit organization that provides sexual health care in Toronto as well as internationally.
“When I first pitched the play, we were talking about how we can reach out to the greater community and how this play means more than just putting on a production. There are stories and messages in this play that are still relevant today,” said Dao.
“We reached out to Planned Parenthood because obviously we are speaking about stories and messages that are pro-choice. We wanted people to feel comfortable embracing their sexuality,” he added.
Spring Awakening will run at Hart House Theatre until December 9.
Disclosure: Cole Currie is The Varsity‘s Deputy News Editor.