The University of Iowa
The University of Iowa News Services Home News Releases UI in the News Subscribe to UI News Contact Us


100 Old Public Library
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 384-0073; fax (319) 384-0024

Release: Immediate

Teens' sexual awareness confronts repression in 'Spring Awakening' at UI

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- University Theatres Mainstage series will present "Spring Awakening," a landmark theatrical work by 19th-century German playwright

Frank Wedekind, April 10-20 in Theatre A of the University of Iowa Theatre Building. Performances will be at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, April 10-12, and Wednesday through Saturday, April 16-19; and at 3 p.m. Sundays, April 13 and 20.

The University Theatres production is an adaptation by graduate-student director David M. Maslow, for whom the production is a Master of Fine Arts thesis project.

"Spring Awakening" has been described as "a fairy tale on fire," a brilliant fable of sexuality, personal responsibility and individual thought in a time of repressive social values. The play was so controversial in its frank portrayal of teenage sexual awakening, its questioning of societal values and its grotesque symbolism that uncensored production was not possible until after Wedekind's death.

"It very much questions the viability of society," Maslow observes. "Is a restrictive, self-censoring society a wise thing, or should it be questioned? That was a big issue, as was the issue of sex. The whole idea of children coming into their sexual selves was very risque and challenging to what was a Victorian sensibility, even in Germany.

"The idea that these children are not only discovering that they can think and question the power structure, but that they can question societal norms and do what society forbids was a very dangerous attitude. It scared the pants off them -- or onto them, actually, in this case."

Maslow's adaptation not only dislodges "Spring Awakening" from its peculiarly German, late-19th-century setting, but also infuses the story with a playful and exaggerated theatricality.

"We either had to find a way to make the actors portraying children look smaller, or to make the world look larger," Maslow explains. "It was much easier to out-size the world, and a lot more fun and theatrical."

Stilts are used to make all the adults eight feet tall, and the teachers, who have developed their intellect to the exclusion of all other human capacities, are portrayed by costumes that make them giant, disembodied heads.

Wedekind is recognized as the father of German expressionism. He was an iconoclastic poet, actor, playwright, director, dramaturg and cabaret singer who was active in Zurich, Munich, Paris and Berlin in the 1880s through the second decade of the 20th century. A versatile and prolific creator, Wedekind wrote some 30 plays and pantomimes, 17 prose narratives, 21 essays on a variety of literary and cultural topics, nearly 150 poems and cabaret songs, and extensive biographical notes and diaries.

An opponent of moralistic society, with all its repressive mechanisms, Wedekind celebrated bohemian street life, satirized the pretensions of the bourgeoisie, and intended to shock his audiences into seeing beyond conventionality and hypocrisy.

He was reviled by polite society as an immoral buffoon and pornographer, but he was also idolized -- by Bertholt Brecht, among others -- as a revolutionary literary and cultural force.

Wedekind completed "Spring Awakening" in 1891, but its first, heavily censored production did not take place until 1906 in Berlin. The Berlin Superior Court banned the play altogether in 1912 because of its "offensive material," but later relented when the justices decided the play was a serious drama.

"We are shown the impact made on young, unsophisticated creatures just entering the period of sexual development, by the realities of existence," the German justices wrote. "They are defeated in the struggle which develops chiefly because those who might most be expected to give them guidance, their parents and teachers, fail, as the poet sees it, out of unworldly ignorance and prudery, to instruct them and point the way with sympathy and understanding."

Tickets for "Spring Awakening" are $13 ($6 for UI students, senior citizens and youth 17 and younger). Tickets may be purchased in advance from the Hancher Auditorium box office. Any remaining tickets for each performance will be available one hour before curtain time at the Theatre Building box office.

Hancher box office hours are 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. weekdays, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday and 1-3 p.m. Sunday. From the local calling area or outside Iowa, dial (319) 335-1160. Long distance within Iowa and western Illinois is toll-free, 1-800-HANCHER. Fax to (319) 353-2284. Orders may be charged to VISA, MasterCard or American Express. UI students may charge their purchases to their university bills, and UI faculty and staff may select the option of payroll deduction.

People with special needs for access, seating and auxiliary services should dial (319) 335-1158. The line is equipped with TDD for people with hearing impairment who use that technology.

This production includes material of an adult nature. Potential audience members who are concerned about whether it is appropriate for them should contact the Department of Theatre Arts, (319) 335-2700, for additional information.