When told by her students that they wanted to produce the rock musical adaptation of "Spring Awakening," director Samantha Hammel hesitated. "Spring Awakening" isn't the typical musical you'd expect high school-aged, or younger, students acting in.
There's talk about sex, suicide, child abuse and other experiences suited for mature audiences only.
But after a lot of deep thought and the approval by her students' parents, Hammel is giving it a go.
"Once I decided this was a show I wanted to do, I did a lot of soul searching to make sure I really was comfortable with the content," she says. "There was really one scene in the show that was the kicker, the deal breaker. And I basically knew I wasn't going to have anyone in that scene that was under the age of 17. Other than that I felt I could get on board with the content and putting the kids in the environment. And the parents were on board."
"Spring Awakening" is a rock musical adaptation of the controversial 1892 German play of the same title by Frank Dedekind. Set in the late 19th century, the musical tells the story of teenagers who are discovering ins and outs of sexuality. The original play was banned in Germany for some time due to its frank portrayal of abortion, homosexuality, rape, child abuse and suicide.
Musically adapted in 2004, it received 11 2007 Tony Award nominations, winning eight, including Tonys for best musical, direction, book, score and featured actor. The show also won four Drama Desk Awards, while its London production won four Olivier Awards.
"It resonates with youths of today. They can really connect with characters and identify with the problems and challenges they are having today," Hammel says. "As a teenager, a young adult, or a parent who has a teenager or young adult, it's definitely an eye-opening experience to see the show. It opens you up to the idea of the message of the show, which is basically communicate with your kids."
Hammel admits she didn't know anything about the musical when her students asked to perform in it. After researching it, she says there is no doubt they will be able to pull it off despite its content.
"I thought, 'This is the reason why the show exists.' It's because people want to hide from the truth," she says. "So I'm doing the show for the same reasons why I shouldn't do the show. I don't want to pretend that this stuff is not happening to these kids, and that these are real issues in their world."
Before she had anyone audition, Hammel checked with her lawyer to make sure it was OK for minors to be in the production. A lengthy contract was drawn up for all the parents to sign, explaining exactly what was going happen in the production. They also had to read the script before their kids could participate.
"We probably had some kids that didn't try out because of the (content). But there hasn't been any backlash about us doing it," Hammel says.
"But it's not for the faint of heart. So I wonder if people will come if they don't know what the show's about."
The only change from the original production is a nudity scene, which was taken out, Hammel says. Other than that the show is exactly the way it was intended to be and is "for mature audiences only."
Hammel and her students, whose ages range from 14 to 23, will perform three shows over two days: Feb. 10 at 7:30 p.m.; Feb. 11 at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. The show will be held at the Arsenal Center for the Arts in Watertown. But as that first date approaches, Hammel admits her nerves are starting to twitch.
"I had this conversation the other day with one of the parents who was completely open-minded about the experience. She was completely on my side and couldn't wrap her head around why I would be nervous," Hammel says. "But I stand by my choice and I feel like this was a really positive experience for everybody involved. I feel like it was truly relevant to their lives. I feel like even though I'm a little nervous, it'll be interesting to see if I'll be in a position to defend my choice to do the show."
Hammel admits "Spring Awakening" will be the riskiest show she has produced. But after her research and receiving support from parents, she has no doubt this is one show that must go on.
"We have a strong message to deliver: Communicate with your children and communicate with each other," she says. "That's what this show is all about."
Thea - Charlotte Horan
Fraulein Grossebustenhalter / Student - Sara Zieff
Featured Soloist / Student - Samantha Termine
Featured Soloist / Student - Skyler Rosenthal
Students - Leah Kanzer, Maggie Klureza, Stephanie Pilavin