The Manila run of the Tony-award winning musical Spring Awakening has just come to a conclusion. Even after the cast makes its final bow to the enthusiastic applause of the audience, the impact of the story that they have just brought to life will still linger in the hearts of its viewers. The cast and crew have stepped up to the challenge of giving life to the story first penned by Frank Wedekind way back in 1891 and now updated with a modern, rock-infused musical score by Duncan Sheik. It’s rare to see a local theater group brave enough to showcase such a controversial, risqué topic instead of just another run-of-the-mill feel-good gospel-inspired musical. Even rarer to have the hero of the story be a freethinking atheist. Sometimes it’s good to push the envelope and get people out of their comfort zones; get everyone to challenge the status quo…
The story of Spring Awakening is more than just about teenage angst and rebellion, it’s a cautionary tale of how badly things can get when the self-appointed morality-police of our times replace knowledge with blind faith, ignorance, and forced obedience. Though the story was originally set in the late 19th century Germany, the issues they face still mirror the same problems we still have today.
The first song sets the tone… mothers shield their children from the realities of life in an attempt to keep them “pure and innocent”. They grow up ignorant of how the world works, dependent on their elders and religion to give their lives direction.
Some pray that, one day, Christ will come a-callin’
They light a candle, and hope that it glows
And some just lie there, crying for him to come and find them
But when he comes, they don’t know how to go
– Mama Who Bore Me (lyrics)
In comes Melchior, the story’s Promethean character who grows disillusioned with the narrow-mindedness of the adults, their obsession with rules to the point of sacrificing free will.
All that’s known
In History, in Science
At school, at home, by blind men
You doubt them,
And soon they bark and hound you
Till everything you say is just another bad about you
All they say
Is ‘Trust in what is written’
Wars are made
And somehow that is wisdom
Thought is suspect
And money is their idol
And nothing is okay unless it’s scripted in their Bible
– All That’s Known (lyrics)
He declares himself an atheist and starts keeping a journal of his thoughts which bears silent testimony of his arduous journey towards intellectual freedom.
But I know
There’s so much more to find
Just in looking through myself, and not at them
Still, I know
To trust my own true mind
And to say there’s a way through this
On I go
To wonder and to learning
Name the stars and know their dark returning
To know the world’s true yearning
The hunger that a child feels for everything they’re shown
– All That’s Known (lyrics)
Unfortunately, it backfires when their teachers discover the notes he gave to his friends containing such forbidden knowledge.
You can ask yourself: Hey, what have I done
You’re just a fly, the ‘little guys’… they kill for fun
Man, you’re fucked if you just freeze up
Can’t do that thing, that keeping still
But, you’re fucked if you speak your mind
– Totally Fucked (lyrics)
The story is full of tragic characters put into impossible situations whose plights are further aggravated by the uncaring adults who are more concerned about saving face and are more than willing to sacrifice the well-being of a few defenseless people to maintain the status quo.
Melchior discovers that his friends have died tragically, victims of societal pressures that they were helpless to defend against from the beginning because the adults have deemed it proper to keep such carnal knowledge away from children. Caught in a no-win situation, Melchior tries to take his own life as well, only to be stopped by the memory of his forgone friends who give him hope to carry on.
Those you’ve known and lost still walk behind you
All alone they linger till they find you
The world grows dark around you
And nothing is the same until you know that they have found you
Those you’ve pained may carry that still with them
All the same they whisper: All forgiven.
– Those You’ve Known (lyrics)
It’s a story that asks all the important questions that everyone, even today, is still uncomfortable with. Even in today’s so-called modern Philippine society, sex is still taboo as ever; something to be considered dirty and shameful instead of being a natural part of biology. Religion and tradition still enforces archaic rules of propriety that makes people feel uncomfortable with the natural functions of their own bodies. Even something as practical as the RH Bill is met with a rabid resistance from self-appointed guardians of morality. Speaking out against biblical “wisdom” is still frowned upon. And the same sectors of society portrayed in the story (the gay-lesbian community, unwed mothers, atheists, people who aren’t as smart, rich or beautiful) are still second-class citizens. So a century after the story was first written, things really haven’t changed much, have they?
But the story still ends on a hopeful note. We who still carry the spark of freethought within us won’t just give up and die. We will not succumb to the pressures of a bigoted society. We owe it to everyone in the past and present who have suffered at the hands of myopic social and religious judgment to carry on working towards a more accepting, open-minded world.
Still you know
To trust your own true mind
On your way you are not alone
There are those who still know
Now they’ll walk on my arm through the distant night
And I won’t let them stray from my heart
Through the wind, through the dark, through the winter light
I will read all their dreams to the stars
I’ll walk with them now
I’ll call on their names
I’ll see their thoughts are known
– Those You’ve Known (lyrics)