Through his love for the original, writer and director Daniel Lammin re-imagines German dramatists, Frank Wedekind’s, first major work, Spring Awakening (1890) at fortyfivedownstairs next month. Entitled, Awakening, the inspiration for Lammin’s work centres around his early introduction to the original.
“I’ve been in love with Spring Awakening since I discovered it in my early twenties, initially with the musical and then with Wedekind’s original play,” explains Lammin. “It spoke to the experiences I had had as a teenager, those I was still having in my twenties, and more importantly, those being had by my friends and family still in their teens. There’s a tremendous sense of anger in that play that’s always stuck with me, an anger that the development, wellbeing and care of children has always suffered under the restrictions of social, political and religious conservatism. We’ve seen that a lot in Australia in the past few years, especially with the Safe Schools debate, and while we sing the praises of Spring Awakening for its continued immediacy and relevance, the fact that this play from 1891 still speaks accurately and horrifically to the experiences of teenagers is also deeply troubling. You would think that our understanding and humanity would have shifted by now. The impetus behind Awakening was to hand this play that I love so much to a group of young theatre makers and see what they made of it, and allow them the space to be part of fashioning and exploring it anew in light of the world they live in and how they experience it.”
Wedekind’s play is described as a seminal work in the modern history of theatre. Due to its controversial themes, it has often been banned or censored. Thus is the power of the play! Lammin’s Awakening essentially deals with the same themes that Wedekind does in Spring Awakening, but through the lens of our modern time and context
“Teenagers are still finding themselves dealing with depression, sexuality, suicide, abuse, sexual assault and the struggle to define themselves,” says Lammin. “A defining moment for my creating Awakening was the comment by conservative MP George Christensen that he ‘didn’t want to see the sexual liberation of young people’. Comments like that, which I find so utterly reprehensible, prove something that I’d long felt, that Australia does not know how to deal with the needs of its youth population, and would rather them be repressed, controlled and ultimately fade away than listen to them. It’s no surprise that suddenly, adaptations and productions of Spring Awakening have started popping up a lot more over the last two years in Australia – there’s still no better work for the theatre that captures the dangers of mis-educating or ignoring teenagers, and there’s a need for this discussion to be reignited in our country.”
As a writer and director, Lammin has always found himself drawn to emotionally difficult and violent material. “Quite a bit of my work in the past has dealt with true events such as the murder of Matthew Shepard with The Laramie Project, the Columbine massacre and the murder of James Bulgar,” he says. “If I draw a line through all my work, the theme that keeps coming back is loneliness, of being forgotten, of not mattering and leaving no mark on the world. That’s true of even a production like Master Class, which I saw as a woman coming to grips with the horror of being forgotten or left behind, and grasping for some way to hold it back. This is probably because loneliness is my greatest fear. It fills me with such existential dread, and I suppose I keep coming back to it so I can understand it. When I was studying directing, an established European director told me that he chooses to direct the works he does because he doesn’t understand them. I suspect that search for understanding is why I choose the work I do.”
Sometimes a challenge, the writer/director coupling is a positive for Lammin who relishes the environment of collaboration it offers.
“This might sound conceited, but I’ve never found much difficulty in balancing being both writer and director on a project. I have a very clear distinction in my head about the two roles, and once the writing process is done, I approach that text as much as a director as I can. The advantage is that when I don’t like something or it isn’t working in rehearsal, I can change it or cut it, or even better, work with the actors to come up with something. I’m very collaborative with the actors I work with, and by also being the writer, it allows me to let them be an even greater part of the creative process.
Awakening was the first adaptation I’d written, and while it was scary approaching a text I loved so much, it was thrilling to dive deep into Spring Awakening, break it down and explore everything that is happening underneath. All this informed when I began writing Awakening, so that while there are many flourishes that are entirely my own, it’s still informed by and constructed from the DNA of Wedekind’s play. It’s as much a love letter as it is an exploration and deconstruction.”
This is Awakenings return season after a highly successful run at Trades Hall last year. Lammin’s talents, along with the enthusiasm of Monash Uni Student Theatre, promise an unforgettable night of honest, confronting and beguiling theatre.
Says Lammin: “We wanted to make Awakening a deeply moving and enormously relevant work, but one that allows the audience in to find themselves in it. I hope it’s a confronting and thought-provoking experience for them, as well as being surprisingly entertaining and at times, wickedly funny. They also get to see a cast and crew of remarkable young theatre makers doing extraordinary work, all of which I’m very proud of. I may be the captain of this particular ship, but every atom of Awakening has been informed by all of them, often more so than me. If there’s any reason to see Awakening, it’s to see preposterously talented young storytellers blasting this classic play apart and making their voices heard passionately, forcefully and powerfully in a country that really needs to wake up and start listening.”
May 10 – 21