Fifteen Again – In 19th Century Germany

By Joshua O’Brian, Production Dramaturg, Spring Awakening

A production that has been over a century in the making—literally. This spring, Emerson Stage is producing Spring Awakening by Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik, a pop-rock musical that follows a cast of teenagers through their battles with the social rules over sex, information, and self discovery. Based on the play of the same title written by Frank Wedekind in Germany in 1891, and produced via online media, Spring Awakening recalls some of the real life extremities of how youth responded to adult control in nineteenth century Germany. If we think about growing up here and now, we have access to constant information. The truth has been streamlined for us, made easily accessible with a couple Google searches and some adamant scrolling.

Now I want us to forget the world we live in today, and all these scientific truths we grow up learning, and picture a confused young person in the historical era in which Spring Awakening takes place. Imagine a character: fifteen years old; their body has already begun its awkward changes, and they are starting to notice that special person who makes their heart—and maybe something else—begin to flutter. Follow this flow chart below for the character of your imagination, and see with what fate they end up.

In the setting of Spring Awakening, it is tradition to sustain the social taboos that are taught generationally. Children are not taught any different than were their parents, which creates generational tension, and the hegemonic powers of straight, wealthy, white people’s societal taboos remain supreme. Young people at the time were put in a position of inherent ignorance. In 1891 Germany, questions about uncomfortable social taboos led to grave consequences, thus providing the stakes that inform the plot of Spring Awakening.

Performances of Emerson Stage’s 2021 production of Spring Awakening will be streamed to your favorite streaming device April 15–18, 2021. For more information and tickets, please visit

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