ABBEDAM Productions: new Spring Awakening

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the University of Alberta’s Department of Drama, the Curious Arts blog is sharing 50 Reasons to Go See A Play throughout the 2015-16 season. Here is reason seven to go see a play.

UAlberta PhD candidate Lily Climenhaga’s new translation and adaptation of Spring Awakening debuts with ABBEDAM production Nov. 5 – 8, 2015 in the Timms Centre Second Playing Space.

If any writer is a natural fit to dust off, translate and adapt Frank Wedekind’s seminal modernist German drama, it’s Lily Climenhaga (‘13 BA, ‘15 MA).

As an undergrad, the St. Albert native triple majored in Drama / German / History.

After completing her BA degree, Lily immersed herself deeper in German theatre, history and language, traveling there throughout her MA program to experience productions first-hand and meeting German playwrights and dramaturgs as part of her thesis research focusing on the play, Der Stein (The Stone), by Marius von Mayenburg.

Now a PhD candidate with a doctoral SSHRC, Lily is only the second U of A Faculty of Arts student to be accepted into the prestigious joint U of A / Ludwig Maximillian Universitat (Munich) PhD program.

Lily first got a taste for adapting scripts through her work on ABBEDAM’s production of Charles Mee’s Orestes 2.0 in 2014, so when ABBEDAM director Brooklyn Ritchie (‘15 BA) floated the idea of translating and adapting Frank Wedekind’s The Spring Awakening for ABBEDAM’s 2015 production, she was intrigued.

“Buying the rights to produce a play can be expensive, so part of his motivation for asking me to translate it was budgetary,” says Lily. “The other reason was a lot of the older translations of the play were not very good because they were very direct and literal translations. You end up losing these massive chunks of context when the script is translated word for word without transcribing the meaning or anything else behind the language.”

Spring Awakening was written around 1891, but not performed until 1906 when it premiered at the Deutsches Theater in Berlin under the direction of Max Reinhardt. Some translations carry the subtitle “A Children’s Tragedy,” and Lily concurs. “It just turns into a mess — that’s the Cole’s notes I can give without spoilers!”

The play follows a group of teenage peers and friends struggling to come to terms with puberty and the sexual, physical and emotional challenges that come hand in hand with the coming-of-age in the sexually oppressive culture of fin de siècle Germany.

“It deals with huge issues that even more than 100 years later, these topics are still really prevalent today among university students. You have sexual assault. Questioning one’s sexuality. Violence. Suicide. We still haven’t found a way to deal with all this today and that’s a big draw for university theatre programs to do this play.”

Lily’s aim with the adaptation was to stay as true to Wedekind’s text as possible. She wasn’t interested in shying away from the play’s most difficult subject matter or “white washing” it a la Broadway musical version in 2006.

“A lot of translations have cut out the jagged edges of the play in favour of making it a bit nicer and not so hard to swallow. But the play is uncomfortable to deal with — I wanted to maintain that rawness and that horribleness.”

She began by translating what she felt were the five most difficult scenes first. “It was a way to test the waters because I felt if I could adapt those scenes in a satisfactory way, then maybe I could tackle this monster of play.”

She then worked her way through translating all three acts, a total of 21 scenes, from March 2015 into July 2015.

“It was a huge project. Even though each scene is short in itself, they each carry a lot of weight within them. It was a hard job, but I was in Germany as I was doing that, and I was surrounded by the language which really helped. When I didn’t understand something, I was able to go to my German friends and talk it through with them.”

Presenter: ABBEDAM Productions
Event: Spring Awakening by Frank Wedekind. Translated and adapted by Lily Climenhaga.
Directed by: Brooklyn Ritchie
Dates: November 5 through 8 at 7:30 p.m.
There is a matinee performance Nov. 8 at 2 p.m.
Venue: Second Playing Space at the University of Alberta’s Timms Centre for the Arts (87 Avenue & 112 Street, University of Alberta North Campus).
Tickets: Tickets are $10 for students and seniors ($5 for preview) and $15 for adults on-sale through Tix on the Square and at the door.

What is ABBEDAM?

ABBEDAM is a student-run theatre production company in the University of Alberta’s Department of Drama. The acronym ABBEDAM stands for BA, BED and MA students. This year marks ABBEDAM’s 20th year of creative production. The group was founded in 1995 by professor Alex Hawkins (now emeritus) and since then has been run almost entirely by students with Jon Price acting as a faculty advisor.

ABBEDAM sets its sights on producing large ensemble productions.

Specifically, the programming committee looks for plays with 17-21 acting roles, and aims to cast at least a third of these roles with first year students.

About Lily Climenhaga

Typically Lily works as a dramaturge. Recent dramaturgical work includes The Comedian and The Young Revengers’ Society at 2014 New Works Festival (University of Alberta), The Unorthodox Adventures of Razz the Starchild (2014 University of Alberta), ABBEDAM’s Orestes 2.0 (2014), Grey Matters and Silence and the Machine at the 2015 New Works Festival, as well as past collaborations with the Geriactors. Additionally she assisted in the production of FaustIn and Out (2014) and Der Stein (2014) at Munich’s Residenztheater, as well as helping various young artists at the 2014 Rampenlichter Kinder und Jugend Tanz und Theater Fest. Acting work includes The Threepenny Opera (2015), Great Expectations (2013) and a very brief appearance in White Bread’s (2014) European Tour in Innsbruck.