By Maya Singh Sharkey
In many theatre kids’ lives, there is a Spring Awakening phase, where they obsessively listen to the cast recording and look at aesthetically pleasing character mood boards on the internet and cry. There is generally a lot of crying.
When the Barnstormers announced that the spring main stage was going to be Spring Awakening late last year, I was very deeply entrenched in my Spring Awakening phase. I was equal parts ecstatic, because we were putting on such an amazing and important and fantastic musical, and terrified, because I was pretty confident that I didn’t have the chops to be in such a high-powered production with such a small cast in a school filled with an overwhelming amount of talent.
When I did get cast, my relationship with the show bloomed from a devotion to the show itself to a love of the process of putting a musical like this together, which has only deepened my my love for not only Spring Awakening, but for acting as a whole.
After our first read through, our director Claire sent us the original play that Spring Awakening was based on, which was written in 1891 by Frank Wedekind that was banned in several countries for decades after its release. Reading it illuminated more backstory for all the characters that was left out of the musical, and also created an even clearer distinction between each character’s scene persona, that of a teenager in 19th century Germany that is restricted from truly expressing their feelings and desires because of their age and lack of information about what they are experiencing, and their song persona, which is a contemporary inner monologue addressing the taboos that can only be revealed through music.
In addition, throughout the process of building Spring Awakening, acting and specificity of motivation were emphasized more than in any other musical I’ve been in. Instead of putting on a bland three-knuckle grin in ensemble numbers, we were challenged to discover our own personal arc and the significance of every line and number we were a part of to create a full and believable performance. I love and respect my character, Martha, immensely, and following her throughout the show has allowed me to illuminate her fully: from her vulnerability and fear, to her strength and defiance, and even to the true joy she gets to experience, which is often not specified in productions of this show.
This production of Spring Awakening is done in a thrust configuration, meaning that there is audience on three sides of the stage. Save for some chaotically-directed Shakespeare scenes I did three years ago, this is my first experience with an alternate theater configuration, and I did not expect blocking to be so natural. Even though scenes were blocked with more 45 degree angle facings than in a traditional proscenium setting, we were given the freedom to move more dynamically and explore the space without fearing being too far back to be seen or heard. Playing to three different audiences at once means that each group gets a completely different show on the same night, and a different insight on different performers at different points of the show, an aspect I’m really excited to hear reactions about from audiences during our run.
The most important and rewarding part of this process, though, is the fantastic group of artists that have collaborated in creating this show. Our professional director and musical director, Claire and Erich, are among the most talented people I’ve ever worked for and truly respect our processes and guide our performing with a clear vision that I cannot praise enough. Our technical designers have created beautiful sets, lighting, costumes, etc. that have made this production unique and straddled the 19th century and modern design elements of the show.
And I am in awe of every single member of this cast. Many of them are triple threats who sing, dance, read music, make me laugh and break my heart on a daily basis. This has been an extremely rewarding and enlightening production for me, and it would not be the same without this amazing group of individuals who have built a breathtaking production.