BWW Interviews: Director and Cast Talk Raleigh Little Theatre's SPRING AWAKENING
Spring Awakening opens this weekend at Raleigh Little Theater. I recently sat down with the director, Glen Matthews, and cast members Kate Brittain (Thea), Adam Keller (Melchior), Nicholas Polonio (Moritz), and Brishelle Miller (Wendla), to talk about the show. They shared with me about how the cast bonded, their favorite moments in the show, and the message they hope audiences take away from the performance.
Spring Awakening, which debuted on Broadway in 2006 is a rock musical about a group of adolescents in 1890s Germany. The teens and adults learn firsthand what happens when you're not honest about love, sex, relationships, and even schoolwork. It centers around Melchior and Wendla, who aren't sure what to do about their newfound feelings for one another, especially in a society where they are still treated like children. Their battle between their desires and what they've been taught is right has everlasting consequences. It also focuses around Melchior's best friend Moritz, who cannot come to grips with his failing school grades and emerging hormones all at the same time. Rounding out the cast of characters are their friends, who have their own array of concerns and issues, and the adults who, by and large, are an oppressive force in their lives. While the story does take place in 1891, the music is not limited by time and space, and represents every teen's inner monologue and desire to rock out every once in a while.
Spring Awakening tackles plenty of big issues, like crushes, sex, hormones, and suicide. The show is personal and emotional. The cast says this brought them together as a unit quickly. Matthews, in his role as director, worked to help the cast build a strong ensemble quickly, saying, "once we had a cast gathered, we spent a good portion of the initial process building ensemble and getting to know each other and creating a foundation where all of them felt comfortable and respected and safe, and creating a space for them so that they feel empowered to take those risks and to put themselves out there." Keller echoed the sentiment, "from the beginning we all clicked really well, and especially with talking about this kind of stuff, more than anything, it brought us together." The effect of their bond is clear: "we've become so much more comfortable with the intimacy on stage and the language and everything that this show deals with because we have that bond, the strong ensemble," says Brittain.
The other thing which became apparent while talking to these four is that they are all passionate about the potential for the show to open up lines of communication between all types of people, but particularly for teenagers and parents. Matthews commented, "I do think that we're seeing in today's youth the same challenges that Wedekind (author of the play Spring Awakening, upon which the musical was based) was writing about in 1890s Germany," adding that "I think that most of the adults, if not all of the adults who come to see this piece will see some aspect of themselves reflected in one of the adults at some point in the play, and may even find that the words the characters are speaking are the very same words that you've uttered to your child." Cast members all seemed hopeful that the show would encourage communication between teens and adults. Polonio summed it up well, saying that the show "has values that everyone can learn from, no matter who you are."
With a show that's so personal and emotional, I finished up by asking what message each person wanted audiences to leave with after seeing the show. Some aimed their message at teenage audience members. Brittain wants teenagers to know that "you go through so much when you're a teenager, but you get through it and you come out on the other side of it, and you learn, and you grow from it." In a similar vein, Keller's hope is that audiences learn that "it's okay to not know something, because you can learn something from it. A mistake should be a celebration." Others wanted the message of the show to reach out to adults in the audience, especially parents. Miller hopes that show shares that teenager problems are the same as they've always been, and that teens aren't just trying to be dramatic, but are experiencing so many different challenges and changes, and that they need to be embraced. She notes that the show itself ends on a note of hope and understanding, which will hopefully resonate with the audience. Polonio also wants adults to take from the show that "Kids aren't sheep. They can't be herded, and you can't teach them all the same way." Combining all these perspectives is director Matthews, who hopes audiences learn that "if we don't have true, honest, open communication, we're doomed to repeat these cycles."