Interview: Anton Luitingh talks about LAMTA and SPRING AWAKENING

LAMTA's final production is on at Theatre On The Bay

By: Nov. 17, 2023
Interview: Anton Luitingh talks about LAMTA and SPRING AWAKENING

Interview: Anton Luitingh talks about LAMTA and SPRING AWAKENING LAMTA is celebrating five years of work with their final student production of the year - SPRING AWAKENING. Co-founder of the school and musical director for the show, Anton Luitingh, spoke to us about this.

BWW: Firstly, congratulations on the five-year anniversary of LAMTA! You and Duane must be so pleased with how the Academy has grown over the years – especially with the added troubles that COVID threw into the mix.
ANTON: Thank you, Duane and I are extremely proud of what LAMTA has achieved in first five years on the planet. On opening an Academy of this nature, one is confronted not only with the considerable responsibility of ensuring that the students receive a high-quality education, but also with the operational challenges of this business - the administrative side is relentless. I wish we could focus only on the artistic and creative aspects of the school, but the scope of the job is much broader. We both have teaching responsibilities on top of all the planning and admin; all happening alongside our professional involvement in the Industry.
If you had questioned me five years ago about whether LAMTA would have reached its current status, my response would certainly have reflected our desires and aspirations, but now it's actually a reality. With the help of our incredible faculty, the three-year LAMTA course has proven to be extremely fruitful and we have successfully guided incredibly skilled graduates into the industry since we started on this journey. Since our initial graduates departed two years ago, we've had seven students in BUDDY - THE Buddy Holly SHOW, three in the International tour of WE WILL ROCK YOU, eight in THE SOUND OF MUSIC (some of whom are also in SPRING AWAKENING) and another seven in the forthcoming production of MAMMA MIA! at the Artscape Opera House. One of our students secured a lead role in next year's Shakespeare at the Maynardville Open Air Festival, and others are working on various other projects including international films and performing on cruise ships and in television series. Succinctly put, the LAMTA graduates are indeed making their mark and we could not be more proud of them!
BWW: SPRING AWAKENING is the Academy’s final production for the year – why did you choose this particular show and what was the students’ reaction to that choice?
ANTON: The challenges faced by the characters in SPRING AWAKENING remain very real and are still very relevant today. We see all too often - especially as our students are between 18 and 23 years of age - how young individuals continue to grapple with self-identity and issues that are often misunderstood by the adult or authoritarian figures in our society. SPRING AWAKENING addresses universal and timeless themes including sexuality, anxiety, teenage rebellion, academic stress, and generational conflicts which we hope will touch audiences of all ages.
At LAMTA, we strive to entertain our audiences but it is incredibly rewarding for us to see audiences leave the theatre having felt something, having their minds opened and leaving with the desire to discuss what they’ve just witnessed. It’s incredible that in 2023, SPRING AWAKENING is still so thought-provoking, edgy and quite possibly still considered controversial.
Another reason why the show is just the ticket for us is that our LAMTA students are at the perfect age to really immerse themselves in the work and truthfully represent the characters of this story. With their undeniable passion and talent, this contemporary Tony Award Winning musical (8 Tony’s were awarded in 2007) was a no-brainer and the students were thrilled when we announced our plans for this, LAMTA’s first production of a ‘book musical’.

Interview: Anton Luitingh talks about LAMTA and SPRING AWAKENING

BWW: As a rock musical, SPRING AWAKENING is quite different to a traditional musical - how did you prepare your students for something that’s a departure from the ‘norm’ so to speak; a coming-of-age show with quite explicit content? Could you share a snippet about your process, as Resident Director and head of LAMTA? 

ANTON: LAMTA strives to produce shows that are “extra-ordinary” so moving away from something traditional was key for us. SPRING AWAKENING as a piece of theatre brilliantly integrates the show's mainstream folk/rock music feel with the exploration of its daring and sometimes dark themes. In order for our students to prepare their hearts, bodies and minds for this work, we arranged a few days of workshops and created a space for conversations to take place slowly and sensitively unpack the themes, demands and requirements of this show. We brought on an Intimacy Co-ordinator to guide our students through some of the more physically vulnerable scenes, and from a vocal point of view, our students are all versed in singing in a variety of styles and genres.
It was necessary for Duane and I as LAMTA Directors, to entrust the production and its process to a director who not only had a specific vision for our production, but one who was also capable of sensitively and intimately interacting with our students. Benefitting us in this regard is Sylvaine Strike, an extraordinary director and actor, and a member of our LAMTA faculty, who, fresh from her astonishing directorial work on Damon Galgut's THE PROMISE, was keen to direct something for us beyond her usual exceptional classroom instruction and SPRING AWAKENING also marks her debut directing a musical.
We are also very excited to collaborate once again with award-winning designer Niall Griffin, whose exceptional talents will further enhance our production. The SPRING AWAKENING process, reflective of Sylvaine's hand, combined with our young LAMTA students' talent and determination and coupled with Niall's incredible eye for design and our ongoing commitment to creating thought provoking and edgy work, is in itself exciting. Layer all this onto the remarkable source material by playwright, lyricist and composer Frank Wedekind, Steven Sater, and Duncan Sheik, we anticipate the show will indeed be exceptional.
BWW: The music is absolutely rousing, once hailed as 'the most gorgeous Broadway score this decade’, plus as you pointed out, the show won 8 Tony’s in 2007- why do you think this was the case and what is it about this music that makes it so popular, even today?  
ANTON: The score is utterly beautiful and literally every song is a gem. With its beautiful balance of Rock and Folk music styles, it’s no wonder such a bold statement was made. The use of music and lyrics to channel or poetically express the characters’ emotions and internal struggles, adds to the appeal of this score and aligns perfectly with the philosophy of musical theatre. I also feel that the musical was groundbreaking in its innovative amalgamation of a contemporary musical element with a narrative set in the 1890s, cleverly blending the modern with the historical and helping make this ‘period’ piece feel unbelievably fresh and relatable.
Interview: Anton Luitingh talks about LAMTA and SPRING AWAKENING BWW: When putting on a production like this with students, is there anything in particular you have to think about? You’ve obviously got varying levels of expertise because your first years haven’t had the same length of training time or experience as your final year students have.
ANTON: One of the great things about our LAMTA productions is the open audition process. We uphold a policy that invites all our students to audition for our shows, regardless of their current level of training. We believe that if a student is a suitable and capable match for a role, they should be given the opportunity. Obviously, we take into account a certain level of skill and technique during the casting process, but a show like SPRING AWAKENING necessitates a diverse ensemble of young people with raw talent and so our open audition policy is useful. It’s an ideal production choice, with opportunities for many of our students to exhibit their talents.
BWW: Looking to the future of LAMTA, what do you see or want to see for the school in the next 5 years, 10 years, and beyond? And may we be privy to any insights or sneak peaks we can get for next year’s shows?
ANTON: One of our many aims is to continue establishing LAMTA as an unparalleled training institution that successfully launches twenty of the country's leading talents into the Industry every year. We are committed to making sure LAMTA remains a coveted training facility. We want to reaffirm the belief that an exceptional Arts education does not mean that students have to study overseas. We want to continue to inspire and draw inspiration from the community of creatives in South Africa and to foster an alumni network that serves as a reminder of the successful training at LAMTA. To continue to elevate our hard-earned reputation, and increase opportunities for potential students who may find it financially challenging to train in an environment such as LAMTA through the establishment of bursaries and grants. We also very importantly want to do our part in cultivating a culture of theatre attendance amongst all South Africans, - particularly younger generations so that theatre will thrive. Next year's shows are… top secret! 
 BWW: Finally, what is one thing you hope that both your audiences and your students will leave with from SPRING AWAKENING?
ANTON: In essence- the transformative power of theatre. I believe that this production has already affected change in our students, as with all of those involved in it - on many levels. We would love for audiences to come and watch this production for the same reason. We want LAMTA’s production of SPRING AWAKENING to offer our audiences an opportunity to closely experience the journeys of each of the characters featured in this story, interrogate the themes of the piece, and ignite conversations and open discussions. This remarkable musical with its fantastic songs and emotional intensity, serves as an opportunity for altering perceptions and instigating change. We sincerely hope it will leave a powerful and enduring mark on our audiences.
Photo credit: supplied
SPRING AWAKENING is on at Theatre on the Bay from 24 November to 3 December 2023. Tickets cost from R250 to R350 through Click Here or the theatre box office on 021 438 3301 with discounts available for students, seniors, and groups. Please note that SPRING AWAKENING contains mature themes, partial nudity, sexual situations as well as explicit language. No persons under 13. 

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