More Q & A: Spring Awakening

Note: This post addresses “mature content” issues

The original “Spring Awakening” was a play written in 1891 by Frank Wedekind of Hanover, Germany — who lived 1864-1918, and found his works banned and performed in censored form.

It’s plenty tough to talk about youth sexuality in the 21st century — so imagine writing about the gripping challenges of puberty during more repressive and authoritarian times.

The cast of the current touring production of “Spring Awakening” shared during a recent talkback at ASU Gammage that they’re proud to help tell this important story.

They also answered diverse questions from audience members — including those paraphrased here with corresponding answers:

Q: How do you get your hair to do that? (Asked of Coby Getzug, who performs the role of Moritz, whose long hair is styled straight up during Act 2)

A: A lot of hair spray and a flat iron, seriously. I’ve been growing it since September — it’s not a wig.

Q: What is it like to perform in this venue (ASU Gammage) since it’s three times larger than most Broadway theaters?

A: Every house has a different feel, and every audience has a different flavor. That’s part of what makes touring so fun.

Q: How does the fact that you’ve seen others perform this show before you effect the way you portray your own character in this production?

A: You want to honor what they created with the original, then take it and make it your own.

Q: As you perform for different audiences around the country, is there a point where you can tell whether or not they are with you?

A: You might guess that my scenes sometimes don’t get the best reaction. When people don’t appreciate my line about Bobby Maler looking nasty in his khakis, it’s a pretty good sign that they won’t like the lyrics to “My Junk Is You.” Sometimes my favorite audiences are the ones that don’t have a good reaction because I just want to scare them.  (Answered by Devon Stone — whose character, Hanschen, figures prominently in two of the musical’s most controversial scenes)

Q: I notice there are several differences between this production and the last tour of “Spring Awakening” at Gammage. What’s changed this time around?

A: The hydraulics are too much to travel with (referring to a scene that originally includes a platform suspended by ropes, where a male and female actor simulate sexual activity). They require their own bus and take longer to put together than we have in a typical performance day (which starts at about 8am and includes an afternoon and evening performance); Sexual scenes are more graphic and intense in this production, which helps the audience feel more from it.

Q: I was blown away that you all stayed so in character and that everyone is so committed to their role. You were brilliant, truly. Is it hard to keep from getting emotional when you’re up there playing these characters?

A: I cry a lot, especially during rehearsals when we do the funeral scene [there are three tragic deaths in this show] and then they say “Okay, we’re done — you all have a good night!” But overall, the feel of the show is very hopeful. (Answered by Courtney Markowtiz, who performs the role of Ilsa, and serves as dance captain); When we take out those microphones, we’re no longer our characters. We’re our modern day characters going through what the characters were going through then. The characters were, are still, and will continue to be relevant. We have to remember what a great story it is and how it really affects people — that’s what keeps us moving forward. (Answered by Getzug)

Q: What else keeps you going?

A: It’s pretty fun. I’m the oldest one in the group. These are all fetuses and I’m 24 [referring to fellow cast members, include a young man and woman who are just 18 years old]. I waited tables for two and a half years in New York City. I’m from Florida, which is pretty flat — so I’m psyched to travel and see all the mountains and everything. (Answered by George E. Salazar, who performs the role of Otto); The most exciting part is working with talented, great, good people and sharing the show in parts of the country that don’t normally get to see this type of theater.

Q: What are some of the challenges of touring?

A: Living out of a suitcase and never really knowing what is under those hotel mattresses. And the fact that it’s exhausting. But every single night there’s someone in the audience who really needs the show. Everyone can relate to the show. It’s not so far from anyone’s life. And it’s such a beautiful, vital message.

My 17-year-old daughter Lizabeth was one of several people whose questions had to go unasked due to time constraints (perfectly understandable given that actors like to sleep and eat just like the rest of us) — but the cast did stay after the formal talkback to interact with audience members one-on-one.

Lizabeth has seen “Spring Awakening” several times and was hoping to ask cast members about the “mature content” rating for the show — and what they think about younger teens seeing the production.

She’s convinced that plays and musicals dealing with mature situations open the door for parent/teen dialogue — and that parents have nothing to fear from exposing children to works that include language and behavior they wouldn’t necessarily condone for their own children.

I’m inclined to agree. People have bodies. Sometimes we explore them. Sometimes we share them. Sometimes we use colorful language. And sometimes we skate desperately close to making choices with tragic consequences.

I wouldn’t encourage a parent to take a child or teen to this show without first having a good knowledge of its subject matter (and reading or listening to the show’s lyrics) — but I certainly don’t labor under the delusion that telling kids sex doesn’t or shouldn’t happen will make it so.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to read a companion post on the Jan 27, 2011 “Spring Awakening” talkback at ASU Gammage, and here for more details on tonight’s show. The current ASU run has ended, but you can see “Spring Awakening” in Tucson Feb 1-6.

Coming up: Spotlight on “Beauty and the Beast” — as a woman who performed in a touring Broadway production choreographs the show for a local youth theater company, Springsteen meets art and culture, The fine art of civil discourse

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