By guest blogger Tyler Pounds
Artistic creators of the theatric, known to the less pretentious as actors, have their work cut out for them as time goes on, with pesky playwrights giving them new cutting edge pieces to put on while directors backed by Red Hat Society chapters demand classics as suitably aged as them.
That is why a well-rounded training program teaches both new and old styles of acting, and why it was a real treat to see a group of high school students at Arizona Conservatory for Arts and Academics (ACAA) put on a production of “Spring Awakening,” a recently licensed Broadway musical with music by Duncan Sheik which is a musicalized reimagining of Frank Wedekind’s 1891 expressionist play “Spring Awakening: A Children’s Tragedy.”
Expressionism, to be drastically simple, purposefully keeps the audience from immersing in the story so they have a fuller grasp of the themes of the play. “Spring Awakening” (the musical) uses its alternative rock music to contrast the 18th century setting while also making contemporary the story of teenagers experiencing sexual uges for the first time.
Common expressionistic techniques such as fourth wall breaking, choreographed movements and using audience implants to join stage movement were well used. Some were…clunky.
When singing was required, microphones were pulled from inside coat pockets and under chairs. On Broadway this was daring, and became a trademark of the production; in such a small space with a teenage sound crew of one, it became gut wrenching.
Harmony lines overshadowed lyrics, coughing underscored quiet scenes and singing disappeared when the overly-relied on kids’ mics weren’t on during their short alternating solos. On the small stage, microphones with the batteries taken out would have given them all the pros and none of the cons.
Another hiccup happened during Hanschen’s seduction of Ernst, when the actor portraying Ernst seemed suddenly nervous about acting out any feeling with an entire audience watching. While adding humor to the scene, it killed the expressionist meaning.
Addressing that, the audience is there to propel the audience. Not the characters. The play itself is a closed box, occasionally saying something to a hypothetical audience the way a news anchor talks to viewers. It is very against the spirit of Expressionism.
And when we are seeing a play with controversial themes, the implications of the themes shown should be addressed. Again the scene with Hanschen and Ernst; in the script of both play and musical the two boys express their love, kiss multiple times, and hope to grow old together.
ACAA’s production played Hanschen as a dope and Ernst as mostly unwilling, giving one chaste kiss, brushing the line “I love you Hanschen!” off as phony, and running away from him at the end of the scene.
Wendla and Melchior, a heterosexual couple, are treated, on the other hand, as if their love is true and just and pure. The dichotomy between the two in this show seems to make the statement that homosexuality is a joke.
Meanwhile, during the songs “Touch Me” and “Mama Who Bore Me,” cast members who trace their own bodies while singing about physical acts of pleasure empasize above-the-waist stroking, diluting the message of free sexual knowledge that the show praises.
I was warned before going that some aspects of the show were toned down. But the question needs to be asked: should it? Can a play about sexuality in teenagers, meant to be seen by a teenage audience, censor itself? Touching one’s own body and gays kissing gays are all a part of growing up in our society. ACAA put on a great high school show. The production just needs to know it still has a lot to learn.
Hopefully they (and you) will get a ticket for Nearly Naked Theatre and Phoenix Theatre’s production of “Spring Awakening,” helmed by Robert Kolby Harper and Damon Dering. Plenty of time to read the play, buy the soundtrack, and study Expressionism, as that production’s opening night is scheduled for June 15, 2012.
Note: Tyler Pounds is an ASU student and actor who frequenty performs in local community theater productions.
Coming up: “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part I”