Theater students dive into sexually repressed, 19th century Germany in this season’s musical, exploring dangerously intimate issues that are still relevant today.
Racy and controversial both then and now, “Spring Awakening” was originally written and staged by Frank Wedekind in 1891. The classic frankly discusses teen suicide, sex, sexuality and abortion. The script does not take these issues lightly.
Restaged by UNM director Kathleen Clawson, the play is a fusion of rock-and-roll and teenage angst, a combination Clawson said really helped to bring out the best in her cast.
“This piece suits the actors, it suits the depth of their ability,” Clawson said. “I wanted to use the show as a way to help students know about these issues.”
Clawson has a background in classical music and said she was excited to get to do this musical.
“UNM only does a musical every other year; we did “RENT” four years ago and “Rocky Horror” two years ago. With this one, we had to wait for the rights to be released and everything before we could do it,” she said.
The credit for the musical can be given to students, who did everything from set design, to costume to choreography. The choreographer was UNM dance major Esteban Garza.
“Esteban really knew what he was doing,” said Tami Leah Lacy, a senior theatre major who plays Ilsa. “I don’t consider myself a dancer; I am just an actor that moves well. He made choreography into natural movement.”
Rehearsals for the production began in early September. Beginning with just music, and then choreography and staging in October, getting the whole cast together was the hardest part, Clawson said.
“It’s an ensemble piece so we needed everyone together at some point to get the full effect,” she said. “But the rehearsals were on top of the regular class load and jobs. It was hard.”
This struggle was not a deterrent for junior theater major Cory Meehan, who plays Moritz Steifel, though, nor was the blatant sexuality of the show.
“This is my first show that’s been so sexy, it’s definitely the least conservative,” he said. “But Kathleen’s choices were true.
She added a portion to the beginning to introduce the topics and let the audience know what was coming.”
Meehan plays one of the three leading characters, along with Lacy. The two actors said they each connected with their character differently.
“I feel like I connected with Ilsa because we have so much in common. Going through the script with her brought it all up again,” Lacy said.
For Meehan, on the other hand, connecting with his character was an emotional road he did not want to travel.
“For rehearsals and on stage, I’m there, but once I’m gone, I turn it off. I made sure to suppress it. I don’t need to be or live there with him,” he said. “I didn’t need to go all Heath Ledger with Moritz.
Despite the struggles and issues the teenage characters face, Clawson said she hopes parents bring their teenagers to the show and use it as a “vehicle of communication.” Lacy agreed with Clawson, and said she sees the appropriate age being late high school to early college.
“So many teens are being sexually active early and it’s great to see this as a way to put words through what the characters and real teenagers may be feeling,” she said.
The show, which opened on Friday, runs through Nov. 17 and Clawson said each performance just gets better.
“The difference that I saw from the opening night to the following Sunday was unbelievable. I encourage people to come see the show on its last night and see what these students can do,” Clawson said.