Oak Bay’s acting class of 2015 will bring Spring Awakening to the Belfry Theatre this month.
It’s a show that can be controversial, and dates back 100 years, but is still relevant today, say the young actors of Canadian College of Performing Arts that produce and perform the show where teens wrestle with their emerging sexuality and their place in the world.
“The play is about the main character Melchior and his quest for knowledge and his desire to understand the corruption or ideas of society he doesn’t seem to understand. He approaches everything from science and reason and logic,” said Nick Heffelsinger, a third-year CCPA student from Fort McMurray, Alta.
“It’s a small love story, but it follows much more of an oppressive older generation, abortion, learning about sexual urges,” said Christine Baker, a student from Calgary, Alta. “There’s a deprivation of information so those teens have all those thoughts. And it also deals with some dark issues, like abuse, suicide and possibly incest.”
The play is a serious mix of teenage rebellion and passion emphasizing the oppressed feelings of youngsters.
“There’s all this intense depressing subject matter to be quite honest. But it ends in a place where you realize the appreciation we should all have for survival,” Heffelsinger said.
It’s a message of life going on, seasons of change, and survival.
“It really speaks to the youth of today. It’s really still relevant, even though the first (play) was in 1891 and now music from 2006 has been used to update it to a rock theme,” Baker said. “Even though we have a little more access to information unlike the characters in the play, it’s still hard for people to talk about their thoughts on suicide and things like that.”
Spring Awakening is a musical based on the controversial 1891 German play of the same name by Frank Wedekind that explores rules and roles of human sexuality. The original Broadway production won eight Tony Awards in 2007 including best musical, direction, book, score and featured actor.
The rock musical by Steven Sater with music by Duncan Sheik created a different experience for the audience and challenge for actors, Heffelsinger said.
“What makes it different … is traditionally the songs are written to tell the story and move the plot forward,” Heffelsinger said. “What the authors have done is all the songs appear as moments inside the subconscious or inside the minds of the characters. The characters aren’t singing songs to each other. The audience gets to slip into the minds of the characters and see what they’re thinking about.
“We learn all the time that it’s about moving the story forward. In this show all the songs are about what am I going through and how is it effecting me? A lot of it is deeply metaphorical.”
Spring Awakening is the first of three shows the Company C program will mount between now and February with each show introducing them to new production and management challenges, venues and professional Canadian directors.
“It’s been a really, really interesting experience. In the past Company C has done performances with other venues in town,” said Heffelsinger. This is the first time CCPA is working at the Belfry, with Belfry staff.
“We get to work with their technicians and use their equipment and shops in terms of creating set pieces. We also have a lot more support in terms of marketing … and ticket sales.
“To work with ( Belfry artistic director) Michael Shimata, it’s a great opportunity for the students to get to work with him, and through the course of the year with other directors who are working constantly across the country,” Heffelsinger added.
Another perk are the two professional actors Company C hired, Amanda Lisman and Richard Hearst.
“It’s been both a great benefit to us but also a bit of a challenge,” Baker said, adding hiring equity actors means following the associated guidelines. “It’s great to know what’s going on in the industry and what kind of red tape you can’t cross.”
The model of the Company C program is to prepare students for what it’s like to work an equity performance. “Working with people who are actual equity performers and under an equity contract, is great,” Heffelsinger said.
Part of the Company C program is to create well-rounded artists, learning all aspects of the business.
“Because we’re crazy, everyone who’s in the company will have a production role and performance role,” said Heffelsinger, who portrays one of the school boys, assists with lighting design and does fight direction. Baker is in the ensemble and acts as assistant stage manager while also assisting in marketing.
Spring Awakening runs at the Belfry Theatre now through Nov. 2. Call the Belfry box office at 250-385-6815 or at visit belfry.bc.ca online for ticket information.