Musical tackles sex themes
Written by DAVID DUPONT Sentinel Arts & Entertainment Editor
Saturday, 13 April 2013 07:32
Usually performances of Broadway musicals don't require a counselor to be on hand.
|Wendla (performed by Hope Quinn) explores her feelings for Melchior (performed by Chad Campbell) during a panel discussion about “Spring Awakening” on April 4 on campus. The leads say they weren’t bothered by the intimacy of the material. (Photo: Enoch Wu/Sentinel-Tribune)
The classic musical after all is a "happy-go lucky" entertainment, as described by actress Hope Quinn.
Despite its peppy sounding title, "Spring Awakening" is anything but.
So many musicals revolve around boy meets girl. "Spring Awakening" addresses how dreadfully wrong those encounters can go.
The Tony Award-winning musical opens Thursday in the Donnell Theatre at Bowling Green State University's Wolfe Center for the Arts for a four-day run.
While "Spring Awakening" has its share of dancing and folk-rock songs and comic bits, it cuts to the bone as it addresses issues such as sexual abuse, date rape, abortion and suicide.
"It has important things to say to our target audience," said Dr. Michael Ellison, who directs the production. "That's one of the reasons for doing it."
As contemporary as that may seem, the musical actually uses a script by German Franz Wedekind that was written in 1891. "So many of those issues ... are still controversial today," Ellison said.
"Spring Awakening" shows a group of young teens groping with their emerging sexuality.
Ellison said the idea is for the production to be used not just for entertainment but to prompt further discussion of these issues and raise awareness of the services available to help students faced with them.
"We're not trying to be inflammatory," Ellison said, "but we are bringing up for discussion some troubling issues."
Just in case the play unsettles any audience members, a counselor will be available at each performance.
Last week a panel discussion was held using excerpts from two scenes, one involving sexual abuse by a parent and the other date rape to initiate discussion.
Because of the nature of the material, Ellison reached out to the Counseling Center to provide support and information for his cast members who have to embody these characters and emotions on stage.
Playing these parts can be emotionally trying for students, Ellison said, and he made sure they knew what they were getting into before rehearsals began. His aim, he said, was to "set up a safe space."
If actors are expected to open themselves up to project these traumatic events, they must know that they are supported.
"If you're going to be able to say 'yes' to something," Ellison said, "you also have to be able to say 'no.'"
Quinn takes on the lead female role of 14-year-old Wendla in the play. More a devotee of the Golden Age musical, she didn't know much about "Spring Awakening," which opened on Broadway in 2006, except "for the hype" surrounding its staging on campus. When she viewed the musical in its entirety on YouTube, she admitted to being taken aback by the issues it raised. Still she was unfazed and auditioned for a role.
Neither Quinn nor Chad Campbell who plays the male lead were bothered by the intimacy of the material.
"Nothing really scares me too much," Campbell said.
"I like doing things outside my comfort level," Quinn said. Still she admitted to "having concerns" and being nervous going in. "Once we got comfortable it was fine."
Campbell said playing the role of Melchior was a dream. He knew "Spring Awakening" well. He loved the soundtrack and then went to the road show version in Detroit. Even then he was surprised by the nature of the material. He jumped at the chance to play the role.
Dr. Stefani Hathaway, a psychologist a the Counseling Center, came to the very first rehearsal. She spoke about the issues the script confronts, and resources available to them. That the play may bring up memories of experiences they or others they know have had "would be normal."
She returned for two later rehearsals where the scenes were being "blocked" - when actors placement and action is determined.
For Hathaway, who has no background in theater, it was a fascinating process to watch.
She was able to provide insight into the particular issues being grappled with in particular scenes.
In one scene Melchior and Wendla have intercourse, and it is uncertain how much she assents. The scene treads a very fine line, she said. "It's not just predatory, there's a give and take. It is very subtle, but it is very clear."
Ellison also brought in Lance Mekeel, a graduate assistant in theater who was recently trained in the Chekhov Method (named after the actor Michael, not the playwright Anton). He provided students with mechanisms for separating themselves from the role they are playing "so they have specific and clear tools not just for stepping into character, but stepping out."
Ellison taught the cast breathing exercises as a way of "releasing energy that doesn't serve them."
"We've been very conscious of giving actors specific tools. If they need to take a break, they are encouraged to ask "because what they are doing is so intense. ... It's about listening."
For all this, Ellison said, the play does have humorous elements as well as soaring music. The songs, whose contemporary style contrasts with the Victorian setting, are meant to represent the characters' longings, dreams and fantasies.
Campbell said he was "impressed that rock 'n' roll music was added to an old script to make it modern."
Quinn's been active on social media trying to drum up attendance at the show. While the show maybe shocking at first, that helps to engage the audience and make them think ... and she hopes later talk about... the issues raised.
"This shouldn't be taboo for adults to talk about with their children," Campbell said.
The show appeals both "to teenagers who are just awakening to their sexuality and adults who went through this as well," he said.
As college students perched between these two audiences, the BGSU cast is well placed to address both groups, and bring the troubling issues to life on stage.