Have you ever wanted to see a live version of Dora the Explorer, American Idol, Kidz Bop, and a Disney Channel TV show all rolled into one? Well, that is probably impossible, BUT this weekend’s production of Spring Awakening, book and lyrics by Steven Sater and music by Duncan Sheik ‘92, is the closest you’re gonna get. Some of the most accomplished theater students at Brown have come together to fill this year’s PW Week in the Space.
Inspired by the work of theater company Fiasco Theater, created by Brown Trinity Rep graduates, Sami Horneff ’12 decided that she wanted to spend her last semester at Brown creating a musical theater company. As Horneff says, “[Brown’s theater department] pushes us to be theater artists instead of just performers.” After setting on Spring Awakening as the show of choice, Sami began to gather performers and artists on campus who were also passionate about creating a student company. The first of these individuals was Spelling Bee director Emily Kassie ’14, and from there they gathered friends, acquaintances, and talented strangers recommended to them by their peers. They set up to create what has now become the Collective Theatre Project, a Brown theater company looking to fill the void between the campus’s theater boards and campus independent work. Their mission is to integrate the cast and crew, creating a collaborative project. Kassie remarked that the Collective Theatre Project is hoping to find and create a passionate theater family.
For their first project, Horneff picked Spring Awakening because of the resonance it had with her while she was growing up. Set in 1890s Germany, Spring Awakening deals with many powerful issues – suicide, abortion, sex, homosexuality, and masturbation (as effortlessly demonstrated by Christian Petroske ’15). Or, as Kassie puts it, “Angst, angst, ANGST! Sex.”
The story really isn’t that far from the reality and suppression teenagers and young adults experience in our world today. Spring Awakening deals with the consequences of a lack of communication between adults and adolescents as well as between peers. As Horneff says, “In our society we have the same issues, but we are repressed by different things – technology, government, insecurity, and a lack of communication… Connecting, that is really hard today. Just as hard as it was then. Just in a different way.” Even with dated costumes, audience goer Max Godnick ’13 remarked the cast “looked like they could be just Brown students.” This could just be a reflection of Brown’s alternative fashion sense (I was wearing the same shoes as performer Christina Ames ’15), but perhaps the connection goes deeper than that. Have these problems and struggles really changed that much since the 1890s?
Although the musical deals with serious and depressing content, the message is that you are not alone. In the community the show forges to create, the actors seek to convey that no matter what happens, you will always have the support and love of your friends, living and dead. This message is only helped by the fact that the show is completely ensemble-directed. In general, this show’s cast is incredibly talented and works together effortlessly. As Kassie says, “Love [for each other] was found on and off the stage.” As an audience member, you can sense the support and community the theater company environment has created. Godnick (the audience-goer) said, “the chemistry and relationships onstage was the most impressive and captivating aspect of the performance.” The two most powerful moments of the show are the ensemble numbers “Touch Me” and “Totally Fucked.” These two numbers juxtapose each other within the show and show the true range of the cast. “Touch Me,” a slower number, is led by the stunning vocals of Harrison Chad ’14. At one point, the cast comes together and moves as a group like a pulsing heart. Here, the audience is drawn in and also feels at one with this cast’s collective heartbeat. In contrast, “Totally Fucked” is a rock song where the cast — you guessed it — swears, throws up the middle finger, and jumps around wildly. Here the anger of male lead Melchior, played by Michael Gale ’14, throws the cast into an epic freakout involving lifts and acrobatics. Watch Lauren Tucker ’12 during this number. You won’t regret it.
Kassie, who plays Ilse, the wild girl thrown out of her home, also choreographed the show. She keeps the energy of the original Tony Award winning choreography, while still adapting it to fit a different theater and interpretation. Kassie makes the most of the number “Don’t Do Sadness/Blue Wind” by creating a powerful moment between her character and Moritz (Ryan Glassman ’15) that wasn’t fully realized in the original Broadway show.
Horneff shines as the female lead Wendla. Horneff called this her “dream role” and I am personally excited that she gets to portray it as her Brown theater career draws to a close. Similarly, the stand-out acting performance has to go to Alex Von Reyn ’12, who plays every adult man within the show. He is able to shift seamlessly between a teacher yelling and beating a student to a crying father at his son’s funeral. Von Reyn, alongside Jenna Spencer ’14, who plays the adult women, works to create a repressed world where the cast’s musical outbursts are imminent, if not necessary.
Horneff is right to call Spring Awakening “an incredibly sexy show.” I don’t know if the cast has sexual tension, but the audience sure feels it. With a sex scene between Horneff and Gale, things will get a little more than steamy in PW this weekend. Don’t worry, everything is extremely tasteful — this isn’t a FemSex video.
The music, directed by Dan Rome ’13, will keep you humming these edgy songs long after you leave the theater. As Godnick says, “The show-stopping numbers were the real show stoppers.”
The show runs March 9, 10, and 11 at 8 p.m. with an additional show Saturday March 10 at 2 p.m. Check the Facebook event for details. Tickets sold out within seconds online, so show up early to line up, as the remaining tickets will be released an hour before each performance. Don’t miss Spring Awakening. If you do, your winter is going to seem a whole lot longer.
What is the future for the Collective Theatre Project? Well, that is currently unclear, but, even with the departure of 2012 graduates, the Collective Theatre Project is looking to have another production next fall. They hope to become a Brown-recognized group.
How can you join the Collective Theatre Project? Again, they aren’t sure, but next semester they will be opening the group up to new members in some way. Stay on the look out! The Collective Theatre Project is here to stay and pledges to bring more musicals to campus.