The Arizona Repertory Theatre is wrapping up the school year at the University of Arizona with the production of “Spring Awakening.”
The Tony Award-winning musical will be performed by acting students at the Tornabene Theatre on campus from April 7-28.
“Spring Awakening” will be the last of six productions the ART has put on this season, including the musical “Sister Act” and William Shakespeare’s “Richard III.”
UA theater professor Hank Stratton is directing “Spring Awakening” and said he is excited for the actors to take on a show that deals with serious subject matter.
“It’s going to be an opportunity for our students to step outside their comfort zones and do something that feels very immediate to them,” Stratton said.
“Spring Awakening” revolves around a group of teenagers in 19th-century Germany as they deal with the pressures of growing up, experiencing romances with classmates and exploring their sexualities. The musical deals with themes of oppression, sexual awakening, making reckless choices while young, physical abuse, suicide and abortion, Stratton explained.
“I just want to present these images and these ideas as cleanly and straightforwardly as possible,” he said.
Stratton said each year the ART tries to include “emotionally rich” shows such as “Spring Awakening” in its seasons, in addition to more light-hearted productions, so student actors can strengthen their skills in different genres of theater.
“That’s why we did ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ last year,” Stratton said. He said he wanted to give actors different material so they can improve their versatility when it comes to stage acting.
“In ‘Streetcar,’ the themes of alcoholism, women’s rights, domestic violence and sexual assault were written in the 1947 and they’re still important to talk about today,” he said. “We can’t do that unless we present them.”
Stratton said actors aren’t the only ones he hopes are affected by dramatic theater pieces.
“We make audiences uncomfortable,” Stratton said. “We make them think and we make them talk. It’s always great when people walk out of a show talking about what they just saw rather than about where they parked their car.”
Michael Schulz, a junior majoring in musical theater, said he hopes viewers will leave the show having learned something.
“I hope audience members come in with an open mind,” Schulz said. “The lessons in the show are applicable to society today, since we still view certain things as taboo that should be embraced instead of avoided, in my opinion.”
Schulz will play the character Melchior, who is the love interest of the character Wendla.
“Melchior is a rebellious young man whose contempt for society and curiosity about sexuality is what sets many of the play’s events into motion,” Schulz said. “He thinks he knows best, but that doesn’t always prove to be true.”
The music in “Spring Awakening” is heavily rock-based, which Schulz said is interesting to perform since the plot is set over 100 years in the past.
“I’ve loved working on such a complex show, where the time period and the musical styles are two very different things,” Schulz said. “There is a lot of room for creative choices with this show, so it’s been really fun exploring that.”
Senior musical theater major Rachel Franke will play Wendla, who she describes as an innocent “teenager entering a coming-of-age point in her life.”
Franke said the supportive environment of the production has made it easier for the cast to work with the show’s darker content.
“Everyone is supportive, mature and respectful. As actors, we all know it is not easy to be vulnerable in front of a roomful of strangers,” Franke said. “We are all there for each other and most of all make sure we know the importance of not taking the weight of this show into our daily lives outside of the show.”
She said she hopes the dark subject matter will intrigue audiences rather than fluster them.
“It is a show that makes you question the validity of societal structure, which I hope will also feel poignant to our audiences,” Franke said.
Tickets for “Spring Awakening” can be found online on Arizona Repertory Theatre’s website. Audiences should be advised that the show will contain strong language, partial nudity and mature themes.
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