Inside look at Spring Awakening

For those on campus who lament the fact that there is only one musical performed at Puget Sound every four years, you are in luck. Director Sara Freeman has chosen contemporary musical Spring Awakening as this year’s Main Stage production, which will open in a few short weeks on campus, fusing morality, sexuality and rock and roll.
A true coming-of-age story, Spring Awakening is a powerful account of teenagers exploring the tumult of burgeoning sexuality in the face of adulthood. The play explores themes of sexual suppression and questions the cost of living in a society that promotes ignorance and denial.
Regarding her choice, Freeman aptly describes the production as a “very charged play…deeply beautiful on many levels. It’s beautiful physically, musically and emotionally. There are times you laugh, but overall it’s a tragedy.”
Written by Steven Sater, with music by pop artist Duncan Sheik, Spring Awakening is an adaptation of German dramatist Frank Wedekind’s 1891 expressionist play. The show made its Broadway debut in 2006 and took the theater world by storm, winning eight Tony Awards. Puget Sound’s production features a cast ranging from freshmen to seniors, with several alumni working behind the scenes in set design and choreography.
I sat down for a few minutes with lead Michael Armstrong, to get a behind-the-scenes look at the production so far. A senior Theatre Arts and Economics double major, Armstrong describes the play as “uniquely challenging.” He explains that while other plays may deal with similar issues, in Spring Awakening, they’re “all piled on top of each other. I don’t know that I’ve ever played a character who felt as much pure joy and utter sorrow in the same show.”
Armstrong describes his process of getting into character as simply working with the script and trying to find motivation behind each line to get into the head of his character, an intellectual teen maturing far faster than his peers.
We also discussed the challenges of the production. I had expected him to talk about the intensity of the subject matter, or perhaps his fairly intimate onstage moments, but Armstrong insists that the acting isn’t an issue; what the lead really had trouble with was the fact that the play is a musical.
Without formal training in dance or singing, Armstrong admits that his biggest hurdle has been incorporating singing and dancing together.
“It changes the way you think about breathing and speaking,” he said.
Why did he choose to do a musical, then? “I’m typically not a fan of musicals, but the music is so contemporary…it’s not your typical Broadway show,” Armstrong said.
He saw the show on Broadway a few years ago and was hooked. “Who knew one day I’d be in it!”
When asked about his thoughts on how Spring Awakening might resonate on this campus, he had to take a moment to think. While most of the characters are high-school-aged, thematically the play touches on a lot of sensitive issues that students may identify with. Armstrong indicates that the incorporation of music gives the characters the ability to lash out against a society seemingly out to get them: “It gives a voice to characters who feel oppressed.”
With opening night only a few weeks away, Armstrong tells me that the cast is making great progress, and is currently getting comfortable running the entire show from beginning to end. The next step is adding microphones and the band.
He’s particularly proud of his favorite number, “Totally Fucked.” Everyone is on stage together, and Armstrong describes it as “being at a rock concert. It’s exciting.” He is grateful to have had formed such a bond with the cast and for Freeman’s supportive direction, important in a show that covers such a range of heavy issues. After performing in a Main Stage production his freshman year, Armstrong feels a bit like he’s come full circle. His advice to aspiring actors: get out there and do the work.
The show opens on March 1 in Norton Clapp Theatre, with 7:30 p.m. shows March 1, 2, 7-9 and a matinee March 10 at 2 p.m. Tickets ($8.50 for students) can be bought at the Information Center or online. Remaining tickets will be sold at the door.