SF State's "Spring Awakening" play showcases students' musical and theatrical talents

SF State's "Spring Awakening" play showcases students' musical and theatrical talents

SF State theater major student, Jonathan Riley rehearses with other student actors before the performance Sunday, April 29. Riley plays Melchior, the lead male role in the musical "Spring Awakening." Photo by Hang Cheng.

An hour and a half before the show, between having makeup artists apply heavy liner to their eyes, even heavier blush to their cheeks and dashing onto the stage for brief sound checks, a troupe of male actors escaped to a room full of chairs. Within moments, they were dancing atop the chairs, wide-eyed, singing into invisible microphones.

They, along with the rest of the cast and crew, were preparing for a performance of “Spring Awakening,” a rock musical about a group of teenagers living in a sexually oppressive environment in Germany at the turn of the 20th century.

The week before Thanksgiving, about 150 students with various majors auditioned to join the cast.

The 19 chosen cast members began rehearsing for the musical three months ago, four hours a day, five days a week, not including several weekend sessions. The musical has consumed more preparation time than any other production at SF State, and is also one of the biggest in terms of the use of technical equipment, according to stage manager Rachel Golden.

Lead actress Julia Letzel started practicing with her vocal trainer last summer in preparation for her audition to play the part of Wendla.

“I wanted to get inside Wendla’s head and understand the character,” said Letzel. “I wanted to play her in a way that’s different than how any other people in professional productions have ever played her.”

Letzel has watched a few different versions of the production since her junior year in high school. She felt that Wendla’s character seemed boring and unappealing to boys, so she aimed to portray her in a quirky and sweet way.

In the first scene, Wendla’s quirkiness is immediately revealed as she begs her mom to explain where babies come from, and remains relentlessly persistent in her inquiry.

“Spring Awakening” is an adaptation of the 1892 German play by Fred Wedekind. It was originally banned for depicting themes such as sexual abuse, suicide and homosexuality.

Although these themes are more commonly accepted in today’s society, the musical remains controversial. Audience members gasped during some scenes, especially the one in which Wendla’s character asks Melchior to beat her with a stick in an effort to make her feel something.

Throughout the musical, the characters struggle with emotional turmoil revolving around those themes. For actor Brennan Cook, who plays Moritz, that did not end when rehearsals came to a close.

“This role has taken an emotional toll on me as a performer,” said Cook. “I remember just after doing some of my scenes or finishing up a rehearsal I would just get so depressed. I would just sit and sulk for like an hour.”

Moritz’s character was emotionally distraught during every scene, which he demonstrated through frantic gestures, and a fast, yet nervous, manner of speaking.

These scenes were further dramatized with the use of 250 stage lights.

The emotional involvement was just one of the obstacles the cast and crew faced during production.

Golden said that involving different groups within the theater department, such as set, costume, light and prop design, was one of the biggest challenges in making the musical come together.

The show will run through May 8 in the Little Theatre located in the Creative Arts Building.

SF State theater student, Will Caldwell puts on a fake mustache before the performance Sunday, April 29. Caldwell plays multiple roles in the musical "Spring Awakening." Photo by Hang Cheng.
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SF State's "Spring Awakening" play showcases students' musical and theatrical talents