News Column

Theatre UNI: 'Spring Awakening' is frank exploration of teenage sexuality

October 29, 2013


Oct. 29--CEDAR FALLS -- Theatre UNI Director Jay Edelant is the first to admit the juxtaposition between an 1890s German expressionist play and a rock-infused music score "sounds a bit out there. It freaked people out when it first appeared on stage. It was one of a series of anti-musicals, musicals that didn't follow the format of the traditional, big-chorus musicals."

But the original Broadway production of "Spring Awakening" won eight Tony awards, including best musical, four Drama Desk awards and a Grammy for the cast album.

Theatre UNI will present the musical at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Saturday and Nov. 7 to 9 and 2 p.m. next Sunday and Nov. 10 at the Strayer-Wood Theatre on the University of Northern Iowa campus.

The musical, written by Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater, follows a group of teenagers as they struggle with their awakening sexuality and desires and the refusal and embarrassment of parents and teachers to admit or discuss what is happening to their bodies and minds. Frank Wedekind's original 1891 play was banned in Germany at the time because it was deemed too frank in its subject matter -- sexuality, pregnancy, abortion, rape, child abuse and suicide.

Described as a groundbreaking theatrical work, "Spring Awakening" uses contemporary music and choreography to explore 19th century values and repression. It explores the conflicts between children and parents and double standards in morality and sexuality.

The show contains adult themes, language and brief nudity.

"This musical was aimed at a younger audience, using rock music to appeal to them. In the play, the kids are inside their heads and inside their bodies, and they go to each other to talk. Some kids have some information, mostly from books, and one girl gets pregnant and really doesn't know how it happened, for example," Edelnant explains.

Everyone in the cast sings, he said, "and it's mostly at a lower rather than a higher range, so there's a homogenous quality to the singing. The cast is an amalgamation of theater and music majors and a few others, including two freshmen."

Daniel Wells, artistic director of UNI's International Dance Theatre, choreographed the show based on eight movements of German Expressionist dance.

Digital technology and special lighting techniques are used heavily in this production. Lighting design is by Chris Wood, a freelance designer, who worked on a previous version of "Spring Awakening."

"Every show is different, but there are bits and pieces I've pulled from last time and modified them to fit this production because Jay has a different way of telling the story," said Wood.

Guest Carsten Earl from Luther College is working on projection design, and UNI music professor Rebecca Burkhardt is directing the five-member pit band. Scenery design is by Mark A. Parrot, assistant professor of design and production.

Costumes are designed by Amy Rohrberg, associate professor of design and production. Sound design is by senior theater design and production major Shawn Poellet and projection support is provided by Aharon Moody, also a senior theater design and production major.

The production stage manager is Jessica Kray, a senior theater major and Stage Inc. scholarship recipient.


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