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Theatre department produces first musical in six years

November 12, 2014

Each year, Lewis & Clark’s theatre department produces two plays for its main stage. For the first time since 2008, one of the selections is a musical.

“It comes from feeling a need to engage our students in the most American of all theatre forms, given that we’re situated within an American liberal arts college,” said Associate Professor of Theatre Štĕpán Šimek, director of the performance. “A musical challenges our student actors by requiring them to hone their singing and dancing abilities, as well as to develop a distinct acting technique that’s appropriate to the context.”

This fall’s production of Spring Awakening—adapted from German playwright and poet Frank Wedekind’s 1891 non-musical of the same name—breaks new ground not only with its inclusion of song and dance, but also with its subject matter.

Spring Awakening portrays touchy, heavy, and dangerous situations in honest ways,” Šimek explained. “We decided to make the performances intensely personal for the performers, and the production is very emotionally charged as a result.”

Ben Waggett ’18 agrees. “Spring Awakening brings to light topics that are rarely discussed in everyday life or on the stage, and it does so in a way that encourages the audience to connect with themselves as well as the actors onstage,” Waggett said. “That connection allows the audience to contemplate the kinds of issues we work so hard to suppress on a daily basis.”

This isn’t Šimek’s first foray into directing Wedekind’s work. In 1998, Šimek put his own spin on Spring Awakening for a production at Reed College. He discovered a link between the play’s script and some poems by Wedekind, which he loosely translated into English and had students set to music. The current production, with music by Duncan Shiek and lyrics by Steven Sater, also departs from conventions.

“In a typical musical, the music and the lyrics drive the plot forward,” Šimek said. “In Spring Awakening, music and lyrics stand apart from the action of the play to express the characters’ unspoken inner turmoil.”

For its small cast of 16 student actors, Spring Awakening rehearsals and performances have been uniquely intense and exciting. It is their hope that these sentiments are being conveyed to and experienced by audience members as well.

“It has been tremendously fun to put punk rock hysteria and teenage angst side by side with some very serious topics,” Spencer Mackey ’17 said. “I think it’s important that everyone see Spring Awakening because its message is so universally relevant.”

Katrina Staaf ’16 contributed to this story.

Spring Awakening Theatre Department

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