Performing Arts Department Chair Laura Rosberg made a bold choice for GDS’ 2021 spring musical: Spring Awakening. The show, written by Steven Sater with music by Duncan Sheik, follows a group of teenagers coming of age in 1890s Germany and addresses depression, addiction, suicide and sexuality.
“It’s about teenagers growing up and discovering things that they aren’t told by their parents,” explained junior Eli Faber, who plays Hanschen, one of the adolescents.
Sexuality is a major theme throughout the score, which features songs like “Touch Me” and “The Word of Your Body,” as well as the explicit “Totally Fucked” and “The Bitch of Living.” Due to the mature content, GDS has advised that only students in eighth grade and up watch the musical, which premiered in a Zoom event on Friday, May 21.
Technical Director Christal Boyd told the Bit that she initially had concerns about the musical’s motifs. Boyd said she had seen the musical on Broadway and was “aware of some of the things that would bring up content warnings.” However, she knew that Rosberg, who has been at GDS for decades, had directed shows with difficult material before, which made Boyd confident that they could pull it off.
Both Faber and junior Felicia Paul, another member of the musical’s cast, had similar reservations after hearing of Rosberg’s pick. However, they grew more comfortable over time with the show’s emotionally fraught nature. “Being more exposed and immersed in what we were doing, I got a little bit desensitized” to the plot’s shocking elements, Paul said. “But the subject matter is still very heavy.”
Rosberg said the musical’s themes are “sophisticated in some ways, because you know there’s a few naughty words, but that has to do with growing up and discovering who you are, not [only] who you are sexually, which everybody gets hung up on.”
When the cast was assembled and began work in February, they had to block scenes on Zoom. Rosberg wasn’t sure then if the performers would be able to film the final show in person, but, after the school’s restrictions loosened, they were. The filming process in the Black Box concluded on May 12.
Rosberg almost foresaw the shift to in-person school, saying that she initially chose the musical in the winter because she had “this weird optimism that by spring we might be beginning to come out of the pandemic, so it had a certain appeal for me that maybe there’s a certain awakening going on.”
However, due to GDS’ COVID restrictions, the actors were still not allowed to touch each other. They were instructed to substitute acts like kissing with sign language gestures and had to rely on their acting skills to show intimacy while maintaining distance.
Paul and Faber expressed appreciation for being able to record the show in person. Faber said of theater, “I do it for the community and I do it for the people. That was really missing in the fall and even in the winter, so it was super nice to have that collaborative in-person space.”
Faber also commented on Rosberg’s commitment to maintaining the musical format. “I have to give Laura a huge shoutout for sticking to her MO the whole time through,” Faber said. “She kept it as a theater show that’s just being filmed. She didn’t try to make it a movie.”
Rehearsing and recording on campus allowed for more of the small moments that bring cast and crew members together. Paul, who plays Anna, recalled an incident while the cast was recording a song called “My Junk.” During a portion of dialogue, an actor’s phone started ringing. “We were all sitting there, and didn’t know if we were allowed to laugh, but then Eli started laughing, and I saw Caleigh [Vergeer] start laughing, and I was like, ‘okay, we’re definitely going to have to redo it,’ so then I started laughing.”
Faber, who also worked on the production’s recording and sound mixing, said he was able to record multiple performers’ voices at the same time on campus, an improvement from the all-virtual shows of the past year.
The show will premiere on a Zoom meeting on May 21 at 7 p.m. The audience will also be able to hear from the designers, technicians, actors and directors. According to the show’s GDS webpage, the recording will continue to be available for a limited time after the premiere. Each student who worked on the show and GDS staff member is eligible for one free ticket, and five-dollar tickets are available on the GDS website for everyone else.
(One of the writers, Margaret Blomstrom, was a member of the scenic crew for Spring Awakening.)