Theatre Department hosts first musical

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Old play, timeless themes, and don't forget the sex talk/Jeremy Davis

Spring Awakening takes the stage

This week the University of Regina Theatre Department opened their new season with a production of Spring Awakening, a musical rooted in German playwright Frank Wedekind’s Spring Awakening. The play was originally performed in 1906 and the Broadway musical made its debut in 2006.

The show is directed by Media Art and Performance lecturer Art Babayants. He pointed to the timeliness of the themes of the musical as a reason for its staging this season.

“[…] the most important [reason], is because we’re in Regina and we are in a city that has a lot of potential but refuses to change and values conservatism, and the play written in 1891, a hundred and thirty years ago, seems to be completely relevant to what is happening here right now. We are facing the same issues of students not getting proper sex education, or just general education about what’s happening to their bodies, what’s happening to their psyche, when they become adolescents. We are facing issues of teenage suicide, teenage pregnancy, those issues are not gone even though we are 130 years away from the play.”

Babayants gave credit to student dramaturge Rachel Walliser as the person to ask when prodded for a synopsis of the play, but obliged.

“The level of the play is a conservative German town back at the end of the nineteenth century where fifteen year-olds go to school and where they’re taught the Bible, where they’re learning Latin, they’re learning by wrote, they’re being abused by teachers who have an enormous amount of power and any attempt to ask questions, challenge authority is crushed immediately. Parents follow suit and they do pretty much the same with their children and in that environment we meet a character who is funny, witty, who is not afraid to challenge authority and we see what happens when he starts challenging authority.

Nathan Sgrazzutti, a fourth year business student who plays Melchior, said that the show has “really reignited a flame” for theatre in him.

“It’s been an incredible learning experience for me. The vast majority of people taking part in this show plan to make a career of their talents in theatre. It’s exciting to work with them and I’m always invigorated by their work ethic and commitment to their performances. It has really reignited a flame in me for theatre.”

Babayants said the show has many benefits for the students involved including: exposure to a different style of theatre and its complexity (in this case Germany’s epic theatre), the chance to use a space as expansive as the University of Regina’ Main Stage, and the opportunity to sing with a live band instead of a simple backing rack.

“One [reason] is that it’s excellent material, it’s a fantastic play that was turned into a musical. So, when we work with students we have to choose good quality so that students could learn from us, but they could also learn from the material.”

Babayants pointed to the specificity of the text as a reason for his choice.

“So, the text itself teaches students how to act and how to act with a lot of precision because there is no space, it’s not a Chekov’s play where there are like five acts and you can screw up in act one and then make things better in act two, and you can still show the subtext, the development of character.”

From a musical perspective, Babayants called the show and production that “changed Broadway” with songs holding the language of today’s teens alongside the elevated speech of the dramatic text.

“This musical doesn’t hide this divide, in fact it emphasizes this divide so there’s a lot of theatricality and we have an amazing theatre where we can show this theatricality, so I thought, ‘Well, why don’t we do that.'”

The show is the first musical to be hosted on the Main Stage by the department and features a live band made possible by the space’s design, something that Sgrazzutti said is an important milestone for the theatre community in Regina.

“There is a massive musical theatre community for youth in the city and by doing a musical I really think the U of R is finally keying into an incredible opportunity to entice more of our talented youths into remaining home to pursue their theatre education rather than abroad.”

This isn’t the first time that Wedekind’s work has made its way to campus. U of R alumnus Ken McLeod directed an adaptation of Spring’s Awakening undertaken by himself Elizabeth Leavitt, and Jeremiah Munsey in 2006, but Babayants said the two productions are vastly different and the previous show did not factor into his decision to direct this year’s production. Joseph McLellan is a theatre student who took part in both productions.

Spring’s Awakening was my first U of R production. The director, Kenn McLeod, focused a lot of time on group cohesion throughout the rehearsal process, using a variety of drama games to help foster play and trust within the cast [. . .] Spring Awakening the Musical is my final production at the U of R and it is my first musical. The director, Art Babayants, focused rehearsal time on artistic movement and experimentation with technology. This time around, I have a greater understanding of the production process and have learned acting technique from a number of different instructors. I have the opportunity to incorporate what I have learned throughout my education here at the U of R and beyond into this fall’s production.”

Sgrazzutti also pointed to just how vital the message of the musical is for Regina’s theatregoers.

“I believe Spring Awakening is crucial for a Regina audience as it covers topics that many could consider inappropriate for the stage. Suicide, Mental Health, Teenage Sex, Sexuality and identification… all of these topics are ones young people struggle with every day and yet even in today’s society there is heated debate on whether or not these topics should be covered in curriculums at school or even spoken of openly in the home.”

Spring Awakening runs Oct. 30 to Nov. 3. Shows start each evening at 7:30 on the Main Stage in the Riddell Centre, except for a Sunday matinee at 2. U of R students get in free with student ID, Adults are $25, and students/seniors are $15. Tickets are available at https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/4403785?fbclid=IwAR1wGKDDfNGGaJhDutg8V8hsAdgUdjTvtLBwGBVeHa7QKS0AmekayY-Xc4g or at the theatre box office.

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