We caught up with the leading lady Tess Walsh and leading man Douglas Costello of the show that nailed the teen angst genre long before the Twilight gang….
TP: Spring awakening has now been staged by a multitude of companies. What makes your production different?
DC: The show is originally set in the 1800’s, yet our director, Patt Ryan, has adapted it to the early 1990’s. In my opinion, this has translated very well, as many of the issues that ‘Spring Awakening’ deals with were as prevalent in the ‘90s as they were when the story was written. We have also taken a different approach on a few of the songs in the show, trying very hard to enable more passageways for the audience to relate with the characters, issues and messages that are existent throughout the show. An example of this is evident in ‘Touch Me’, a song about the excitement/nervousness of sexual discovery. Although this message is still apparent in some of the characters portrayals, there are characters in our show that bring out a darker representation of the song, which unravels itself as the story progresses.
TW: Another significant change is the removal of hand held microphones. This was done so as to create a better flow between dialogue and song, consequently not allowing the audience to be distracted by the sudden presence of a microphone, ensuring they remain focused on the story being told. Our aim hasn’t been to completely change the show, it’s a beautiful musical and we wanted to respect that, but what we did want to do was to make sure the audience understood the shows messages.
TP: What character do you play and what can we expect from your portrayal?
TW: I play the role of Wendla Bergman, an innocent young girl, from a strict religious family. Full of curiosity, Wendla wants to learn about the realities of growing up; where do babies come from? What are these feelings I am having? What does it feel like to be loved, beaten, alone? Questions, which are quickly dismissed by her mother, who does not want her daughter to be exposed to life’s realities. So in her search for answers she forms a relationship with Melchior, and together they explore the questions of their curious minds. I’ve really tried to emphasis the determined and strong willed side of Wendla, which can sometimes be lost in her innocence. I wanted to show audiences that her naïve nature does not mean she is an idiot, and this is demonstrated when she speaks with Melchior. There is a growth in Wendla that develops from her interactions with Melchior, and I really wanted audiences to see this change in her character as the show progresses.
DC: I play Melchior Gabor. Patt and I have interpreted this character as a well-read intellectual, skeptical of the intention of authority, and strong in his beliefs. I have put forwards these qualities by portraying Melchior as very cool and collected, with a sense of superiority around him, These qualities, although seemingly used to his advantage early on in the show, eventually lead to overconfidence in his understanding of how the world works (bordering ignorance), which ultimately results in an emotional breakdown, contrasting the Melchior you see in the beginning, and the Melchior you see at the end of the show. It’s going beyond the Melchior everyone knows, and seeing the side we don’t usually see. All the most confident people we know have another story that isn’t shared with the rest of the world. I like that I can go into this with Melchior.
TP: What is the most challenging aspect of staging this production?
TW: The content has definitely been challenging to deal with, with key issues of child abuse, sex, homosexuality, teen suicide and abortion; it’s not your typical musical theatre show. I think for all of us, the challenge has been making the show realistic, ensuring that the intensity and emotion necessary for each scene is where it needs to be. Putting yourself in the shoes of someone dealing with these types of issues can be extremely difficult and upsetting. Therefore, really allowing yourself to be that character and experience those emotions is challenging for all. Leading on from this, selling this show to people is a significant obstacle. Often when you tell someone what it’s about, they don’t find it that appealing. The fact that it confronts issues that many would like to avoid talking about, means people are afraid to watch it unfold in front of them.
TP: What has the rehearsal period been like?
TW: We’ve been rehearsing for about three months now, with our first read through back on the 7th of April. Since then we’ve had rehearsal three nights a week, which is pretty hectic but has allowed us as a cast to become a really tight-knit group. All of our rehearsals have been at the theatre, so we’re now completely comfortable with the space, which is very fortunate. For the first month and a half we would alternate working on scenes with our director, Patt, and learning songs with our musical director, Dave. As well as, working on a small amount of choreography, with our choreographer, Steph.
In late May, we went to Mt. Martha for a rehearsal weekend, which proved to be highly successful, and on the Sunday we did our first full run through. From then until now we have been doing full run through, as well as some specific work on certain areas that needed it, and performing at some open mic nights around Melbourne to promote the show.
While it may seem like a long period of rehearsal, it has been perfect for this show considering the themes covered. Giving us the opportunity to become comfortable with our parts, and become closer to each other, which makes the work we do onstage so much easier. With a cast of only thirteen it didn’t take long for us to develop a very strong relationship, and as a consequence has made the whole rehearsal experience so much more enjoyable.
TP: What’s your favourite number?
DC: Coming into the show ‘Don’t Do Sadness’ was my favorite, as I just enjoyed listening to it. However, after the rehearsal period, and running the show multiple times, ‘The Bitch of living’ has taken the title of favourtite. The energy that this number brings makes it very fun to perform.
TW: One of the things I love most about this musical is the score; so picking one song is very difficult. I think I would have to choose ‘Touch Me’, which covers one of the main themes of the show the exploration and struggles of teen sexuality. Not only is it beautiful musically, with powerful solos, gorgeous harmonies, and illustrative lyrics, but also the scene that is played out through the song really adds to the strength and emotion of what is being sung. Our choreographer has added in some contemporary style dancing which helps bring the whole scene and song together. It’s an interesting contrast between the desire for passion and the fear of passion.
TP: This play deals with some serious issues including child abuse and rape. How are you tackling those themes?
TW: The show is extremely intense, and can be emotional draining to run certain scenes multiple times. Luckily our director, Patt, really understood this and was patient with us, allowing us to take breaks when need be. He found a way to push us to ensure we were performing these scenes to the best of our ability but not as far as to make us feel uncomfortable or upset. These issues are obviously very serious, and therefore when running them the cast has a mutual understanding that they must be respected, we all want it to be realistic, and for it to move those who are watching it.
On a personal note, it’s really been about trying to find within myself- from my own personal experiences and those of people I know- the emotion necessary to make the scenes appear realistic. It’s not about changing things so the audience feels comfortable, it’s about representing reality, the show has clear messages to send and our focus has been on ensuring the audience is aware of them. I’ve really had to deconstruct my character to determine her motives, and to correctly represent her reaction to these issues.
TP: What’s your favourite line in the show?
TW: The poetic nature of the show’s script is wonderful to read, there are so many powerful lines throughout the musical, but I’d have to say my favourite Wendla line is when she is speaking to Melchior about her friend Martha being beaten by her father. ‘But I’ve never been beaten- my entire life. I’ve never… felt…anything.’ This is first times Wendla really opens up and shares her inner turmoil with Melchior and the audience, and I think it really is reflective of the whole teen angst idea. She is so tired of being wrapped in cotton wool by her mother, and while most people would see being beaten as a horrible experience, Wendla sees it as a way for her to experience something, to understand these foreign feelings.
DC: No matter how many times I hear, the teacher’s name ‘Knuppledick’ still makes me laugh.
TP: What do you hope audiences will take away from this production?
TW: While of course we’d love for audiences to really enjoy our performance and the musical as a whole, the most important thing for us is that we want to start a conversation. We want people to leave the show talking about the issues that have been tackled throughout Spring Awakening, because despite the fact that the play, this musical was based on, was written in 1891, the themes it covers are still ever-present in today’s society, among the youth. Whether it be young people talking to their peers, parents talking to their children, adults talking to other adults, or people seeking help for issues they may be facing, we want to give people a reason to talk about these problems, and feel comfortable doing so.
For the adults who come along I think a key message to take away from the show is that children need to be listened to, just because they are of a younger age does not mean they do not have something to say, or that what they say has lesser importance.
DC: There’s a famous quote from literature, saying you never truly know someone till you walk a mile in their shoes. What I hope for the audience is for them to get an insight into the hidden stories people have. The turmoil of dealing with sexuality, surviving child abuse, grieving a friend or loved one; I hope this show gives people a chance to better understand what their friends go through behind closed doors. And also, a confidence to start talking more about those issues with people, breaking the social taboo surrounding them.