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Revealing humanity’s flaws on stage in Eagle-Vail

Charlie Owen
Vail CO, Colorado
HL Spring Awakening 03 TS 03-03-08
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If art imitates life, what does it tell us when a play is banned because of controversial content? That’s like looking in the mirror and noticing a huge zit on the end of your nose ” and then breaking the mirror.

Before it became a monstrous success on Broadway, the original version of the play “Spring Awakening” (written in 1891) was banned in its home country of Germany because it contained subject matter such as rape, abortion and suicide among teenagers. Or one could say its major fault was honesty. Most missed the point that the main idea behind “Spring Awakening” was opening a discussion between confused youth and misunderstanding adults. Well, now it’s back with a new rock ‘n’ roll musical score (by Duncan Sheik), ready to reveal humanity’s flaws once again.

For this years Spring Showcase the Vail Performing Arts Academy worked with its students ages 14 to18 on selected scenes from the updated “Spring Awakening.” Annah Scully, executive producer for the VPAA, made it clear that it will be a PG-13 performance due to the subject matter.

“We wanted to give the older kids something they could totally relate to and be passionate about,” Scully said.

The awakening in the play’s title refers to what teenagers experience when they begin confronting issues like authority, sexuality and mortality.

“It’s all the questions that teenagers have asked forever represented in this show,” Scully said.

And even though the play takes place over 100 years ago, everything in it is still socially relevant ” just watch the evening news.

Anyone who thinks that teenagers aren’t ready or capable to deal with the concerns in “Spring Awakening” need only talk to the students involved in the production. Their level-headed coolness on the subject matter of the play shows an ability to understand and a yearning to discuss such controversial matters.

The students participating in the showcase are thrilled to be challenged with roles and material much more dense than what they are used to. Battle Mountain High School senior Sean Pack plays Moritz Stiefel, a troubled teenage student facing puberty and bad grades. Stiefel eventually commits suicide. Sounds depressing, right?

“It’s actually a really fun role to play. Yeah, because he’s really eccentric also, he’s in no way normal and he gets all the rock songs because he’s always so emotional with what he’s talking about,” Pack said.

After watching the play on Broadway, Pack said he was able to combine elements of what he saw in that production with his own experiences and emotions to develop a unique persona for Stiefel.

Another BMHS student performing Sunday night is Sarah White who plays Martha, one of four girl friends in the show. White acknowledged that even though they had to water down the play, some of the topics are a bit heavy-handed for younger audiences.

“Teenagers are still struggling with problems in terms of their relationships and finding themselves and friendships … it’s like the struggle of growing up in a place where your parents don’t really accept what you’re doing with your life,” White said.

Underneath the plays gloomy topsoil hides a message of hope and humanity. There is singing and dancing, guitars and drums, and in the end, lessons are learned. At the core, it’s still a Broadway show.

Vail Performing Arts Academy Artistic Director, Colin Meiring, knew after he saw the play performed on Broadway that he wanted to bring it, at least in some fashion, to the valley.

“It just struck a chord with me. It was banned for a hundred years and there’s nothing really that bad in it, I couldn’t believe it, you know, there’s nothing really groundbreaking about it. It’s something we’ve all dealt with,” Meiring said.

Nancy Dowell, mother of another student in the play, Jackson Dowell, said that playing a role that deals with common issues most teenagers face can only be good for her son.

“I think they’re probably fully aware of all those topics so I don’t really, I guess, see any kind of problem with him being involved,” Nancy Dowell said. “In general, I think he’s enjoying the challenge of it … both personally and as an actor.”

Meiring was in charge of choosing the sections of the play for the students to perform. He said the original production is too long and had to be chopped down to fit the available rehearsal time. Also, Meiring said he had to find a way to stay true to the source-material while toning down its graphic content.

The final product of everyone’s hard work will be seen tomorrow night and Meiring is confident that the show will be a success.

“I’m really impressed. These kids have definitely stepped up to the plate and they’ve given us the emotional acting that they need to. It’s out of their comfort zone for sure, and they’ve really tried hard,” Meiring said.

High Life writer Charlie Owen can be reached at 748-2939 or cowen@vaildaily.com.


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