WOU play tackles discovery

Polk County Itemizer-Observer
By Emily Mentzer
February 25th, 2014


MONMOUTH — Western Oregon University’s department of theater and dance will present “Spring Awakening,” a rock musical, opening Friday at 7:30 p.m.

The show is not for the faint of heart or the easily offended — the show contains adult content.

“It touches on ideas right now that are relevant and racy,” said Luke Armstrong, a senior with the acting program, who plays Melchior. “It touches on abuse, abortion, sexual identity and finding that in adolescence, and the repercussions of children not being told everything.”

It’s not necessarily about pushing boundaries, but about discovery, he added.

That’s true for more than just the plot of the show, written in the 1890s and adapted to a rock musical by Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater. The musical pushed the boundaries for the actors, too.

“This is the first show I’ve ever had to do nudity for,” Armstrong said. “That’s one reason it’s ideal for college: it tests your ability as an actor.”

Amanda Norman, who plays Wendla, admits she was nervous about the nude scene as well, but it was for more technical reasons.

“I’m not built like a 14-year-old girl anymore,” she said. In spite of the character’s young age, Norman felt it was important to not play her role too naively. “She’s coming into adulthood.”

The rock score represents the thoughts of these teenagers, who are battling a huge disconnect about what they are told and the need to express themselves, said Solveig Holmquist, music director.

The score presented some harmonic challenges for the actors, Holmquist said. And for Norman, who has more experience in traditional musicals, the rock genre has been very different.

“I’m geared toward classical musicals, comedy, shticky,” she said. “This is heavy.”

In fact, if there is any humor in this production, it is always provided by the adult characters, Holmquist said.

The production illustrates two worlds colliding both in plot and performance: adults versus teenagers, and 1890s versus modern rock.

“The music is really contemporary, but the show is all period,” Armstrong said.

The set is basic and simple, comprised of walls, schoolroom chairs and a piano. All the actors are on stage at once, joined by the orchestra, made up of bass guitar, keyboard and a string quartette. But the lighting is more complex, Armstrong said.

“It’s neat to be in two different worlds,” Norman said. “The music is what they’re thinking, more like a monologue, and they shift into the modern world. Now you’re in a girl’s group, or at a rock concert.”

Armstrong encouraged people to come see the musical, but “don’t come with a closed mind. Come with a willingness to see what the kids are feeling.”

Norman agreed.

“It talks about what’s not normally talked about,” she said. “It may be uncomfortable.”

On Stage

What: “Spring Awakening,” directed by Michael Phillips.

When: Friday and Saturday, 7:30 p.m.; March 5-8, 7:30 p.m. There is a special midnight performance on March 7.

Where: Rice Auditorium, Western Oregon University, 345 N. Monmouth Ave., Monmouth.

Tickets: General admission, $12; seniors, $10; students, $7. Tickets are available in advance or at the door at the Rice Auditorium Box Office.

Of note: The show contains adult language and brief nudity that may not be appropriate for a younger audience.

For more information: 503-838-8462.

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