As spring awakens at the University of Minnesota, an opportunity comes for the Department of Theatre Arts and Dance to define itself.
Through a partnership with Theater Latté Da of Minneapolis, the department brought a main-stage musical back to campus for the first time in four years. Students will perform a rock musical about teenagers discovering sexuality called “Spring Awakening,” based on an 1892 German play by the same name.
“The U doesn’t take advantage right now,” said Carl Flink, the musical’s choreographer and chair of the theater department. “It’s just waiting there to happen.”
Opening night is Saturday at the Rarig Center, and students on and off stage have spent countless hours rehearsing with industry professionals, including director Peter Rothstein, who founded Theater Latté Da.
Rothstein said there was no better place for the musical than on campus because the topic is relatable to the audience.
“College is where you define yourself,” he said, adding that the audience can relate to the characters because they have flaws.
“It’s easier to align yourself with a character that is not perfect.”
Flink said it’s also “an incredible opportunity for students to work with professional actors, design artists and Peter.”
“It’s encouraging to know students can get roles in their first few years out of college,” said Grant Sorenson, a theater senior playing the character Hanschen.
“Rarig’s job is to train actors to go out and have a career,” he said. “This play can put the University’s program in a completely different light.”
Flink said it’s easy to tell that both the students and professional actors are learning from each other because of how close they’ve become.
Larissa Gritti, one of three nonstudent performers, who plays Ilse, said she’s been impressed with the students’ work ethic.
“The students are so passionate and care about what they are doing,” she said. “They might as well be considered professionals.”
Cat Brindisi, one of three professional actors performing, said she doesn’t feel a difference when working with the students.
“We’re all trying to tell the same story and do the same play,” she said. “It is one of those shows where you just get really close with your fellow actors really fast.”
Long nights, little dairy
Preparations for the musical began last summer with scenic design, Rothstein said. Auditions were held last fall, and rehearsals began in late February.
Jack Tillman, a theater arts freshman and one of 14 undergraduate performers, said he went to four callbacks to get the role of Ernst.
“It was really relieving to know that all the work I put into auditioning for the show was worth it,” he said.
For nearly two months, the cast and production staff met each night to prepare the music and choreography. At one point, the cast sat down together at a table and analyzed each scene “so everyone is telling the same story,” Rothstein said.
All of the musical’s elements have come together in the past two weeks. During “tech week,” Rothstein led the production staff in making lighting, costume and music changes, while Flink advised actors on improving their dance movements.
“There are a million decisions to be made regarding the specifics of the play,” Rothstein said. “Every art form is together in the play, and navigating every piece in six weeks is a challenge.”
Rehearsals totaled 25 to 30 hours a week, Tillman said. Last weekend, rehearsal ran from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
“People don’t understand this is like a job,” Tillman said. “It’s not the same hours, but it does have the same time commitment as a regular 9-to-5 job.”
The learning continues past opening night, however. Most college productions run one or two weekends, Rothstein said, but “Spring Awakening” will run four weeks with five shows a week.
“It is a notable challenge to learn how to sustain one’s voice and emotions,” he said.
Rebecca Wilson, an advertising junior, said there are little things that can be done “to make sure we don’t burn ourselves out” before performance time, like not singing at maximum volume to conserve her voice.
Cutting back on dairy helps too, because it prevents a buildup of mucus.
“So you drink a lot of tea to make sure your throat is prepared to sing,” she said.
The directors remind actors to take care of themselves.
“It’s all about sleeping when you can, budgeting your time to get the rest you need and not overexerting yourself,” Wilson said.
Ready for an audience
With preparations nearly complete, attention now turns to performing.
“Everyone will have a connection to at least one of the issues in the play,” Flink said. “It applies to all age groups.”
Tillman and Wilson said they are excited to see what the audience thinks.
“You can rehearse it thousands of times, and it can be the same every time, but once you get an audience in there, it really feels like anything could happen,” Tillman said. “Having a live audience that wants to see the show cannot be replaced.”