The New Theatre Project stages original show inspired by Wedekind's "Spring Awakening"
Don’t go to “The Spring Awakening Project” — created and staged by a new local company called The New Theatre Project — expecting to see the recent Tony Award-winning musical, with a rock score by Duncan Sheik.
No, if you attend “Project,” something decidedly different lies in store. For director (and TNTP founder and artistic director) Keith Paul Medelis, 22, has urged his actors, since they were cast in January, to write and submit journal entries inspired by the themes explored in Frank Wedekind’s original, 1891 play “Spring Awakening,” which explores the sexual confusion and longing experienced by a group of German adolescents. (The show is for mature audiences.)
“(The actors) have been so willing to be completely honest and open,” said Medelis. “They’ve literally written hundreds of pages about their lives, and a lot of that has been woven into the fabric of the show.”
Playwright Jason Sebacher, currently working in Chicago, has been charged with synthesizing the material into a workable script.
“Think of it like a car,” Sebacher said of the show in an e-mail interview. “The destination of the Wedekind text and ours is the same, but I built the car, the director drives, and the cast fills it. The journey is completely different. We are using the old text more as reference and reminder. We are staying true to the spirit of the original: shining light into the dark places of our society, showing things that nobody sees and nobody wants to think about, yet which exist.”
The original Wedekind text focuses on two main plot points: the rape of young Wendla by a boy named Melchior; and the suicide of a young man named Moritz. TNTP’s “Project” retains these storylines while expanding on others — specifically, the role of Ilsa, a “ruined” teen outcast who’s left to live among the bohemian crowd; and Hansy and Ernst, two young men who harbor a secret attraction for each other.
In the musical, as with Wedekind’s original script, Hansy and Ernst have one scene in which they act on their emotional and sexual impulses. But Sebacher finds the scene’s placement both telling and troubling.
“The scene in question occurs among the rapes, suicides, and abortions of the second act, in which all of the fatal consequences of (the characters’) parents' mis-raising them comes to a head,” Sebacher said. “ What I'm interested in is liberating these two and giving them their own love story, full of the same tragedy and pathos of their heterosexual counterparts.”
“Project” fits into TNTP’s larger mission, which entails staging new and experimental works, including the re-invention of classical, established texts. The company will soon announce the lineup for its inaugural season, with performances likely to be planned in both the Ann Arbor and Detroit area; and its funding currently relies upon a private funding and ticket sales. But the company’s regard for unconventional theater also extends to performance spaces; for “Project,” an initial run will happen at Performance Network, but then an additional run will happen at local garden store Pot & Box.
“I’m more inspired by spaces that are not theater spaces,” said Medelis. “Big, open spaces, warehouses — I love places like that. They’re tougher to work in, since they don’t have seats, don’t have lights, so you have to come up with creative solutions for figuring that out. But that’s what I like about them, too.”
For now, TNTP is feverishly working on “Project”’s ever-evolving script, with packages, mail (the electronic and snail variety), long phone calls, and Skyped discussions linking Sebacher in Chicago with Medelis in Ann Arbor.
“My distance creates an interesting dynamic,” said Sebacher. “ They send me their lives, their most personal memories, fears, and hang-ups, and I send them back their lives as art. It sort of reminds me of having an artistic pen-pal, or of those people who play chess by mail.”
Sebacher and Medelis found the oldest English translation of Wedekind’s “Spring Awakening” that they could find (from 1906), and while Sebacher deems the script “nearly unreadable,” the team has only used the script as a basic blueprint, filling out the storylines with the cast members’ personal insights and experiences.
“There is a lot of courage in this, but much anonymity, too,” said Sebacher. “The cast does not make confessional monologues directly to the audience; their experiences are woven into the fabric of the story, making them essentially anonymous.”