Spring Awakening introduces TLU Dramatic Media talents to San Antonio

5/21/2013
When Asia Ciaravino, CEO of The Playhouse San Antonio, heard longtime friend and former University of Incarnate Word classmate Shannon Ivey was heading back to the San Antonio area to join the dramatic media faculty at TLU, she immediately called to see if Ivey would direct the production of Spring Awakening slated for spring 2013.
 
Given the subject matter—or every polarizing issue known to man, as Ivey put it—Ivey warned that she wasn’t going to pander and gladly accepted the opportunity to direct the show and bring in the rest of the TLU dramatic media faculty as the design team. With David Legore on media and Terry Price designing the set and lights, the talents at TLU would be getting great exposure in the San Antonio theatre scene, including the acting talents of TLU students Ora Cevallos ’15 and Bryan Mittelstadt ’15 and alumnus Brian Hodges ’12.
 
Mittelstadt who plays Georg, the boy who lusts after his piano teacher, was excited about the potential for the show to create a bridge for dialogue with conservative groups. “There are so many hot button issues hit in this play that I feel that there’s no way you can’t be effected by it,” he says. “It’s the human experience, the thought of pain, that we can all connect to and grow from there. Cevallos who plays Martha, the girl abused by her father, also saw this as a window of opportunity to talk about uncomfortable issues. “It’s not forcing you to make a political statement, it’s the story of the characters’ lives,” she says. “It’s about getting the story out there and getting sensitized to what they go through.”
 
Spring Awakening is a modern rock musical based on the 1890s play The Awakening of Spring: A Tragedy of Childhood by German playwright Frank Wedekind. The themes of teenage sexual awakening, teen pregnancy, abortion, prostitution, rape, child abuse, homelessness, teen suicide and homosexuality are taken from the original century old script, but are still extremely relevant today. Those issues tug at Ivey’s heartstrings. “What moved me about this particular piece is that it’s still killing our kids,” says Ivey. “Every single one of these issues is still killing our kids. It was killing our kids then and it’s killing our kids now.”
 
It was her integrity as a theatre artist coupled with her voice as a mother and woman and advocate for abused and abandoned children that appealed to Ciaravino and made Ivey the right director for the show. “This show allows her to take risks and push the envelope,” says Ciaravino. “You have to do those things to get closer to the truth. We’re losing lots of kids due to these issues and this is a perfect platform to talk about it and open up a free dialogue about the different subjects teenagers deal with on a daily basis. Theatre is supposed to help people talk and connect with the community. No other musical helps do this.”
 
The script exists in two worlds: the strict, late 19th century world of adult oppression represented by the text and costuming and the youthful, modern and provocative world of the teenagers represented by the music and design. In designing the set, Price distinguished these two worlds by separating the stage into sections—a center main platform for the youth, the side platforms for the world of the adults and the downstage alcoves of the outcasts. Price also kept coming back to an image that was first impressed upon him when reading Wedekind’s original script in undergraduate school—the tree. “To me, the tree represents freedom and the organic nature contrasting against the strict order of the adult world,” explains Price. His idea of the crooked forest, the undulating sensual expression of branches swaying in the wind and bracing against the torrent gusts, materialized as an abstract tree with white spandex fabric stretched across a 40 feet by 10 feet rebar frame of criss-crossing branches which served as the projection surface for Legore’s media design.
 
In essence, the tree becomes a member of the cast, evoking emotion and alive with movement during the musical numbers in the production. This is achieved by incorporating visual media to act as a sensory type of experience for the audience while supporting the text and music. “We wanted to treat this like another sensory layer that can integrate as seamlessly as possible into scenic design, the music and the storytelling,” Legore explains. “We wanted something that could be responsive and flexible and in the moment, which is one of the challenges of live theatre to be responsive to spontaneity.” At an early production meeting, Legore talked about simulating the experience at a nightclub where the video would pulse to the hard driving rhythm of the rock anthems. For the media to feel more integrated into the show, a video jockey was placed on stage in the base of Price’s tree to manipulate iPad visualizers live during the performances. Percussionist and December 2012 TLU graduate Kenny Mittelstadt was Legore’s first call for the role of VJ because of the immense talent he showed during his tenure at TLU. Legore used two primary programs, UZU and Thicket, and three projectors, two behind the tree to create a mirror image symmetrical image and one in the front of the house for the more traditional projections that cap the show. Another alumnus, Justin Howerton ’12, served as the light board and projector operator for the production.
 
In order to incorporate the themes, imagery of the show’s subject matter in the form of current statistics and photography by Zoe Pittman were projected on the scrim prior to the beginning of the show and during intermission. Ivey wanted the textual media to be a call to action and it does just that in “The Song of Purple Summer.” In this final number, the audience is confronted with the faces and names of youth who have died as a result of bullying, abuse and sexual assault made all the more poignant after the action of the play and the mesmerizing visualization of music and raw emotion. “I am a firm believer that story is the easiest way to change things,” says Ivey. “Otherwise we wouldn’t be in this line of work.”
 
Ciaravino expected audiences to be both surprised and excited about the media integration. “By bringing in media, we’re able to take theatre out to the community. This media fusion allows theatre to continue to be relevant, which is important to move forward and remain competitive in the marketplace. I want to continue this relationship and make it huge by doing a production each year with the collaborative team at TLU and raise bar on quality, professionalism and media. We’re open to bringing multimedia into anything and updating and making things more current and relevant is the ideal direction.
 
As department chair, Legore echoes the benefits of the partnership as students are able to gain practical and professional experience through internships at The Playhouse as well as on stage working with seasoned actors, crew and production staff. “The most important benefit from the partnership has been the networking opportunity for students and recent alums, and the opportunity to collaborate with peers in the field off campus,” says Legore. Price agrees: “We want this to be a lasting partnership that includes design, directing and internship opportunities at The Playhouse, but also opportunities to bring high caliber productions to Seguin and TLU.” Ivey is excited to introduce and share TLU’s innovative approach to theatre with the greater San Antonio community in hopes of raising the bar, encouraging dialogue and promoting tolerance.
 
“I’m extremely grateful for this partnership,” says Ciaravino. “It allows us to move into the next generation of theatre and we can’t do it without TLU.”
 

 
Spring Awakening will play at the Russell Hill Rogers Theater at The Playhouse until June 9, 2013 with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. on Sundays. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit www.theplayhousesa.org.
TLU faculty, staff, alumni and students may receive a discount when you buy online and enter the coupon code: TLUSA2013.
 
TLU Dramatic Media senior Alyssa Tieman ’14 was hired to make a promotional video for The Playhouse’s production, which was then featured on Broadway World San Antonio’s Stage Tube. Watch the video on YouTube. Disclaimer: this preview is rated R for intensity and graphic nature.