Spring Awakening, musical theatre with Andrea Andresakis

As the opening night for Spring Awakening is around the corner, we are fortunate to talk with Andrea Andresakis, our guest director, on her involvement with the production and advice for students pursuing a career in theatre. The following text was transcribed from a live interview.

(Rehearsal photographs by Nhi Cao)

Nhi Cao: What is your vision for the upcoming production Spring Awakening?
Andrea Andresakis: The way I work is that I do a lot of research. I read the original play, based in 18th century Germany. There are a few differences in the play and the musical; one is that in the play there is a rape scene while in the musical the scene is consensual, and then they also added a scene with incest for the musical, The Dark I Know Well. I also watched a lot of productions and had an idea of the approach that works. In the original Broadway production, which I love, they took out microphones when it came to the singing, and I found that was a bit distracting from the story for me. So Dan and I discussed and decided not to do that break from the story. Besides, I watched the Deaf West production which I like a lot of things that they did. I like the naturalness of it because the script is so strong that you don’t need to add anything; if you just honestly tell the story, it’s all in there. Then, when I saw the pictures of the theater, I got certain ideas. I love the back wall, so I told them that would work very well. Having a turntable also adds a whole other dimension; I have never seen any other production of Spring Awakening with a turntable.
A lot of it is taking what you know from other productions and then mixing it in with the realities of the space, the size of the stage, the students auditioning. Originally we had 12 actors and actresses, then we have 18, now we have just added one more so we have 19. There was one happy accident is that one of the boys was absent for one of the numbers The Mirror-Blue Night. My assistant choreographer, Oriana Golden, went in—she has been going in for all the different parts—and she was so beautiful in that number, the way she was focusing and positioning and creating these lines with her body. I was thinking “I want to put her in that number,” whose lyrics were about “the naked blue angel.” Thus, I created this role that I don’t think has ever been in any production—the naked blue angel. Oriana is a beautifully trained dancer, and then it turns out that she’s necessary because right there in the score the musicians have to change instruments, so there’s this gap which goes from one song to another song. So now she is coming out of the silence, doing a solo before the music starts. It turns out that we really need her and it all came because somebody was absent.

Whitman student Oriana Golden (right) as “the naked blue angel,” an innovative role

NC: From your perspective of a director, what do you think are the challenges to the actors, actresses of this production?
AA: Well the material is very very heavy: there’s suicide, an abortion and a girl’s death, an incest scene, and so I had to talk to the cast about not making those things personal to themselves and finding another thing that they can use to fill in, an “as-if.” So in acting we say “as if”, as if I’m late for the airport and I can’t find my key, so that can be an urgent moment but doesn’t have to be painful. Luckily, the show ends with a hopeful, beautiful song. When we do run through, the cast has that and also this upbeat number called Totally Fucked to let off all the steam. Actually, the actor who commits suicide in the show, he does that number backstage so that he can release all of that ickiness that has been building up. In some other rehearsals when we were working just with the incest scene or the suicide scene, Kenzie, our cast member, would do a release session to help people let all of that go before they went home.
NC: Apart from the happy incident, is there any other favorite moment you had during rehearsals?
AA: The cast has been great, they have been great collaborators, the music department, Jackie (Wood), Paul (Luongo), and Julie (Jones), we have the same approach is that the show belongs to the actors, so they are collaborators. There are some numbers that are technical, like The Bitch of Living, they have to put the bench down at a certain count otherwise it would look sloppy. But even that, I say I can tell you when to put the bench down, but when can you actually do it, you have to turn the bench and sing and put it down, so I would ask them what count makes sense for you and they would agree. And so I’m really proud of that. If someone was absent, somebody would take the lines, they would go backstage and say to one another “I’ll take her lines tonight” and they’ll work that out among themselves. That it gives them a real sense of ownership of the show, that they are comfortable, they know the story they are telling, they can make choices, and so every rehearsal I have seen every moments. For example, there’s an actor, Coby, the other day he was just leaning on the proscenium wall in a certain way. I never noticed that before, and so when they bring these moments to the show, that is really rewarding for me.

NC: How different is it to direct a play in New York City and in Walla Walla?
AA: We have the luxury of working on the stage, you don’t have that in New York because it’s very expensive, and you remain in a rehearsal studio. I’ve directed for festivals and you have 5 hours on stage. You have to load in with all the lighting cues, run the show, and load out in 5 hours. It’s a huge difference. When you get to Broadway, you’ll spend a month in the theater, but until you’re out at that level. We have been on the stage from the first day, a luxury that saves time in the long run, and it allows me to see how to use the space instead of imagining the ramp, the stair and the bridge, we could actually do it. Things happen that would not happen if you were just trying to imagine it in your brain.
NC: What career advice would you give to liberal arts students who want to pursue musical theater or theater in general?
AA: I feel that theater is a craft. I learned first as a performer, a ballet dancer, and then I started performing in lots of musicals. I had a lot of acting training, choreographing, and then because of my acting background, I was able to segue into directing. When I first started making the transfer from performing, I worked as an assistant stage manager, as an assistant director and then as an associate director. It’s a craft; you learn by doing, working side by side with someone. For this production, I have an assistant director, Donovan Olsen. Yesterday, I gave her a scene to stage, that way she has the ability to work but she also has me there as a safety net. I think it’s the best way to send emails: Can I observe the rehearsal process? Can I be your assistant, and that’s how the best people really come up through the ranks. Our lighting designer Jakyung Seo who is on faculty tenured position at Kent State University, she just spent her own money to go to New York to shadow lighting designers. Taking initiative. Don’t be afraid to ask people for advice. People love giving advice. On Facebook, you can actually say hi and ask questions. I think most creative people they want to give back and help the next generations.
NC: Thank you so much for your sharing! I really appreciate the advice and I look forward to seeing the show!
Spring Awakening
Books & Lyrics by Steven Sater, Music by Duncan Sheik, based on the play by Frank Wedekind.
Directed by Andrea Andresakis
May 3 – 6 & 17 – 19, 2018— Alexander Stage
The winner of eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Spring Awakening explores the journey from adolescence to adulthood with a poignancy and passion that is illuminating and unforgettable. The landmark musical is an electrifying fusion of morality, sexuality and rock and roll that is exhilarating audiences across the nation like no other musical in years.