The stage was sparsely adorned and the costumes reflected days gone by. But Drake students’ performance of Spring Awakening was thoroughly modern and their raucous presence more than filled the stage.
During the first weekend of May, Drake’s musical theatre department collaborated with StageWest Theatre Company to put on a production of the hot musical, just months after the rights became available to the public. They performed at the Civic Center’s Stoner Studio Theater in downtown Des Moines.
“Doing a performance off campus really ups the ante,” says Karla Kash, assistant professor of theatre. “It adds an element of professionalism for the students and exposes them to a larger audience.”
Three of the five shows sold out, while the other two had only a few seats open.
The musical is a coming-of-age story centered around a group of late 19th century German students. The landmark musical is a fusion of morality, sexuality, and rock and roll—which results in a few eyebrow-raising scenes. Kash, who directed the show, was careful in conducting certain scenes in rehearsal, but praised the students, saying they handled the scenes with “dignity and grace.”
“I think it is a very important story to tell and it helps that this musical frames these characters’ hardships in an appropriate light,” says Allie Reidy, a sophomore musical theatre major who played the lead female role of Wendala. “These themes are hard avenues to go down, yet we all at some point in our life face these situations.”
Kash initiated the partnership with StageWest; she has acted in and directed several plays and musicals for the company. Drake and StageWest co-produced another show in 2010,
. One of the top benefits of the partnership was the financial assistance from StageWest. Drake typically puts on only one musical each year because of the high cost and the large amount of work that needs to be put into them. Kash received grants from the College of Arts and Sciences and from Friends of Drake Arts to help fund the show. StageWest provided the venue.
“They make me smile, laugh, applaud, and they instill all of us with energy, enthusiasm, and pride in Drake theatre and the future of all live theatre in Des Moines,” says Ron Lambert, StageWest Theatre Company’s artistic director. “The level of talent and professionalism is outstanding and has certainly been noted by our artistic team and audiences.”
Reidy also praised the partnership, calling it a “wonderful and rare experience to have in an undergraduate program.”
Another unique aspect of the show was that students had the chance to act alongside their professors. Deena Conley, associate professor of theatre arts and department chair, and John Graham, assistant professor of theatre arts, played the various adult roles throughout the musical.
The show was certainly a labor of love. Students rehearsed for three hours every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday for two months leading up to the show. The shows also landed on the weekend right before finals, but that did not damper the students’ enthusiasm.
“It was fun to do a show that’s age-appropriate and that the students were excited about,” Kash says. “And I think it’s important to put on a show that provokes conversations people might not have had otherwise.”