Realistic and raunchy, UNO Theatre’s production of “Spring Awakening” will take the stage this week. “Spring Awakening” is a rock musical by Duncan Sheik and Steven Sate. The musical chronicles the lives of several adolescents maturing in late 19th century Germany. The students are in the throes of puberty, exploring the mysterious, exhilarating sexual curiosity that often comes with it. However, in environments accom-panied by domination from the adults around them, their veiled understandings inspire intense quests for discovery. The bold realism of this musical is what makes it a common favorite – embodying the importance of sexual awareness and the pains of growing up.
This year’s theater season has a recurring theme of revolution – highlighting stories and characters who stand up for their beliefs and ways of life. In “Spring Awakening,” the views of youth and adulthood clash. Modesty and conservatism are imperative to the parents in the musical, who brush most inclinations of sexual inquiry or distress from their children under the rug. James Mankle is a freshman theater major at UNO. His role in the production is a 15-year-old named Ernst. He said he connects to his character in a way that takes him back to when he was around that age—a time where he only cared about friends, school and relationships.
Being in this musical means a lot to Mankle. It’s his first ever UNO production and to be on stage as a freshman is relatively rare. Beyond this first-time experience, he appreciates the meaning and plot of the musical itself. “The story is so passionate, yet haunting on the meanings of growing pains, life, death, authority, history, love and censorship,” Mankle said. “The lessons you learn will follow you after seeing this production.”
Advertisements for “Spring Awakening” make it clear that it’s not a stereotypical cheery-faced, show-tune laden, happy ending sort of musical. Due to its subject matter, posters around campus come right out and say “this ain’t your parents’ musical.” Sprinkling edgy rock anthems throughout its plot, the production is dark with multiple twists and turns. While rehearsing for the musical, Mankle has learned a lot about discipline. The cast and crew meet Monday through Saturday, spending a total of at least 18 hours together each week. Acting, singing and dancing are fun, he said—but with fun must come focus and dedication to form a quality production.
The most challenging thing for him during this process has had little to do with theater at all. “We have been working on this production since September, and not only is it flu season, but the weather is changing—and as a student you get deep into homework and studying and more rehearsals,” Mankle said. “Not only do I have to maintain my physical health, but my mental health as well.” Directors Doran Schmidt and Wai Yim have guided the cast in a variety of ways. The beginning months of rehearsal included mostly exercises, warm-ups and games to get the cast connected. As rehearsals advance, directors require more intimate and meaningful exchanges between characters.
“I think what helped us the most was when they asked us to start writing letters to each other,” Mankle said. “Our directors not only wanted us to be of the world of ‘Spring Awakening’, but to be in it as well.” The progression of a production is often an amazing transformation. From when the cast receives their scripts to the final curtain call, everyone involved sees things a little differently than before. Over the span of a few months, a cast becomes more of a family – and like any family, there are good times and hard times. Mankle said the relationship between stage managers and directors to the cast has a parental dynamic. Sometimes they will sit the cast down for discussions, almost in a disciplinary sense – but at the same time, they work very hard for everyone. “They always want to see your best, not only as an actor but as a person, too,” Mankle said.
Previews for “Spring Awakening” are Nov. 15-16, with performances Nov. 17-18, 29-30 and Dec. 1-2 in the Weber Fine Arts building theater. All performances begin at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are free for UNO students and $16 for nonstudents, available online or at the box office.