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L.A. Beat

Spring Awakening explores timeless subject matter

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While times have changed a lot since 1891, the basic issues facing teenagers  have not. That is the Director Jay Whitehead shows a model of the Spring Awakening set. Photo by Richard Amerymessage behind The University of Lethbridge production of Frank Wedekind’s play “Spring Awakening,” which takes place at the University of Lethbridge Theatre, Nov. 23-27.

“It’s very creepy,” described director Jay Whitehead noting it is basically about a group of 12-14 year olds coming of age and who are experiencing their sexual awakening through  exploring their bodies and each others’ while the adults, parents and teachers  do their best to prevent it with disastrous results.

“Our concept is very surreal,” Whitehead said, adding the stage is dominated by a gigantic 20 foot chair. It, along with the extensive use of masks, adds to the surreal aura of the production.

“We have two deaths in the play. Two young people die because of the way this has been manifested and another one of the characters ends up in prison,” he continued adding the only characters who nothing tragic happens to, is the gay couple.

Whitehead said the play, written in 1891 was way ahead of it’s time. It was so controversial it wasn’t even staged for the first time until over a decade later.
“I like plays with a social conscience. I like plays that allow people to think. I just liked the drama of the subject matter and the  bravery of the characters,” Whitehead continued adding though  it is a drama, he has modernized the production with new music and choreography  by New West Theatre veteran Jessica Ens. He has also punched up the comedic aspects of the play.

“Puberty has a lot of natural comedy to it, especially as related to this particular translation (from the original German by Jonathan Franzen),” Whitehead continued.

Camille Pavlenko sports a mask during Spring Awakening rehearsals. Photo by Richard AmeryOver the past six weeks, the 21 cast members  have been rehearsing, Whitehead has enjoyed watching the cast embrace the subject matter.
“It’s been wonderful working with a  cast of young people and observing how excited they are by the content because it relates to their lives,” he continued praising the set designers and builders as well.

 Fourth year drama performance major Camille Pavlenko, who has played vastly different characters in two local independent films,  an accidental murderer in “Dilemma,” and a crazed commando in “Hoodoo Voodoo,” as well as worked with Whitehead in “Festen” last year, is enjoying playing yet another vastly different character in “Spring Awakening” — one of the parents, Mrs. Bergmann.

“I always like to play completely different characters,” Pavlenko said adding she is looking forward to being able to work with a variety of different masks on stage from big ones which wrap right around the heads of the actors to smaller, handheld masks.

“Even though it was written in 1891, these issues are totally relevant to people today,” she continued adding she is enjoying the surreal aspects of the play.

“I’m looking forward to opening night like nobody’s business,” she said.
“I like to be able to play really different characters. So I’m really enjoying this play and it is great to work with Jay again like we did in Festen.”

Tickets are $15 Regular, $10 student/senior. Strong subject matter and very mature content. The show is a t 8 p.m. each night in the University Theatre, Nov. 23-27.

— By Richard Amery, L.A. Beat Editor

A version of this story apears in the Nov. 17 Lethbridge Sun Times

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