Kent State University's School of Theatre and Dance continues its 2012-13 season with "Spring Awakening," a rock musical about first loves, youthful passions and lasting regrets.
"Spring Awakening" is based on the German play by Frank Wedekind and focuses on teens coming of age in late 19th-century Germany. The musical won eight Tony Awards in 2007.
Senior musical theatre major Meredith Kochan will play Wendla.
"'Spring Awakening' is an absolute dream come true for me," Kochan said. "I've wanted to do this show since it came out, and I actually got called back for the Wendla understudy on Broadway when I was 17. After that, I never stopped thinking about the show and wishing I would have the chance to someday be in it."
Kochan's character, Wendla, is a young, naïve and curious girl who falls in love with her lifelong friend, Melchior Gabor, played by senior theatre studies major Michael Glavan.
"Wendla has such a thirst for knowledge and for life experience, which ultimately gets her into trouble because she seeks her knowledge through experience and it has some serious consequences," Kochan said. "But Wendla always means well and loves her Mama and her friends very much and she also finds that she loves Melchior very much."
"Basically it's about a group of teenagers in 1891 discovering and exploring their sexuality," Kochan said. "It's really interesting because the script is set in the language of the day, but the music is contemporary rock. When we break into song, it becomes this whole other rock 'n' roll world and we keep going back and forth between this lantern-lit world of Germany to this very electric world. It's like the music allows us to break away from the rigidity of society and become momentary rock stars."
Although they are generations apart, Kochan said that her and Wendla have some similarities between them.
"We both have this insane thirst for knowledge," Kochan said. "As soon as I was cast, I read every book about the production of 'Spring Awakening' on Broadway that I could get my hands on. I looked up what was going on in Germany in 1891 and I researched references to the Bible and to Shakespeare, which really inform my decisions as the character."
Kochan said one of her biggest challenges is transforming from a 23-year-old in the year 2013 to a 16-year-old girl in 1891.
"This role has really challenged me and in the best way possible," Kochan said. "It's hard to figure out how to think in a society that doesn't talk about important things. That mind set is entirely different. I am so much more open as a person than Wendla is, simply because in her society it isn't acceptable to say how you feel. I just really had to get in Wendla's head in every situation in the show, from the way she walks and the register in which she speaks to her nervous habits and the way she twirls her skirt when she's happy about something."
Kochan said Michael Rupert, Tony Award-winning actor and director of the production, has helped her get into character.
"I am so grateful for the opportunity to be able to work with him," Kochan said. "He is very intelligent and has so much experience as an actor that it makes for an incredible director. He just really helps me to think creatively during rehearsals."
Visiting director Rupert is an actor, director and composer. He has appeared on Broadway in "Legally Blonde," "Ragtime," "Pippin," "City of Angels" and the 1986 revival of "Sweet Charity." His directing credits include "Thrill Me" with York Theater Company and "Breaking the Code" with Weathervane Playhouse.
"A couple of years ago, a good friend of mine, John Hedges, who runs the Weathervane Playhouse in Akron, asked if I could direct a play for him," Rupert said. "While I was here, John took me to me to Porthouse Theatre and I met Kent's program director, Terri Kent. I got to spend time with the students and watched them perform. When it was over, I told Terri I was very impressed with the students and if in the future there was any time I could come and direct the students in a musical, I would love to do that. Last fall, Terri said they were going to do 'Spring Awakening' and here I am."
Rupert and the students have been working on this production since September of last year.
"In September, I came out to have my first meeting with the designers and I spent a couple of days with the production team and the set designer," Rupert said. "We held auditions over Thanksgiving and I came here about five weeks ago to start rehearsal. We have all worked hard. "It's a lot of coordinating between designers, choreographers, the music director and the orchestra. That's one of the biggest chores a director has, is being the captain of the ship and making sure everyone is on the same page in terms of what the vision of the show is."
Rupert said he has gotten to know the students well during his time directing.
"I spend time talking to the students about themselves, from how they were raised to what their families are like," Rupert said. "'Spring Awakening' is much about families and in rehearsal I would draw on each of their individual stories to incorporate that into their characters to help bring them to life."
Rupert said he has had a terrific time working with the students.
"I knew coming in that I was going to be working with really talented students," Rupert said. "I have done quite a bit of directing across the country in universities and colleges and this is one of the strongest groups I have worked with. The students are very focused and committed to doing the show and it's made my job a lot easier."
Rupert said he hopes the audience enjoys the production as much as he has enjoyed working on it.
"I hope they are moved by it and hopefully they will just be engrossed in the story and these characters that I find so fascinating," Rupert said. "Even though this isn't a light comedy, it's a dark, serious show, the main job we have when we put anything up on the stage is to entertain, so people will hopefully be entertained by the story."
"Spring Awakening" will run Friday through Feb. 24 in Kent State University's E. Turner Stump Theatre at the Music and Speech Building, 1325 Theatre Drive. The Sunday and Feb. 24 performances will be held at 2 p.m., and all others will be held at 8 p.m.
Tickets are free for full-time KSU students, $8 for non-KSU students with valid ID or students under 18, $14 for KSU faculty, staff, $12 for seniors and $16 for general admission.
Tickets are available at the performing arts box office, located in the lobby of the Roe Green Center in the Music and Speech Building.
For more information, call 330-672-2787 or visit theatre.kent.edu.