In 1890, Franz Wedekind, an ex-circus performer cabaret singing sex addict, wrote a play called Spring Awakening. It was about teenagers being gay, getting pregnant, crumbling under exam pressure, beating each other, killing themselves and above all being lied to by adults. No one dared to perform it for 15 years. In 2014, setting out to write a new version for Headlong where my brief was to set it in 21st century England rather than late 19th century Germany, I expected a lot was going to have to change. Surely a play about oppressed and repressed 14 year olds in a provincial town during the thriving economy 1890 Germany has little to say to modern day British teenagers?
Walking out onto the stage for the first time you become very aware of the number of seats in the auditorium. In the rehearsal room the observers sit right in front of the actors, but in the Courtyard Theatre they will also be sat ten rows back, on the sides and up in the gallery. These seats mean Technical Rehearsals begin with a heightened awareness of the experience we want our audiences to have.
In any rehearsal process it is a challenge to manage the passing of time and orchestrate those points at which the many elements involved in creating a show are brought into focus. There has been an accelerated effort to do this in week four, as we prepare to leave the familiarity of the rehearsal room for the, as yet, unfamiliar Courtyard Theatre.Three weeks ago, video and sound material that seemed premature to create is created now; the plotting of props that didn’t need setting two weeks ago, are set now and adjustments to staging, that didn’t feel right to decide on last week, are decided on now.
There’s been something very useful for us in changing rehearsal rooms (and cities) as we enter week three. The first half of the process involved lots of necessary and useful improvisations, exercises and exploration; laying down the foundations of the play and ensuring they are strong and solid.
It has been a busy weekend between weeks one and two; Anya has written up a new draft of the script based on the discoveries of week one, Ben has consolidated the facts and questions and the cast have been ‘googling’ specific research topics.
This work is shared on Monday with the whole company. We read through the changes in the script so that they can be heard out loud. It makes such a difference to actually hear them and whether they sound as Anya intended them to. We also go through our list of questions and see if we can now agree an answer.
‘Meet and greets’ feel like something of an adult invention. The morning of our first day, we stand in an orderly circle and tell everyone our names and roles in this production of a new version of Frank Wedekind’s ‘Spring Awakening’ by Anya Reiss, but this is Spring Awakening and far from ‘well behaved’ so Jeremy Herrin’s (Headlong’s Artistic Director) challenge to the company to be radical in our creativity and to stand in the face of status quo, immediately makes us drop one hip, narrow our gaze and grin like the teenage rebels you know we all once were!