The Meet and Greet.
‘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!
This first week is about discoveries: of the dynamics in the ensemble; the questions we have from the text; the relationships between characters; and the theatrical world we are aiming to create.
The director Ben Kidd introduces some ball games to the company. Bruising memories of playgrounds with footballs come flooding back. Feelings of competitiveness and awareness of our appearance and sporting abilities soon follow, but we all begin to take ourselves a little less seriously, work as a team, scream, shout, dive for the win and go a bit ‘boom town’.
Ben has gathered a playlist from the company of songs that remind us of when we were teenagers and asks us to share stories that have stuck in our minds from those oh so formative years. Apart from being the most embarrassing thing ever. We unearth some significant ideas surrounding the need to challenge rules, the hunger for human contact, lack of consequences for dangerous actions, use of double negatives and the horror of telling all your friends you’ve had sex (when you haven't) then having to explain to your new fundamentalist Christian girlfriend why you made it up, so you can still go out with her!
There will be key moments in the production where we see the characters ‘hanging around’ in the park and Ben is keen to create an opening sequence where the audience are introduced to the characters and the dynamics in the group. He begins this through improvisations, giving the actors individual motivations to bring to the space. We’ve all learnt to be pretty good at the whole social thing, so going back to a place where giving someone a dead arm is a way of saying you like them, feels more like the world of the play. We discover the innate desire to ‘fuck something up’ when you’re a teenager.
Working through the play, we make lists of questions; Are they all in the same year at school? Who is allowed to choose their own clothes? Do they all drink alcohol? Who smokes weed? How do they get the weed? Who has a curfew? Who has started masturbating? Who watches porn? How well are they doing at school? What is a puffa?! A separate list of facts is drawn up to begin answering these questions as well as more detailed personal questions specific to each character.
In this version of the play, the teenage characters also play the adult characters, so having Anya with us for the first week means that both Ben and she can really explore how the doubling will work to best tell the story. There’s a heightened theatricality where the teenage characters are learning how to ‘play’ the adults, and therefore learning how to become adults. As they discover, being an adult isn’t easy. For these young people, the responsibility of knowing what’s right and wrong and the fear of being bad at it creates what we have come to call ‘a glitch in the matrix’ and therefore for them to come out of their adult characters. The sense is ‘I don't know what to do next… I don’t know how to continue with the play’. Various conventions are played around with in the room, with varying degrees of complexity. Sometimes, attempts to explain through words fail us and discoveries are made out of just ‘doing it’. Moments when ‘the penny drops’ prove really satisfying for the company and every time one does, the next penny is quickly tossed up into the air.
It feels a million miles away from a ‘meet and greet’ but so much closer to the challenge Headlong and Wedekind have laid down for us.