During a time of uncertainty and isolation, the App State theatre program has proved that the arts can continue to flourish. After its cancellation, eight students from the musical production “Spring Awakening” took initiative to produce a virtual performance of “The Song of Purple Summer” to share with the community.
“Spring Awakening” is based on growth and coming of age themes. Casey Huntley, who plays Anna, said the production is personal to the cast’s individual journeys.
“The theme was growth or coming into yourself; most of us are seniors, so it’s sort of coming into our own story,” Huntley said.
Zoe Dean, who plays Wendla, said the production is a critique on societal issues today in comparison to past issues.
“Because it goes from old to modern, it shows that the past is still prevalent in society,” Dean said. “It’s a critique on society and how we treat kids and how we don’t inform them of things we should know. We are going to be adults one day, and we should know what we are getting into.”
Andre Braza, who plays Moritz, said the play gives a good perspective of the differences between the life experiences and viewpoints that younger and older generations hold.
“It’s set in the late 1800s, and we are given a lot of modern rock music, which sets a really nice juxtaposition between the adults and young people; how we both see life so differently, and we have so much stuff that’s so different, but it means so much to us in the same way,” Braza said.
When the cast learned they would not be able to perform the production on stage, they wanted to figure out how they could still share their work. Huntley gives credit to fellow cast members Mack Debernardo and Devon Bucey for pushing the cast to find opportunity in the cancellation.
“We were all pretty down, but having Mack and Devon to push us by getting the video and how it came together, we had to force ourselves to get over the hard stuff that happens in our life and push forward,” Huntley said.
Bucey said they were expecting to still put on the show in the theater, but had to make adjustments when the COVID-19 pandemic worsened.
“I had this idea that we were all going to get together and rehearse by ourselves, and in a few weeks, everything will blow over, and things will go back to normal. That’s nowhere near what happened,” Bucey said.
Sophie Weiner, who plays Adult Woman, said continuing the production was beneficial to her peace of mind during this quarantine.
“That video has helped my mental health so much by just watching it over and over again,” Weiner said.
The production was completely put on by the cast. Debernardo, who plays Otto, said despite initial doubt, production members came together to make the virtual song a success.
“Me and Devon did a lot of the heavy lifting, but it’s not possible without everyone else,” Debernardo said. “There was a Zoom call with the cast after it got canceled, and it may have been the most depressing any of us have been, and we were sitting there talking about ways it could still happen. I was sitting there like, ‘Can we do something, or not?’”
Dean said the song was a perfect reflection of the hardship everyone is currently experiencing and hope for the future we should all hold on to.
“This was the cast’s way of walking out to the audience and saying that was a story, we are actors, and it happens,” Dean said. “With ‘Purple Summer,’ it’s about new opportunities, and hope, and a beautiful season. What we are going through right now sucks, but there is going to be so many opportunities for us in the future.”
Virtual interactions have created a new normal for all art students, which Weiner said undoubtedly is an adjustment, but will not hinder their progress.
“So many people are still Zooming for play readings and to talk about new projects they can do,” Weiner said. “It’s going to be together, but separate. Theater is such an intimate craft, and we are usually in each other’s faces most of the time, but now, we are so far apart.”
The transition to a virtual performance was difficult, but Debernardo said making something positive out of the experience should give reassurance to the art community.
“Expectations at the time for what the coronavirus is was not accurate, but stepping back and making something brilliant out of it was awesome. When a door closes, another one opens, so always be looking for that second door,” Debernardo said.
“Spring Awakening” cast receives Broadway attention
During a Zoom conference, actor Michael Park praised the “Spring Awakening” cast for their video performance of “The Song of Purple Summer” April 15.
Park has won three Daytime Emmy awards and is best known for his roles in “As The World Turns,” “Stranger Things” and the Broadway musical “Dear Evan Hansen.”
The video, which was posted Monday and now has over 2,000 views, also got the attention of BroadwayWorld, a website for Broadway and live entertainment news.
Casey Huntley, a cast member, sent the video to Park via Instagram after he requested college students to send in their senior performances. However, Park had already seen the video on BroadwayWorld.
Zoe Dean, a senior theatre performance major, said Park advised the cast members on how to manage life after graduation in the performance world. He had suggestions for transitioning from living in a small town to a large city, such as New York City, in addition to finding the right agent.
“Spring Awakening” was scheduled to open April 22 in Valborg Theatre, but was canceled due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
The cast had already begun rehearsing over 15 hours a week, not including the time they spent learning the songs and choreography on their own.
“Spring Awakening” is set in Germany in 1891 and tells the story of teenagers discovering their sexuality. The parents and teachers struggle to communicate candidly about sex with the younger generation, resulting in tragedy. The show has won eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical.
When asked why they chose to perform and record “The Song of Purple Summer,” Dean said, “We wanted to remind people that this is just another bump in the road; this is temporary, this will pass, and there are more opportunities after this.”
“Spring Awakening” wasn’t the only performance canceled. The “Spring Appalachian Dance Ensemble” and “Pinnocchio” shows were also scheduled to open this month.
Despite the cancelations, performance classes are continuing online.
“I can tell that the professors are trying to make it normal and make it not as sad as it is,” said Hannah Magee, a junior theatre performance major. “They’re trying to make the best of the situation, which is really appreciated.”
Adjunct professor, Adrian Rieder, has Magee in his course “Acting for the Camera.” Each week, students memorize and film their performance of a monologue for review, which is one of the alternative ways students are completing course assignments.
Before Rieder was cast on “All My Children,” “Law and Order” and “Sex and the City,” he faced a large career disappointment, which he shared with his students in a video.
After spending three years rehearsing and performing pre-Broadway runs of a play, investors suddenly pulled out.
“At the time, it was devastating for me,” Rieder said. “But I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older that it’s not so rare for things like that to happen.”
Rieder emphasized the importance of students focusing on performance projects outside of classwork. He is currently working on writing his first major film with a producer from Mexico.
“All of these milestones were just taken away from (students), but I want them to know, yeah, it hurts when it feels like the bottom has just dropped out of your life,” Rieder said. “But, it’s not the end of a story, and you will have many more opportunities, and, sadly, you will have more experiences like this.”