Spring awakes with strong voice power

16 May 2012

This June, the association Musical Inc. will be performing their version of the hit Broadway musical "Spring Awakening" on the campus of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU). A public rehearsal gave a foretaste.

Auditorium P1 of the Philosophicum building is filled with the eager hum of voices. Neatly clad girls, wearing dresses with white petticoats and aprons, and boys in dark blue jackets, white shirts, and knee socks pulled all the way up mill around in groups talking. They're all waiting for things to get started.

Musical Inc. had issued an invitation to the open rehearsal of its new musical "Frühlings Erwachen". The musical, which ran on Broadway under the name "Spring Awakening", is based on a drama by Frank Wedekind dating to 1891. Musical Inc. has acquired the rights to perform it. To date, this piece has been an infrequent visitor to German stages. "But it's actually relatively contemporary, combining as it does older source material with modern rock music," explains Benjamin Hertlein, a former member of the ensemble. The rows of chairs with fold-up seats, filled by day with students paying more or less attention to lecturers, are now around a third filled with curious spectators interested in seeing a musical rehearsal up close.

Over 100 showed up for the audition

Musical Inc. was founded in 1993 as a university group. In 2008, it became a registered association. The performers are all non-professionals, typically students or alumni of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU). For "Frühlings Erwachen", they were selected from some 100 applicants who attended the casting calls. Everyone auditioning had to offer a sample of their singing, dancing, and acting skills. "We wanted to get to know all aspects of these people," states music director Thomas Wagner, a student of Mainz School of Music. "We need to forge an ensemble that can work well together," adds director Steffen Storck, who studied English and biology at JGU. Both are members of the creative team in charge of rehearsals. They are joined by Andreas Blatt and Daniel Schäfer (music), Frederic Jenewein (direction), Sina Eckardt (choreography), and Alexandra Granieczny and Lea Dannenberg (visual effects).

Musical Inc. has already organized numerous successful musical productions on the JGU campus, including performances of "Pinkelstadt", "RENT", and "The Three Musketeers". The shows were always well attended. "We take into consideration in advance which theatrical pieces are possible and aren't overly complicated in terms of performance rights," says Lisa Wickert, the chairwoman of Musical Inc., by way of explaining how musicals are selected. But the group members also have a say. "Everyone can make suggestions. We always end up having several pieces to choose from, and all members can then vote."

Hired prison beds

Back on stage in the auditorium, the boards that have been trodden smooth by the feet of innumerable students and lecturers are covered with cardboard boxes and stacked tables, while a white sheet hangs from the wall. "That's of course going to change a bit, we're still working on it," Granieczny says. "For example, we're getting triple-level bunk beds," she reveals. These are being hired; the manufacturer of these usually supplies youth hostels, prisons, and other institutions. Otherwise, the props are usually entirely self-made. The only major outside purchases are for lighting and sound – and, in this case, the aforementioned hostel and prison beds.

After a few warm-up exercises for body and voice, the first scenes of the evening are rehearsed. Mrs. Bergmann is attempting to explain the birds and bees to her daughter Wendla – although she can't bring herself to tell her the real facts of life. "To have a child, you have to ... love ... your husband with all your heart. And now you know everything." Soon thereafter Wendla, supported by the other girls, rebels against this in song. The vocal power of the amateur choir is impressive. It sounds highly professional and makes you want to hear more. Eckardt, the choreographer, is nevertheless demanding a bit more panache in the movements. "Girls, move forward with more power, you're furious. And boys, don't start giggling when the song is over."

Fun with the rehearsals

This comment leads to even more banter and laughter, showing that they have all already immersed themselves in their roles as schoolchildren. Even the creative team can't help but laugh. In the end it wouldn't be a rehearsal if there wasn't a bit of fun involved. But order is quickly reestablished. Now it's time for the boys to prove that they know their lines and movements. First they practice the rhythm of walking on stage, setting down their chairs, and sitting all in one movement. It's trickier than it looks. The first attempts are anything but uniform. "You're not in time," Eckardt scolds. The next try comes off much better. This earns them encouraging applause from the spectators. Now they try again, with music. "But let's get some vigor into it!" Eckardt calls out.

The creative team, seated out in the auditorium, has its entire own choreography. Storck runs his fingers through his hair at a mistake and soon thereafter is laughing behind his hands when someone moves the wrong way for the second time. Wagner waves his arms, conducting, and Eckardt performs the movements along with the actors. "It's sometimes difficult for the actors to assume the role of a fifteen-year-old, to switch between performing drama and acting as adolescents," Storck says.

The performers aren't the only ones under pressure. The directors have their plates full as well. "The piece was actually written for a small ensemble. It was quite a challenge tailoring it for so many people," Jenewein says. But they all agree on one point: "It's a lot of fun. The troupe is terrific and is growing together fast".

Everyone comes together at the end to sing the musical's closing song. And here, too, it is apparent that the Musical Inc. team know what they are doing, and are really putting their heart and soul into the performance. The amateurs sound like pros. There is no doubt that anticipation is running high for opening night.