This is Part 4 of my interviews with the cast of Spring Awakening at The Keegan Theatre.
Joel: Why did you want to appear in Spring Awakening?
Ali: Oh my God, why didn’t I want to?? I loved the show, and had seen it twice in New York, and the fact that Keegan was going to be the first local theatre to do it – really, I wanted so badly to be a part of it in any way. To just audition!
When you saw the Broadway production – what moved you the most?
This question and the last kind of go hand and hand… so I’ll say why I am so in love with this show, which was of course the reason I was so excited to even audition for it here at Keegan. When I saw it on Broadway I was a complete wreck the entire time. I thought it was so beautiful, so poignant and so tragically relevant. Not to mention the music was amazing and I was rocking out in my seat. I fell in love with every single character. I sat in the front row, because me and my friend Caroline had gotten student rush tickets, and I remember the two of us sitting there bawling our eyes out. And the girl playing Thea sang right to us during “Purple Summer” seeing how upset we were. It really just re-emphasized something I already knew, that through theatre you can touch and affect people so greatly, and that is something so incredible. It really just reassured my passion for this art.
Spring Awakening is such an important show. It teaches parents and children and really just all human beings to listen to one another, and that knowledge is a wonderful thing- not a bad thing. I think the stories are all so relatable even today, and the fact that it is based on a play written in the late 1800s astounds me. Which is why I love the brilliance of the musical bringing it contemporary with the music. Were in and out of these two separate times, but it shows you just how timeless these stories are. Which is really quite sad. I remember thinking when I saw it how Moritz’s character is one of the one’s I personally saw the most similarities in to my peers around me growing up. Parents put such pressure on their children these days, on getting the best SAT scores and taking the highest level high school course so they can go to the best colleges. i am so thankful my parents were never like that. I grew up self-motivated to do well, not having the pressure of my parents to do so. I am so appreciate of my incredibly supportive parents, i can’t imagine what it would be like to have parents like some of the kids i went to high school with, or like Moritz’s father. Anyway, I could talk for days about how relevant this show is. But I think it is really quite clear when you see it. And I hope, now that it is down in DC, everyone will.
Tell me about Wendla, who you are playing.
Wendla is a young girl who is just beginning to experience the feelings and changes that take place while growing into a woman. She is confused by the new things happening to her body, her heart, her emotions… and she desperately seeks answers and explanations, but sadly her mother never gives them to her, despite Wendla’s begging. When Wendla reconnects with her childhood friend and playmate, Melchior, the two discover that there is a lot more between them now that they are older. Together they explore this connection and Melchior, knowing more than Wendla, really ignites and encourages Wendla’s curiousity and passion. They end up exploring one another both emotionally and physically. When the physical level rises and they are about to have sex, Wendla doesn’t even know what it is she is agreeing to, except that it feels good to her and whatever it is she wants it to happen.
This is just the beginning of her realizations that her mother has been keeping quite a lot from her, and when she is told she is pregnant and Wendla then understands that is the result of her actions with Melchior, she finally unleashes her anger at her mother for withholding information from her for so long. In the end, Wendla realizes that Melchior’s hopes for a new and better world, full of knowledge and understanding are what matters most, and just as she realizes her love for him and the hope for them and their child, she is sent to the abortionist and is killed through the procedure.
How is your character similar to you and different from you?
On the surface I would say I am not like Wendla at all. I was fortunate enough to have parents who were supportive, encouraging, and never withheld anything from me. If I had questions, they answered them truthfully. If I had problems they were there for me in every way. In that aspect, I am very grateful. But in some ways, I have found myself relating to Wendla more than I thought. I have been very fortunate in my life, perhaps too fortunate. There are many life experiences I have yet to go through… I think there is a similar innocence in me that there is Wendla, perhaps not in the exact same way…. but it does exist.
What challenges did you face playing Wendla, and how have you overcome these challenges?
It is a great challenge playing someone so emotionally distraught and confused. I still struggle with her… thinking that she is too naive… but I just remember that is the truth and sadness of the character. I think the hardest thing in the beginning was finding out how to make her innocence feel true and not forced. Ultimately, it was about just genuinely portraying someone who is honestly, just trying to figure it all out.
What scenes in the show move you the most?
DARK I KNOW WELL’ still makes me tear up every night. And Moritz’s suicide is the most tragic story of all to me.
Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik’s score is so beautiful and powerful. What is it about the score that moves you?
I think it’s the poetry of the lyrics. It kind of allows you to put your own meaning to things, as an audience member. Different images and words strike different in emotions in different people and I think that’s really cool. Plus the rocking music is just so beautifully juxtaposed with the time of the story… I think it just makes you feel…. a lot. Every song just like makes you either wanna rock out in your seat, or it like… stirs your soul. And the kick ass band helps too :)
The score allows your character to ‘speak out’ and express her inner feelings. Tell me about your songs that allow you to do that. Please set up the songs (in the story), and tell me what your character is feeling, and what you are feeling when you sing it.
“MAMA WHO BORE ME”– Wendla has just started experiencing changes in her body, and she explores them while looking at herself in the mirror. Wondering how she can be going through this and feeling guilty at the same time – she wonders why no one had given her answers. It shows her true innocence and curiousity.
“MAMA WHO BORE ME REPRISE”– After finally having the courage to ask her mother about the changes, and the questions she has about her sister’s 2nd new baby – she receives an answer that she knows is lacking. Her true frustrations come out in this song, and her pure desire to know more.
“WORD OF YOUR BODY”– The first realization that her childhood friend Melchior, who she has always had a small crush on – gives her more feelings than just ‘little girl crush’ feelings. Sitting alone with him makes her feel a lot of new things, and that is expressed through this song with Melchior… it’s showing both of their deeper desires to experience more than just sitting and talking, which already makes them feel different than they normally would.
“GUILTY ONES”- After Melchior and Wendla have had sex, she realizes that what they have just done makes her feel good… even though she knows she should be feeling guilty. I think here she starts to express signs of repression against their elders… that they have committed something bad, but it feels pretty good. Finally she is getting some answers.
“WHISPERING”- After Wendla is told that she is pregnant, and she finally pieces together that it is the result of her actions with Melchior, she lashes out at her mother for not telling her everything. This song is Wendla’s real moment of realization, that these ‘whispering elders’ have truly kept so much from her her whole life. At first she is scared, confused and ashamed that this could be happening to her… but in the end she realizes it is a beautiful thing, it happened out of love and that there is so much good to come from it. She discovers her love for Melchior, and is excited for the hope for their new life together with their child.
“THOSE YOU’VE KNOWN”– Even though now she is just a spirit to Melchior, through this song with Moritz, they are able to give Melchior the strength to carry on without them… that he is capable of changing so much, and making the future better. He must make it known that you shoulld treat your children with love, support them, educate them and be open with them. So as not to have fates like Moritz and Wendla.
What was some of the advice Directors Mark and Susan Rhea gave you that helped you develop and mold your performance?
They gave me more support and faith in myself than I ever could have hoped for. For that I am eternally grateful. They told me to trust my instincts, and that piece of advice supplied me with the confidence I truly needed to go deeper into this character. They also helped me not get stuck in the seriousness of this show and that sometimes you just need to freaking laugh. These two people are some of the best people I’ve ever met, and I am so grateful to have met them and share this experience with them.
What have you learned about yourself as an actor working on this show?
I learned that I definitely need to have more confidence in myself. I had the most incredible support system I could ask for during this process… between Mark, Susan, Kurt, Jake and Vinny and the entire cast. I was able to just let go of my fears and insecurities, and just live in the passion of what we do. Very corny, but very true. This show and this group of people really sparked something in me, and I will never forget it.
How can today’s audiences of all ages relate to the lessons and themes of Spring Awakening?
I’ve said it a lot, but I think most importantly it just teaches us to listen to each other. And I think it will make people reflect on how they were brought up and how they will choose to bring up their children.
What do you want audiences to take away with them after seeing Spring Awakening?
If audiences walk away talking and feeling anything, then we’ve done our job.
Spring Awakening plays through July 8, 2012 at The Keegan Theatre at Church Street Theater – 1742 Church St, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call (703) 892-0202, or order them online.
An interview with Paul Scanlan (Moritz).
An interview with Vincent Kempski (Melchior).
An interview with Lyndsay Rini (Anna).