By Adam Hetrick
25 Apr 2012
The Beacon School, an arts and technology high school located just behind Lincoln Center, is among the first schools in the country to stage Spring Awakening, with performances set to begin April 26 for a two-weekend run.
Beacon Drama Art Theatre founder and program director Jo Ann Cimato, who also teaches Theatre Arts and Playwriting at the school, is shepherding students through the hit musical based on Frank Wedekind's 1892 play. Spring Awakening takes on a new poetic rock context thanks to Tony-winning book writer Steven Sater and Tony-winning composer Duncan Sheik.
In recent years they produced the East Coast high school debut of Jonathan Larson's Rent, School Edition and were also the first high school to stage The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Cimato, who said she's known as the teacher who doesn't censor anything, actually pushed to do the full, unedited edition of Rent with her students in 2009, but rights were not available at that time.
"We had gone through a huge amount of drama trying to get the rights to Rent uncut when we did it," Cimato said. "We never thought in a million years we'd get the rights to Spring Awakening uncut."
Subject matter aside, it can be especially challenging for New York City schools and other area theatre organizations to obtain live performance rights, due to author approval on productions within a certain mileage of the city.
In the case of Spring Awakening, Sater and Sheik have approval over every single production that is licensed by Music Theatre International. "We're very careful," Sater said. He ultimately approved Cimato and the Beacon School's production.
The Beacon School and Spring Awakening share history. Cimato had previously taken hundreds of students to see the musical during its Broadway run, and Beacon Students also crafted an evening of dance, music, theatre and spoken word in response to Spring Awakening, which was presented at the now-closed Zipper Theatre as part of the Power Writers program.
Sater was in attendance. "I was so moved by their power and passion, and by how profound their reaction to the show was," he recalled. "It just seemed to me that here was a high school of young people whose response to the show was so aching and pure. How could we deny their request?"
While those students have since graduated, Cimato is leading a new and equally committed group through the adolescent forest of Spring Awakening, expletives and all. The brutality, the intimacy, the red-hot urges and the despair remain intact and unedited. Yes, students at the Beacon School will be singing "Totally Fucked" in front of parents, peers and faculty.
"It's not 'the sex play,'" Cimato said of Spring Awakening. "To me it's a play about grace. It's a play about who is controlling your destiny. Is it you? Is it a higher force? It's a much more spiritual play than I think anybody thought it was when we started this process."
Cimato said she's never had a group of students so passionate about a school production. "It's about the work. They've been so professional. They want to honor it and do it justice. These kids are very serious about their craft and this was such an exciting challenge for them."
A handful of B'DAT student actors will play instruments during the show. The student playing Martha is a concert cellist, who auditioned with her instrument, telling Cimato, "Martha's pain is the cello, I totally get that." Moritz plays the guitar at his own funeral. "He's the ghost in the room," according to Cimato, while Melchior plays the introduction to "Mama Who Bore Me," at the beginning of the show. "He invokes this lusting out of Wendla," she said. There are also actors playing instruments in the trees.
At the Beacon School, Spring Awakening's music and dramatic worlds are separated by classroom and the forest. "The safe places where the kids are themselves, where they are free, where the music happens is in the forest," Cimato explained. "They move in and out [as] musician, and child, and actor, and moment seamlessly because that's what kids do. They retreat to what is safe to them, and in Spring Awakening, for these characters the music is safe to them. Being a rock star alone in your bedroom is where it's safe for these kids."Continued...