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Virtual production of 'Spring Awakening' breaks new ground at Baldwin Wallace

Spring Awakening cast memberBaldwin Wallace University's nationally recognized music theatre program is staging the country's first virtual college production of the powerful Broadway rock musical "Spring Awakening" and gain national buzz.

This is no COVID-era, pared-down, Zoom table reading; nor is health safety ignored.

The groundbreaking show, shot guerrilla film-style on iPhones at more than 40 locations throughout Northeast Ohio, streams November 19-22.

The distinctive creative process is covered in depth by American Theatre Magazine and WCPN ideastream.

Lenses and locations

While many other college theatre stages simply went dark for this fall season, the BW creative team, including producer Bryan Bowser, director Victoria Bussert and music director Matthew Webb (who doubles as director of photography), is proving that music theatre can thrive within the limits of a coronavirus safety net.

A production like no other, BW's "Spring Awakening" is shot almost entirely on iPhones on a mainstage turned soundstage and at dozens of outdoor locations in Berea and beyond. Students have invaded parks and cemeteries to find the perfect look and sound for the eight-time Tony Award-winning Best Musical created by Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik.

The BW production features choreography by Gregory Daniels, with casting by Colleen Longshaw Jackson.

Triple threats plus one

Directing and capturing the performances of two full casts of talented music theatre "triple threats," while protecting against the threat of COVID-19, has required ingenuity, determination and a delicate balance. BW's inventive approaches include:

  • SONG - With group singing prohibited, students record themselves in their dorm rooms, and music director Webb weaves them together in the editing room into full-throated, Broadway show-stoppers.
  • DANCE - Choreography for big (and distanced) dance numbers is taught and rehearsed on Zoom; then, performed and filmed outdoors and on an indoor theatre stage turned soundstage within a limited time frame and with all performers in masks.

  • ACTING/SCENIC DESIGN - In addition to location shoots, students created backdrops in their homes to use for confessional-style videos and Zoom recordings that fit perfectly with the show's themes.

A little well-planned framing, lighting and editing magic also helps to create close, intimate on-screen interactions while, in reality, actors maintained physical distance.

The result, served up in a tantalizing new trailer (see below), offers a compelling, high-quality production for pandemic-weary music theatre fans eager to see a fresh, new performance.

Coming-of-age story

Set in late 19th-century Germany, "Spring Awakening" explores the turmoil of adolescent sexuality, with themes of isolation, control, trauma, identity and enlightenment as timely today as they were when the musical premiered on Broadway in 2006.

Based on a controversial 1891 play by German playwright Frank Wedekind, the story also deals with heart-wrenching and potentially triggering topics like suicide and incest.

"As we all experience social distancing, mask wearing and discouragement of human touch, student actors have much in common with the repressive norms of 1800s German society in which 'Spring Awakening' lives," Bowser observes.

Tickets and schedule

Audiences for BW's "Spring Awakening" will stream the event from the comfort of their own homes. Thursday through Saturday, November 19-21, performances will be shared beginning at 8 p.m. EST, with Sunday, November 22, streaming at 2 p.m. EST. Each show will feature a five-minute intermission.

Ticket purchase is required to receive unique access to the streamed performances, and tickets are now available via at a cost of $20 for adults, $15 for students and seniors, and a $40 group viewing pack.

"Spring Awakening" is presented through special arrangement with Music Theatre International (MTI). All authorized performance materials are also supplied by MTI, 423 West 55th Street, New York, NY 10019.

"Spring Awakening" is a collaboration between the BW Conservatory of Music's music theatre program and the BW Department of Theatre and Dance and produced by a team of arts management & entrepreneurship students.

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