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In the Chair Podcast: Strasberg Who Bore Me

Coming Soon to LSTFI

Spring Awakening, co-directed by Sam Barkley and Theresa Burns, is coming to LSTFI this Spring! Sam and Theresa join Will and Simone on this week’s episode of In the Chair to discuss their journey throughout the process of Spring Awakening and how to keep actors safe in the rehearsal room. NYU Tisch at Strasberg students and Spring Awakening cast members Jeff Lawless and Camden Espino join to share their story from an actor’s point of view.

Spring Awakening for Today’s Audience

Set in 19th century Germany, Spring Awakening centers around a group of adolescents in the throes of discovering themselves and their budding sexuality. The production opens to find Wendla, an innocent but curious girl, questioning her mother about where babies come from – questions which go unanswered. Meanwhile, Melchior – an intelligent and radical boy – seeks to teach his peers about sexuality and intimacy from the books he’s read in secret.

Commenting on the parallels between Spring Awakening and the present, Sam notes, “it’s not too much of a lift, really, in getting people to understand the same ways that we are repressing very natural curiosities of teenagers today.” Theresa adds, “the plot of our show doesn’t happen, for the most part, if information is freely shared. And that’s something we deal with today: abstinence-only education, the refusal to share information.”

Dealing with Intense Material

Spring Awakening is rife with heavy, often dark subject matter. The play features explicit intercourse and male masturbation, and deals with topics ranging from domestic abuse and sexual assault to incest. As such, Sam stresses the importance of creating a safe rehearsal space and dealing with the material with a great deal of sensitivity. Sam would work with actors individually to establish “no fly zones” and boundaries without the pressure of other members of the cast and team in the room.

Sam explains that, too often, actors are expected to improvise or “feel out” scenes involving intimacy, even assault. By staging these scenes slowly, in a choreographed manner, with only the actors involved, he sought to make the actors as comfortable as possible. Theresa recalls the commitment they made before rehearsals began: “We’re not having a rehearsal room in which our actors feel powerless or coerced.”

Finding Alternatives

Sam and Theresa’s approach to blocking and intimacy direction is designed to empower the actor. By creating such a environment, the actors are given the power to speak up when they aren’t comfortable with a piece of direction or moment in the script. Sam explains:

“If an actor says to me, ‘I’m not comfortable kissing my scene partner’ it is my responsibility as a director and as an intimacy choreographer to say, ‘Okay. Thank you for letting me know.’ Now we’re still going to tell the story [but] we’re going to find a different way to do it. Can we go with a kiss on the forehead, perhaps? Can we have a very intimate moment of nuzzling?”

Sam Barkley, director

Jeff tells us that this approach was, in fact, successful. He explains how he always felt safe in the room – and was always prepared for what to expect in any given rehearsal. Camden adds, “we’ve been blessed to have such accommodating directors that really care about what we have to say about the piece and what we are trying to say in our performances.”

Working for Longevity

“This career is a marathon. It’s not a sprint and your body is your job.”

Theresa Burns, director

Creating a safe environment for the actor is not only important for the project at hand, but for the long-haul. Theresa explains how an actor who has felt powerless or coerced in a rehearsal space before is likely to enter their next production with more hesitancy. Simone concludes, “you want to have that positive experience in this project so that in your next project you can bring a positivity and an openness and ableness to continue.”


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