March 8, 2009

Spring Break/Awakening/Forward: A Digression.


I saw Spring Awakening in Cleveland at the Playhouse Square Palace Theatre at 7:30 pm on March 6th, 1:30 pm on March 7th, and 7:30 pm on March 7th. I’ve been reading a lot about Spring Awakening since late 2008 and interested in seeing it, but unfortunately since it’s not touring anywhere near South Carolina, I chose to fly to wherever it would be during my spring break.

Some background info on stage seating:

Part of the uniqueness that is Spring Awakening can be attributed to the presence of on stage seating. Basically, there are 41 chairs directly on the stage closely situated with 2 rows on stage left, and 3 on stage right. 26 of these seats belong to audience members, and the rest are filled in with the cast (click for a detailed seating chart if you actually care). Instead of leaving the stage during inactive parts (which there are few of to begin with), cast members sit amongst the audience on stage, often providing backup vocals, stomps, and dance moves right from their seats. There are even four ensemble members camouflaged in the seats who appear to be regular audience members, a phenomenon which I’m sure is terrifying to the occasional unsuspecting person seated next to them.

The two times I sat on stage, I sat in AA4 and AA13--downstage left and upstage right--which made for a good mix of perspectives. AA4 is the closest audience seat to the front of the stage, right next to Melchior, the lead, and AA13 is near the back of the stage right next to the piano and right between 2 cast seats..

March 6th, 7:30 pm, onstage seat AA4:

I was incredibly excited to finally be in my seat next to Melchior—a feat that only cost me flight and hotel expenses as well as the whole mistaken NYC ticket fiasco. I originally became interested in SA because Kyle Riabko plays the lead role of Melchior, and I’m a fan of his music. Contrary to what half of my friends and family believe, though, I did not go all the way to Cleveland just to see him—he just sparked my original interest in the play. This particular night, Kyle was absent and his understudy, Matt Shingledecker, went on as Melchior instead. Knowing that I would be seeing Kyle the next day, I was really excited to get to see two different interpretations of the same role.

After seeing both Melchiors, I can now say that both brought something different to the character, and I feel like some of Matt’s acting choices were stronger than Kyle’s, but Kyle wins for vocal performance.

Being so close to the action was a bit overwhelming because it was hard to focus on anything other than what was directly in front of me. So in a scene where 12 people are jumping around crazily, it was hard to watch anything other than the one person jumping closest to me, for instance. This would be a downside had I only seen the show once, but it made my 3 visits all the more exciting.

March 7th, 1:30 pm, onstage seat AA13

Though I originally thought AA4 to be the best seat on stage, I’ve definitely changed my mind. I absolutely LOVED sitting in AA13. It was near the back, but was surrounded by characters the whole time. There were only 3 seats together in the group of seats I was in, consisting of me between 2 cast members and directly beside the piano which is a focal point a few times in the show. Because the cast members constantly move around and change positions, I had the pleasure of sitting directly next to about 4 different cast members in addition to at least 2 others who sit at the piano in different scenes, and let’s not forget the occasional jumping and even crawling right at my feet. During the end of one song, someone jumped so close to me that my hair blew straight back as if blown by a fan (and if you know me, you know I have a mass of hair that would take a lot to move).

Also, just as a side note, there's a Latin class scene where six guys are sitting in desks, supposedly copying Latin words on slates. I always assumed they just scribbled nonsense, but from my perspective I could see 5 out of the 6 slates clearly. 4 of the 5 I could see were actually writing in Latin! Of course good old Kyle was just scribbling, but he was also speaking while no one else was, so that may be why.

My favorite scene
This has to be my favorite experience from the whole trip. During a song called “My Junk,” there is a scene where the teenage boy, Georg, (apparently pronounced “Gay-org” rather than “George” as my non-German mind had been reading it) more or less lives out his fantasy with his female piano teacher. The song begins with his conservatively dressed teacher ripping open her dress to reveal a corset as he turns his chair around, throws her into his lap, and blissfully buries his face in her breasts (again with the nice alliteration). For the rest of the song, another character is the main focus, yet Georg and his piano teacher are still going at it the entire time in the background though they don’t claim the spotlight. Because of where I had been sitting the night before, I had paid little attention to this part. This night, though, I was quite literally inches from the action. As the teacher threw her head back in delight and heels in the air, I cautiously watched my knees for fear of being kicked. I was quite surprised to realize that innocent little Georg was doing more than putting his face in her cleavage—he was biting, licking, and spanking her in rhythm to the drums (I was especially surprised that he was really biting and licking her since I doubt the audience off of the stage could even tell). I had to fight to control my laughter long after the scene was over. And on a sidenote, Georg is played by Matt Shingledecker, the actor who played Melchior the night before. Poor guy probably thought I was stalking him.

The slight awkwardness of AA13

The only awkward part of being in that particular seat was its proximity to the backstage door, so just about every character had to go between me and the piano any time they headed backstage (of course this was a definite plus, too). Due to the combination of the backstage door and actress seated to my left who jumped up quite frequently, I couldn't cross my legs for fear of tripping someone. This awkwardness was heightened at the end when the characters all run backstage quickly, then run back out, then a few go backstage and a few more come back out...I forget the exact sequence, but there's a lot of running in and out of the backstage area for applause. What makes this worse at the end is the standing ovation. With everyone around me standing and clapping, it would look as though I didn’t enjoy the show if I remained seated to stay out of the way, yet standing and clapping would put me even more in the way than I already felt. In the end I stood and clapped but pressed as close to the chair as I could and had to clap with my hands as close to my body as possible. I probably looked ridiculous, but I didn't trip anyone, so mission complete.
A few mischievous things I witnessed (both shows)

One of the cool parts of being on stage was being able to witness a few instances where the actors broke character and did some entertaining things undetected by most people. The first thing I witnessed was during the first show when I was in AA4. I was opposite one of the stage doors, and could see inside a bit. At one point I looked over and noticed none other than the missing Mr. Riabko who I was not sitting beside. A little later, I looked back again to see if he was still there, and caught a glimpse of his girlfriend (who is also in the play) running up to him with a hug and a kiss. I know he hadn't been on as Melchior for the past few days, so I think maybe he had been away and I witnessed a tiny reunion. That same show, I noticed Ben Moss, one of the actors (and quite possibly one of the most adorable people on the planet), grinning wildly as his spotlight went out, then quickly switching to a solemn look as it came back on a second later.

I'm not sure if I should blame Kyle's presence or where I was sitting, but I saw a lot more out of character actions the next day. At one point Kyle was walking directly towards me with his side profile facing the audience, and I watched as he slyly used the eye that was away from the audience to triple wink at someone behind me (probably Ben Moss, who was sitting behind me). Later there's a song where Kyle is in the center of the stage facing the audience, and everyone else is crouched down on stairs with their backs to the audience facing Kyle. I noticed his real-life girlfriend smirking at him, but thankfully he didn't visibly respond. I feel like there was another time when I noticed the two of them smiling at each other when they weren't in the spotlight as well. Another time, Kyle was near the back of the stage with his back turned on the audience, so I was probably one of maybe 3 people who could see his face at all, and I realized he was doing some kind of odd mouth exercise where he was opening and closing his jaw really wide. Also, right before my favorite scene that I already mentioned, Georg/Matt turned around to the piano teacher (who was sitting next to me) and winked at her as if to say “are you ready for this?”

Random and unrelated, yet still entertaining

After leaving the stage door and getting autographs on my first night, I started to walk back to my hotel and had to pass by the main entrance of the theatre again. As I passed by, Ben Moss (no idea why I keep using his last name but not Kyle’s or Matt’s…but we’ll go with it) came out of the door with a huge suitcase. The entertaining part is that it was one of those wheeled suitcases, yet he was carrying it by hand instead of rolling it on the sidewalk. I walked behind him for a bit (not stalking, just apparently going the same direction), and he probably walked a good half of a block before finally putting the thing down and rolling it. I was tempted to say something sarcastic to him, but didn't want to be the creepy girl who strikes up a conversation by teasing him about his suitcase. The verdict is still out on whether he’s really strong or just dumb.

March 7th, 7:30 pm, row Y seat 301 in balcony

Not much to say here. I requested one of the few $10 cheap seats in the back of the balcony and bought the ticket right before the 1:30 show on the same day, so I really expected to be shoved away in a corner somewhere. Seat 301 in Row Y turned out to be dead center in the last row of the balcony. The central location was nice, but honestly I couldn’t see any facial expressions at all, and had I seen the show for the first time from this location, I would have been terribly lost. Still, I’m glad I saw it from this seat because there were a lot of amazing lighting effects I had completely missed from sitting on stage. Plus I kept hearing people whispering about “what all of those people are doing sitting on stage” and got to set them straight.

My view from the balcony. I've got to admit, it was pretty neat having like 75 stairs framing the way to the center of the stage in front of me.

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