During orientation week, students see a University of Waterloo production called Single and Sexy, a play put on for first years to bring attention to topics such as sexuality, safe sex, and rape. Almost three years later, five of the cast members are now performing in Spring Awakening, a revolutionary musical from K-W Musical Productions.

Photo by Matthew Jin Kang

Similar to Single and Sexy, Spring Awakening features a story that explores timeless themes that are still relevant today, presenting issues of youth who are discovering their sexuality and struggling with the transition from adolescence to adulthood. The musical features a rock and roll soundtrack, packing lots of heart, honesty, and emotion. Spring Awakening centres on teenage characters in the late nineteenth-century who are struggling to overcome anxiety and are in the midst of self-discovery.

The musical is directed by Amanda Kind with musical direction from Jason White and choreography by Jennifer Wright. Spring Awakening is the winner of eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical.

Three of the cast members are University of Waterloo alumni: Brendan Stehouwer, Jill Prince, and Tristan Pilcher.

The words we used to describe Spring Awakening were “edgy,” “powerful,” and “pop rock.”

Stehouwer described his character, Moritz, as a character who is struggling with a great deal of personal issues. “He struggles in school,” Stehouwer reflected. “You find out he’s had a bad home life and his story is kind of a tragic one that might have a hopeful ending at the end. But there are a lot of great levels to play.”

Photo by Matthew Jin Kang

Prince plays Ilse, a childhood friend of Moritz. “Ilse is a pretty complicated character,” Prince explained. “She drifted apart [from Moritz] as they got older and she goes through a lot of tough stuff at home. She actually ends up running away so for a lot of the story she’s separate from everyone and then she comes back and you see how she’s coping with all these different things that she’s going through.”

Hänschen is played by Pilcher, a character he describes as a character who “confidently struggles with sexuality. He is a smart guy but he struggles a bit with the fact that he’s not the centre of attention.”

While the original Spring Awakening play was written in the 1890s, the exploration of its topics of sexuality, abuse, and mental health are timeless as those issues continue to challenge today’s youth. The 2006 Broadway production of Spring Awakening featured Glee’s Lea Michele and Jonathan Groff, who played Kristoff in Disney’s Frozen.

“I think these are things all of us go through ourselves or know someone who is going through,” said Stehouwer. “Especially in university, we all know it can be a stressful time so seeing the show can be a way to open up dialogue about the tougher issues. I think it’s great both for university students and beyond them as well.”

Pilcher first performed in Single and Sexy in 2010, which was his first time doing musical theatre. Like many performing actors, Pilcher claimed to have some stage fright. According to Pilcher, “you need to be a little bit nervous in order to push yourself to do well.”

Spring Awakening pushes to explore major issues and inspire meaningful discussion among its audiences. This quality helped distinguish Spring Awakening from other musical theatre productions.

Stehouwer was very enthusiastic about his role and being a part of Spring Awakening. He spoke about not only his passion for musical theatre but also for Spring Awakening’s potential to shed light on difficult topics, but topics that should be discussed.

“You’re doing a show for a reason. Instead of people just leaving thinking, ‘oh, that was a great show,’ hopefully, people are leaving thinking about the content,” Stehouwer said.  “It’s looking at ‘well, how can we keep talking about this? How do we make sure that we’re not brushing everything under the rug and pretending it doesn’t exist? We feel alone but we’re not the only ones going through it. Let’s make sure we don’t forget that.’”

Topics about mental health, personal struggles, and sexuality are often considered taboo when they are regular components of the human experience. Spring Awakening is essentially a tragedy of omission, where bad things that happen could have been avoided if people were simply willing to discuss. The musical encourages audiences to avoid suppressing their feelings and be more open to discussing them. The play asks people to recognize that others are experiencing similar situations, and that they are not alone, though they may feel that way.

“These are all things that people don’t want to talk about because they’re very ashamed to talk about them or they feel like they’re not supposed to,” Prince commented about the taboo topics.

Prince, Pilcher, Stehouwer, and I all agreed on the importance of discussion and the role it plays in people’s development.

“It’s uncomfortable but talking about mental health and abuse and sexuality and all these things… we should be talking about them. The show kind of tells you what happens if you’re too afraid to have those conversations,” Prince said.

Photo by Matthew Jin Kang

For those looking to get involved in theatre productions like Spring Awakening, Pilcher encouraged those who are interested to audition. “Come out and audition. What’s the harm?”

“Even if you’re afraid, just do it,” Prince advised. “Because even if an audition doesn’t work out, you are learning from that audition. I think people get so scared of them because it’s hard to take rejection but you are going to get better every single time you try. So just keep trying, look for things you can do like any performance.”

Stehouwer echoed those statements. “If you don’t nail the audition, don’t be hard on yourself because it’s scary. Like giving a presentation in class, you’re standing in front of people and you’re like ‘Do they like me?’ But it’s one of the things where the more you do it, the better you get. It’s such a great community to be a part of.”

Spring Awakening from K-W Musical Productions runs from May 31 through Jun. 9 at The Conrad Centre for the Performing Arts. Tickets are available on the K-W Musical Production site.