How a warehouse became “Spring Awakening” (Stagecraft)

Every now and then everything comes together in the right venue in the right way at the right time — such is the current production of SPRING AWAKENING I have just directed for 4th Wall in Jackson (it runs through March 25th). The comments we’ve heard most consistently during this remarkable run so far are a) what an amazing cast, and b) what a cool venue!

When approached by theater owners Marjy and Gary Minix about directing, we chose Spring Awakening partly because its a great fit for the talented younger actors that comprise the company — but also because it seemed the perfect venue for the show. Located on the second floor of a retail/warehouse type building on S. Mechanic in Jackson, MI, it conveyed the “industrial” look and feel I wanted. With no audience member more than 8 feet away from the stage, it was the intimate sort of location you might find in NYC for a pre-Broadway workshop. Say, of a show like Spring Awakening.

When I first saw the space last summer, it looked like this:

My imagination ran wild and very shortly I had a set design in place:

As the actors rehearsed and the show began to take shape, so did the acting space — and by early February it had taken this form already:

Those were the basics of the set — a stage platform for the band, with two steps that run around it for acting areas (from the outset, the idea was sort of  an alt-rock concert “unplugged”.) The musical director decided on keyboard, percussion, bass, and guitar – and the show was born.

Before adding lights, everything had taken shape:

And a few nights later, once the lights and sound had been added, we had what became Spring Awakening — as you have always seen it but never seen it…with the cast scattered through the audience in seats, and a participation experience that makes the show feel visceral and real. The sound is terrific, with every word audible. But the style of the show is inimitable, and called for the industrial look we employed.  Mama who bore me explodes in light, while the Song of Purple Summer turns neon purple:

Experience the show yourself for the next two weeks:

Spring Awakening, 4th Wall Downtown – 218 S. Mechanic, Jackson, MI. Tickets very limited, call (517) 414-4436 to reserve. Limited to no more than 50 audience per performance.

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