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spring awakening

Role: Producer

Project dates: January - May 2019

Performance dates: 9th - 11th May 2019

Company: Shotgun Theatre

Venue: Kay House, Exeter

My first university producing role was a production of Spring Awakening.

 

It is a difficult show to watch and to perform. Without feeling like it’s trying, the story manages to reach inside and touch your soul in strange and magical ways. It’s often hard to watch, but, from a production perspective, it was as smooth a process as I could have wished for. Surrounded by an incredibly skilled team and band, as well as a unique and talented cast, it still strikes me how dedicated everyone involved was to both the performance itself and the project.

 

Everyone seemed to grasp immediately that a musical that deals unflinchingly with topics like mental illness and sexual discovery would be missing its purpose if it didn’t approach those issues through every aspect of its process. Establishing a connection with YoungMinds, the UK’s leading charity for youth mental health, and Exeter Student Nightline, we raise dawareness for mental health support services available to university students.

 

In the more difficult rehearsals, the sense of a shared mission was tangible, and I found myself hugely proud of everyone involved for giving everything to the show. Mental health issues, particularly on campuses, can be eased simply through awareness and demystification. A purple summer in which students no longer need to suffer on their own seemed possible, and hopefully a tiny bit closer after this production.

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behind spring awakening

As we worked our way through the show, we wanted to document our thought processes and how we approached different themes and ideas.

The short series 'Behind Spring Awakening' was put together by myself and our videographer Sara Zawistowska in order to check in with members of our company at various points in the process.

The first part is attached on the right hand side, but you can view the rest by clicking here.

the book tree

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The team were keen to emphasise the theme of knowledge, noting how the refusal of the adult characters to share it impacts the teenagers'

development. From here, the idea of the book tree took root in our set design - a symbol for intellectual and sexual blooming, both formed of and restricted by the works of literature read by the students.

Led by our fantastic stage managers Finn Gordon and Luca Wills, we built 36 square metre pieces of flooring with different patterns of book pages pasted onto them. These ranged from strictly ordered grids to pages scattered at all angles. When put together in the venue, the floor reflected a transition from clear order into growth and freedom.

At the most chaotic point, the pages grew up out of the floor into a 3m-tall tree which was circled by a gradient of book covers and laced with fairy lights. This focal point was where Melchior explained his radical ideas and expressed his sexuality for the first time.

The floor panels were offcuts from a local printing company and for the pages we contacted the university library for books due to be scrapped.

working with youngminds

From the beginning, the team knew we wanted to treat this project like more than a student musical. I facilitated Spring Awakening's pairing with the charity YoungMinds, theming our publicity around their central yellow branding and adding a matinee performance in which half of our income would be donated to the charity.

YoungMinds fights for a future in which all young people are supported and empowered through whatever challenges they may face. The charity aims to improve mental health services in the UK so that no young person feels abandoned.

 

They value every voice, ensure honesty and are fighting to make a difference. The crisis in children and young people’s mental health is real and it is urgent. More children and young people than ever before are reaching out for help with their mental health. But for those who take that brave step, help is much too hard to find.

 

This is where YoungMinds comes in. They push for transformed, integrated services, fostering innovation to meet the needs of vulnerable and excluded children and young people.

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production snaps

By Bee Taylor

audience response

During the set build, myself and a fundraising assistant put together a series of corkboard displays which offered information on YoungMinds, Exeter Student Nightline, and the production history of Spring Awakening. Additionally, we created a 'Thoughts Left Behind' board which we planned to hang up outside the auditorium following the performance for audience members to write notes for.

Many audience members remarked how important this show is in creating a dialogue about mental health and suicide, others just said they enjoyed it, but the Left Behind board was a fantastic marker each night of how the audience responded to the show.

On the left below is a word-cloud graphic in which the most common words across all of the notes are the largest.

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reviews

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Eleanor Rose-Gordon, Razz Magazine

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Sam Thomson, Exeposé

quotes

"This creative team have produced one of the most stunning and thought-provoking pieces of theatre I’ve seen at university"

Eleanor-Rose Gordon, Razz Magazine

“The stage design of the Book Tree... perfectly reflected the characters coming into bloom sexually and intellectually.”

Eleanor-Rose Gordon, Razz Magazine

A perfectly executed concoction of bittersweet longing, sensual desire, and devastating innocence”

Eleanor-Rose Gordon, Razz Magazine

“Every element of this production screams precision and attention to detail

Sam Thomson, Exeposé

“An effortlessly cohesive flow of storytelling which brings character and choreography together as if they were never separated”

Sam Thomson, Exeposé

“The play handled difficult topics with delicacy and purpose

Sam Thomson, Exeposé