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BSC musical explores sexuality in ‘Spring Awakening'

Published: Feb 27 2015
Spider Duncan Christopher
         Spider Duncan Christopher
Bismarck State College Theatre presents one of its most provocative plays with the musical, "Spring Awakening" March 11-15 in Sidney J. Lee Auditorium. Performances are 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday.

The acclaimed rock musical involves a group of adolescent teens entering puberty and speculating about the mysteries of life. The plot follows their struggles to understand new feelings, sexuality and what happens in a repressed society where adults offer no guidance.

Written in 1891 by Frank Wedekind, the German play was deemed revolutionary at the time but was soon banned for its content and mature themes. The contemporary musical version by composer Duncan Sheik and lyricist Steven Sater was developed over seven years and premiered in 2006 off-Broadway before opening at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre to critical acclaim.

A New York City theater professional who saw that show is directing BSC's production. Spider Duncan Christopher arrived in late January and has worked with cast members individually to direct and stage the work in what he called a seven-week master class experience.

"I think it has transformed the quality of theater in North Dakota," said Christopher, an actor, director and choreographer with more than 40 years in the theater. "These kids will be on a whole different level because I have raised the bar for what they have ever done before. This is what I wanted to come to do - to show what it means to really act on stage and to bring out truth and reality under imaginary circumstances. I think people will be moved by the quality of performance I'm getting out of these kids."

Using the Meisner acting technique - with a Spider spin, he said - Christopher has helped actors reach their core, to live truthfully in their character and react realistically to each moment as if for the first time. He told the cast, he wanted this play to be their spring awakening.

"My goal is to have all the young people in North Dakota come and see this production. ‘Spring Awakening' is this young generation's ‘Hair,' and anyone 14 and older should check out this musical."

Christopher also helped the cast transition from working with the show's original guest director, Christopher Zinovitch, artistic director at Bismarck's Dakota Stage Ltd., who died of cancer four days after Spider started rehearsals.

"Spring Awakening" is about friends in various stages of sexual awakening. Some are naïve, some afraid, but all are curious. One boy, Melchoir, breaks out to find answers in a book and becomes the herald. The action plays out in a school and the homes and streets of a community where parents and school staff are silent on sexuality, partly in an effort to shelter the kids. Left on their own, the adolescent teens venture into the adult world. But what may seem easy at first is actually difficult, frightening and fraught with danger.

Major themes in the play address sexuality, religion, education, parental and child relationships, shame, gender and authority.

The 13-member cast is mostly current BSC students, along with BSC graduates Ashley Clooten and Clayton Perala, both of Bismarck; community member Genna Boehm of Mandan; and high school students Karter Dolan and Jacob Ehrmantraut, both of Bismarck. Roles of the 10 adult characters (parents and school staff) are played by two BSC students - Sarah Simon of Bismarck and Dillon Sailor of Hazen.

Natasha Sickler (Bismarck) has the lead girl role of Wendla, a naïve girl who tries to learn about babies from her mother. Wendla's school friends are Genna Boehm as Martha, Ashley Clooten as Thea, Taylor Jung (Mandan) as Anna, and Savanah Bashus (Bismarck) as Ilse. Karter Dolan has the lead boy role of Melchoir, a young man whose knowledge brings consequences. Jeffrey Jung (Mandan) portrays Moritz, Melchoir's intense and nervous best friend. Melchoir's other classmates are Adam Michal (Mandan) as Ernst/Reinhold, Jacob Ehrmantraut as Hanschen/Rupert, Clayton Perala as Georg/Dieter, and Derek Harper (Bismarck) as Otto/Ulbrecht.

This year's musical is produced by BSC Theatre Director Dan Rogers with assistance from orchestra conductor John Darling, choral director Andrew Miller, and Dean Bellin, technical director and scenic, lighting and sound designer. Student stage managers are McCallie Willows and Elley Cannard, both from Mandan.

Reserved seat tickets are $10 or $3 with BSC I.D. and can be purchased at the Schafer Hall box office weekdays, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., or by calling 224-5511. This show includes profanity and mature subject matter that may be objectionable to some audience members. Parental Advisory: Contains strong language, sexual themes and explicit content.


The 2006 Broadway production of "Spring Awakening" won 20 theater awards and a Grammy and received an additional 16 nominations. The eight Tony Awards were for best musical, best book for a musical, best original score, best direction, best choreography, best orchestrations, best lighting and best performance by a featured actor in a musical. The production also won Outer Critics Circle Awards for outstanding new musical, new score and director, and a New York Drama Critics Circle Award for best musical. The Drama Desk Awards honored it for outstanding musical, director, music and lyrics. Other wins came from the Drama League Awards and Lucille Lortel Awards.

New York Times:

Broadway may never be the same. With a ravishing rock score by Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik, this brave new musical, haunting and electrifying by turns, restores the mystery, the thrill to that shattering transformation that stirs in all our souls, sometime around the age of thirteen. ‘Spring Awakening' has been created with such care and craft that the voyage back is a deeply rewarding one.

Star-Ledger (Newark):
The most explosive new musical since ‘Rent.' A gorgeous score. A passionate story. ‘Spring Awakening' is a remarkable musical that every generation is likely to appreciate now and in years to come. - Michael Sommers

Spider Duncan Christopher began producing, directing, choreographing, acting, singing, and dancing professionally in his hometown of Seattle, Wash., at age 16.  He is a master acting teacher and coach in New York City and was a founding member of the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University. Among Christopher's many career highlights are a command performance of "Hello Dolly" with Carol Channing at the Lyndon Johnson White House, serving as choreographer and assistant director with Peter Masterson for the original pre-Broadway production of "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" at the famed Actors Studio in New York City, and director and choreographer of "Jacques Brel" for the Vocal Arts Foundation at The Music Mansion in New York. For the Chesapeake Bay Floating Theater, Christopher directed Craig Wright's "Recent Tragic Events;" and off Broadway, he directed world premieres of "Voices of Swords" with Rosemary Prinz and "God in Bed" at the West Bank Café Downstairs Theater Bar. Christopher was the co-founder and original artistic director/choreographer of Infinity Dance Theater, and his original choreography for their signature piece, "The Last Night of the World," was videotaped for the Lincoln Center Archives and has been featured in the New York Times, People magazine, and on NBC's "The Today Show." It was also the best attended event at the Cultural Olympiad at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Ga.  In 2001, Christopher directed "La Bonne Dame," a dance drama about the life of George Sand, which was archived by the Jerome Robbins Foundation at the Danny Kaye Playhouse in New York City.  His favorite acting stint was in "Breaking the Code," a play about Alan Turing whose life is now featured in a must-see film, "The Imitation Game." Last, but not least, three of Christopher's art pieces were displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art for two months and were also featured in two New York Times articles.