1. What has your experience working with the Barnstormers been like?
The BarnStormers are a very unique group. They act, collectively, as the artistic director of a production company. They elect officers, delegate duties, vote on a proposed season and hire outside professionals. They are students running a small-scale company (tackling large-scale projects) with impressive amounts of outward ease. I worked with all nine of the 2017 Barnstormers board members on Spring Awakening. Three of them were actors and six were production and design heads. From casting to opening I have felt welcomed and supported by the whole Barnstormers team.
I’ll address the production team here because it’s so easy to watch the play and not realize how much work went into the solutions that seem so simple— it requires intense amounts of focused collaboration, creativity, and constant communication. I was readily welcomed into that process. Midnight revelatory emails: light coffin is very doable. Mid-day texts: we fixed the SL speaker! Early morning check-ins on velcro supplies and chalkboards. Constant updates on actor health and scheduling. After-class mosh-pit choreography work and research meetings on the history of girls’ education. Mini-meetings to choose wood stain. Mic swapping plots, or, we-have-17-actors-and-10-mics, over coffee. Unscheduled chats on what makes a piano look like a piano, old school bell sounds, blue-outs vs. black-outs, lifting dye from fabric, baby’s breath vs. woodruff and endless triangle tracking. Late night correspondence about skate T-shirts, album cover aesthetic, and women’s hair in the 1880s. Each department lead dreamed big, weighed their resources, handled their budget and made the best decision for the show. None of the answers were handed to them—I wanted the team to make this show their own, and they did, all between their classes and work-study hours.
2. What was your favorite aspect of this working on this show?
My favorite piece of the process is what I guess I would call “building” the play, where my work moves from intense amounts of reading, research and study of the script and score to scrawling on a giant drawing pad. Some plays allow for a much more “organic” staging process, where I ask the actors to move on impulse and go from there— but with an ensemble of seventeen, a nearly furniture-free stage, and purely actor driven transitions, this play demanded a good deal of “pre-staging,” or, deciding who would be where, when… and why. I draw patterns and shapes. I draw pictures and draft paths of movement. I make initial ideas about how things could feel, look, read and move.
I still, of course, must translate this to the actors and be willing to scrap all of it in the event that it’s not working, or they bring me something better. Directing the company of Spring Awakening has been a dream, because, as it were, the actual rehearsal time was the easiest part of putting up the work. You know you’re working with a productive group of actors when bringing ideas to them and watching them own it, or be inspired by it and come up with something more interesting, it is the easiest and most joyous part of your day. On this show, 5:00 would roll around, I would drink my third cup of coffee and think to myself, “Oh good, work for the day is over. Now I get to bounce this off of twenty of the sharpest people ever and see if any of it makes sense.”
This is a testament to a clever and willing individuals who hold the play in their hands. I brought a copy of Faust to our first staging rehearsal to lend to our Melchior, and his own copy was already on it’s way in the mail. Our two featured dancers in The Dark I Know Well developed half of that movement on their own impulses. Our Wendla made regular time to meet with me to dissect her poetic lyrics, in constant search of her truth. Our Ernst plays lead guitar throughout the show, not out of initial concept, but because we were short a guitarist—and what I did have was a particularly ambitious performer. It makes so much sense to me that I wish I could claim it an idea we had square one. Everyone was is so collectively committed that rehearsals were a dream.
3. Do you have a favorite memory from rehearsal?
I will not soon forget the night that we choreographed the somewhat infamous Georg/Piano Teacher “motor-boating” fantasy sequence. I was 100% prepared to water it down. The actors were having none of it. Finally I was like, “So you guys are game?” and they said, practically in unison, “We’re so game.” We proceeded to discover all the different ways Liz could dance all over Daniel. We all collapsed into such intense spasms of laughter that we could barely communicate— but the sequence looks great.
In general, it was important to our stage manager, our producer and I that we allowed this process to be very light hearted. The content is so heavy that we needed rehearsal to be a fun part of the day, a space where we could laugh and be irreverent and not too serious with each-other most of the time. I think the whole process was much cleaner and easier for that conscious decision.
4. What made you apply to direct this show?
It’s a great play. It’s relevant. I think I am an appropriate translator for the material based on my person and experiences.
5. What have you learned from working with the Barnstormers?
I’ve snuck into the minds of the nation's overachievers for a couple months, and boy, has it been a ride. It’s not easy to be studious yet social, the smartest person in the room, well-liked, poised, and effortlessly witty. Directing gives you a unique opportunity to peek into people’s psyche when they are sometimes at their most vulnerable. I have never met a group of people so young that demanded such extreme success from themselves.
It’s scary, in a way, because humanity isn’t designed for perfection and most humans require about eight hours of sleep per night, but it makes me glad to be making theatre, in that theatre is the antithesis of guaranteed perfection. Teacher’s canes break, guns fall out of pockets, words leap from our mouths in unexpected ways, things are tripped over— but still we play the scene. Some nights the circumstances hit you hard and some nights you have to fight to connect. In a world where almost everything is unbelievably easy to duplicate, a human being’s inability to attain perfection is maybe the only thing that makes theatre what it is— I think the Barnstormers taught me that.
By Laura Oing, Assistant Technical Director
If there’s one thing I’ve learned this semester, it’s that building a set takes a lot of Hard Work. Hard Work includes but is not limited to designing the set, gathering materials, assembling build crew and a lot of sawing, drilling, and painting. Here are my favorite aspects of this year’s set:
1. Not once in the history of the whole world (or since 1919, when The Barnstormers came into being) have we built a thrust stage! Basically, a thrust stage is a stage that has the audience seated on three of the sides of the stage. It’s more work to put together all the audience platforms and design the set so that everyone can see it, but it’s totally worth it. Besides bringing the actors closer to the audience, a thrust stage offers better all-around views for everyone in the audience and is just overall really awesome.
2. We did so much painting and staining for this show, I swear my right arm muscles are no longer proportional to my left arm muscles. But sometimes you gotta take one for the team. In this case, it was totally worth it. All the stained luan came out really nicely, especially the chalkboard platforms. We were even able to borrow an old eraser to make it look more realistic (almost as if some students were actually using it to study outside of the classroom—go figure).
3. The most difficult challenge that we faced in the building of this set was making the four individual triangle platforms. These set pieces are really cool because they can be put together to build even bigger and more complicated things (which is especially helpful because of the quick transitions in this musical). There were a few bumps in the road while trying to make the triangles more stable. But after much planning and worrying and adjusting, we finally solved the problem. On the bright side, Isabel (our Set Designer and Technical Director) probably only lost 10 to 20 hours of sleep fixing the darn things.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned this semester, it’s that building a set takes a lot of Hard Work, but all the things you have to do can also fly by quickly if you’ve got good people surrounding you. Plus, dance parties in the shop also don’t hurt. Thank you to everyone who helped build this set and bring this musical to life, and for making my first musical at Hopkins one I definitely won’t forget!
Spoiler alert: it’s about more than the mares and stallions.
By Allie Zito
In high school, like so many of my cast-mates and our beautiful tech team, I did theater. I performed in 3-4 shows every year, and the cast and tech team were my family. If I had a rough day at school or if I was stressed out by the daunting task of applying to college or what have you, I would never worry too much, because chances are, I had rehearsal. For me, rehearsal usually meant that I would pile into a sedan with four other girls from Merion, my all-girls high school, and we would make the 30 minute drive into Philly to go to St. Joe’s Prep, the all-boys high school. When I walked into the theater, I was home. I was always greeted with the smiling faces of my friends, a joke from our director, Tony, and something uplifting from our music director and choreographer, Sonny.
Theater was my happy place in high school; if I was there, I was doing something that I love with people that I love. When I got to college, however, I wanted to try new things. A part of me was afraid of becoming dependent on theater because so many of my friends from the Prep came back and told me that college theater isn’t the same; they said that it was so much harder to find a family. So I took their advice. I went to the a cappella O Show and auditioned for the group that said they were looking for new family members, and I made my home in the Vocal Chords.
I performed with the Vocal Chords and stayed involved in theater by helping out with tech here and there. I assisted the props and costume directors, and I felt myself quietly wishing I would audition, but I was always able to tell myself that I was too busy. However, last semester was bad. It was academically challenging, I was experiencing difficult changes in my personal life, and I realized that I needed something more. I needed to find a new happy place. So, for the first time in three years, I auditioned for a show, and by some miracle of God, I got in.
For the first time in three years, I feel like myself again. I found a family in this cast and tech team. When I wake up in the morning, I excitedly check my planner to see who I get the honor of working with that day. I bounce into rehearsal, and I run to the stage. Claire and Erich always make me feel welcome and important, and no matter what has happened that day, my cast-mates are always happy to see each other.
The musical ends on “The Song of Purple Summer.” It’s a song that can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. For me, it is a song of hope after all of the terrible things life can throw at you. Throughout college, I’ve dealt with things that have made me tired and upset and heartbroken. However, my involvement in Spring Awakening has been my own personal “Song of Purple Summer.” After all of this sadness, doubt, loss, and grief, I have found hope and happiness in the people I have met here, and I know that I will continue to find a home in the friendships I have made through this show.
By Laura Nugent
Sometimes I’m not sure if that title refers to the show or to me. I think it depends on the day, because creating an effective lighting design for Spring Awakening—essentially a rock concert set in 1891 Germany, sung by angsty hormonal German schoolchildren—has presented a whole host of challenges for both the Swirnow theater space and for me as a designer.
When I heard that we would be doing the show in thrust, I panicked. I had never worked in thrust before and so I did what all good little Hopkins students do. When in doubt, go to the library. After checking out every single book on lighting design at MSE and through BorrowDirect, I was saddened to discover that only one chapter in all my pounds of books provided any detail on how to light in thrust. Luckily for the Barnstormers, one chapter was enough, and we succeeded in lighting every inch of stage from every angle.
But a clean basic wash in thrust wasn’t enough for me. Little did I know that my difficulties were only beginning, because basic just wouldn’t cut it for this bitch. I wanted to take my Spring Awakening design above and beyond my previous work with the Barnstormers and I could think of just one way to do that, by using tools that had sent designers of the past screaming from Swirnow: Moving lights, which require using the most complex light board on campus.
Nothing at the library could prepare me for this, so I turned to the Hopkins student’s other best friend, YouTube. Ten hours of tutorial videos and more time than I’d like to think about futzing around with the fancy new board later, there are over 200 spectacular light cues unlike anything seen at Hopkins before, just waiting for you when you come to see Spring Awakening. It’s been a long road, but I can now honestly say that I have made this show my bitch.
Shoutout to my main boss bitches Monika, Lizze, and Megan for being the best assistants and board operator a designer could ask for!
By Aryiana Moore
Hi there. If you are reading this, then most likely you are interested in learning about the sound tech department with JHU Barnstormers. If I am correct, then you will be disappointed, because THIS sound designer (hi, my name is Aryiana. Nice to meet you, readers) has absolutely nothing to say about sound design. I’m currently on steroid medications because of health problems, so I honestly don’t have the patience to explain my job, why I like being sound designer, my chill team, or anything else. But don’t worry, my emotional wreck of a subconscious caused by the hormone side effects of my new steroid medication would like to have a word.
Aryiana frigging loves being part of the theatre ensemble for various Barnstormer productions and she is willing to DESTROY anyone who says otherwise. (That’s not a threat. It’s a promise. I’m looking at you, stairs up to the sound booth that keep tripping me… We will fight!) Anyway, when she thinks about the fun, supportive friendships that she has made this year working as the technical head for sound, she just tears up a little. Aryiana is a freshman at JHU, so working with Barnstormers as their sound head has not only introduced here to the school, but to a pretty chill theatre group on campus. But Aryiana is suddenly really sleepy, so she is probably going to nap in the green room in Swirnow Theatre. She spends a lot of time napping there or in the audience seats, while she waits for the weekly production team meetings. If you see here, warning, do not wake her up unless she is needed or the building is on fire. I’m sure you don’t want to accidentally awaken her any steroid-driven rage. What do you mean?!?!?!?! I’m fantastic company when I’m not causing Aryiana to yell at the computer connected to the sound board for updating in the middle of her sound edits before she has the chance to hit save. Oh yeah. Those moments really suck, but at least Aryiana’s tears are good for cleaning the dust off of the sound board. Ok, ok. I think that is enough from everyone. All in all, if you are looking for a wacky, theatre family, please feel free to try out for Barnstormers’ productions or join the tech team. We would love to …
By Maya Singh Sharkey
In many theatre kids’ lives, there is a Spring Awakening phase, where they obsessively listen to the cast recording and look at aesthetically pleasing character mood boards on the internet and cry. There is generally a lot of crying.
When the Barnstormers announced that the spring main stage was going to be Spring Awakening late last year, I was very deeply entrenched in my Spring Awakening phase. I was equal parts ecstatic, because we were putting on such an amazing and important and fantastic musical, and terrified, because I was pretty confident that I didn’t have the chops to be in such a high-powered production with such a small cast in a school filled with an overwhelming amount of talent.
When I did get cast, my relationship with the show bloomed from a devotion to the show itself to a love of the process of putting a musical like this together, which has only deepened my my love for not only Spring Awakening, but for acting as a whole.
After our first read through, our director Claire sent us the original play that Spring Awakening was based on, which was written in 1891 by Frank Wedekind that was banned in several countries for decades after its release. Reading it illuminated more backstory for all the characters that was left out of the musical, and also created an even clearer distinction between each character’s scene persona, that of a teenager in 19th century Germany that is restricted from truly expressing their feelings and desires because of their age and lack of information about what they are experiencing, and their song persona, which is a contemporary inner monologue addressing the taboos that can only be revealed through music.
In addition, throughout the process of building Spring Awakening, acting and specificity of motivation were emphasized more than in any other musical I’ve been in. Instead of putting on a bland three-knuckle grin in ensemble numbers, we were challenged to discover our own personal arc and the significance of every line and number we were a part of to create a full and believable performance. I love and respect my character, Martha, immensely, and following her throughout the show has allowed me to illuminate her fully: from her vulnerability and fear, to her strength and defiance, and even to the true joy she gets to experience, which is often not specified in productions of this show.
This production of Spring Awakening is done in a thrust configuration, meaning that there is audience on three sides of the stage. Save for some chaotically-directed Shakespeare scenes I did three years ago, this is my first experience with an alternate theater configuration, and I did not expect blocking to be so natural. Even though scenes were blocked with more 45 degree angle facings than in a traditional proscenium setting, we were given the freedom to move more dynamically and explore the space without fearing being too far back to be seen or heard. Playing to three different audiences at once means that each group gets a completely different show on the same night, and a different insight on different performers at different points of the show, an aspect I’m really excited to hear reactions about from audiences during our run.
The most important and rewarding part of this process, though, is the fantastic group of artists that have collaborated in creating this show. Our professional director and musical director, Claire and Erich, are among the most talented people I’ve ever worked for and truly respect our processes and guide our performing with a clear vision that I cannot praise enough. Our technical designers have created beautiful sets, lighting, costumes, etc. that have made this production unique and straddled the 19th century and modern design elements of the show.
And I am in awe of every single member of this cast. Many of them are triple threats who sing, dance, read music, make me laugh and break my heart on a daily basis. This has been an extremely rewarding and enlightening production for me, and it would not be the same without this amazing group of individuals who have built a breathtaking production.