Around 7:10 p.m. as the cast of We Will Rock You
at Blank Canvas Theatre in the 78th Street Studios were preparing to open the doors for its show, the cast and crew began receiving frantic text messages from the neighboring theatre up the street.
"Hey, do you all have power?"
On Saturday evening, a massive power outage on Cleveland's west side left many Cleveland Public Power customers without electricity for untold amounts of time. The production at Blank Canvas Theatre was safe, as the building is not powered by CPP, but the cast, crew and audience for Near West Theatre's production of Spring Awakening
were left in the dark. Literally.
The production of Spring Awakening
is undoubtedly one of the strongest summer productions Near West Theatre has ever performed. Their production of the popular high-energy rock musical about teenage angst and sexual awakening had choreography featuring people standing on stools and actors hooked to bungee harnesses defying the laws of gravity.
Antonio DeJesus who plays Hänschen in Spring Awakening
, "I think I was at first worried we wouldn't be able to perform at all, because usually protocol says we have to go home after a certain time without power."
After an impromptu half hour concert from the pit band while awaiting the power to turn back on, the production staff decided the show must go on and they'd perform unplugged and lit completely by battery operated candlelights.
Actor Kyle Burnett was in the audience for the show, and he tells Scene
that it was one of the most memorable he's ever experienced.
"At first I was nervous for the cast, knowing that they had a lot of tech savvy inclusions in the show that would have to be nixed for safety," Burnett says. "But by the time they announced that it was going to be a concert show, I knew it was going to be incredible."
This isn't the type of show that can be done in pitch black, yet the brilliant and tenacious cast and crew of Spring Awakening
found a way to do just that for their closing weekend Saturday night performance.
"While the power was being worked on, we had an affirmation circle in the basement dressing room, lifting each other up and all that positivity took us into the candlelight performance," says DeJesus.
While some audience members did understandably leave the theatre, a majority of the audience stayed in their seats to see this one-of-a-kind performance experience.
"We reentered the theatre and the stage was lined with electric candles," says Burnett. "And then the cast came on and for the next hour I watched one of the most passionate and talented casts pour their hearts out on stage and not only shared their characters with us, but we got to see their personality and their joy and angst. It was absolutely stunning."
Underscored with only string instruments and a guitar, the performers sang their hearts out in a setting similar in fashion to telling a story around a campfire, with lights illuminating their faces and exaggerating their expressions.
"We were not afraid at all to do this show differently, because the show's orchestrations, I think, allow for you to be able to fight through the circumstances," says DeJesus.
In the words of director Kelcie Duggar, "At NWT, we have engaged the theatre arts as a platform for real discussion and healing.”
The topics discussed in Spring Awakening
are not easy. Abuse, puberty, sex, sexuality, suicide, teen pregnancy, unwed mothers and abortion are all mentioned throughout the show. While flashy elements like hard rock music and eye-catching lighting designs make these discussions more palatable, scaling down the performance only enhanced the story these individuals were trying to tell.
"The audience deserved to see something, and we needed that performance," DeJesus says. "Usually the lights, sound and set tie a show together, but we had that stripped away and were left with ourselves. And that was all that we needed."