Exploring Spring Awakening: “Storytelling through Choreography” Week Two, Blog Three (Written by Paisley FortsterSaunders)
Have you ever wondered where the inspiration for choreography comes from? How do choreographers tell the story through movement? How do actors use movement to physically manifest internal motivations? Assistant director/choreographer Paisley ForsterSaunders takes us deeper into the process.
There are three ingredients that make a musical: Singing, dancing, and acting. When an actor can no longer communicate what they need to say through spoken word they sing, when singing will no longer suffice they dance. All three are equally important elements to putting on a good musical. However, out of the three, dance is often the most overlooked. Your average theatre goer can recognize and appreciate a committed, truthful actor, and show tunes are notoriously catchy. But choreography changes from production to production. Some shows, such as West Side Story and A Chorus Line have dance phrases that are almost as famous as the melodies and lyrics of the songs in the musicals. But that is not the usual case. Unlike the script and songs which are unchangeable, choreography is completely unique from show to show.
Some musicals are meant to have sharp, fantastical, highly choreographed dance numbers–Spring Awakening is one of those musicals. When I first listened to the Spring Awakening soundtrack with choreographic intent, at the beginning of this process in June, it was hard for me to imagine a 5-6-7-8-! being shouted at dancers while Duncan Sheik’s contemporary folk rock music whafted in the background. Spring Awakening is not a show that is designed to have a big tap piece or a magnificent Jazz solo. It is a show in which all choreography should physically reflect the inner feelings and turmoils of the characters.
While still in the pre planning stages of Spring Awakening, director Marie Tredway and I discussed how exploration and freedom were central themes in Spring Awakening. In the show, the characters have reached that confusing crossroads between childhood and adulthood. With their bodies, ideas and worldviews changing, they seek freedom to explore mind, body and soul. We saw our choreography as a perfect moment to connect these three dots.
The director felt that is was incredibly important to let the actors adjust the choreography to their own bodies. Trying to make someone else’s choreography fit perfectly to your own body can be like trying to fit into pants one size too small. You can do it but there might be some chafing later. To prevent any chafing, we lead our actors through a devising workshop before teaching any choreography. The basic idea behind devising is that the performer is the creator of the movement, not the director or choreographer; it is collaborative. The movement is created from a topic,concept, or idea. At the devising workshop we gave our actors the idea of a spark emitting electrical currents in some mundane part of their body. They were asked to devise motions around this spark. This motion, individually created by each cast member was the basis for many aspects of our choreography for their characters.
While not every aspect of Spring Awakening’s choreography is devised, the devising process has been an incredibly effective way to create natural and truthful choreography in collaboration with our actors. Our cast has done another week of steller work. We threw a lot of new ideas at them and with those ideas they have created art filled with passion, truth, and love.