For those in low spirits due to the wintry weather and the renewed drudgery of classwork, fear not — Duke’s own Hoof n’ Horn is making spring come early this year.
The latest production from the student-run theater company, “Spring Awakening,” is both timely and timeless, set in 19th-century Germany and dealing with the perennial struggle of transitioning from adolescence to adulthood. Although its exploration of heavy themes can be brutally unflinching, the show contains just enough levity in its puckish dialogue and rocking score to ever be crushed by the gravity of its own material. It is, as first-year Eli Kline describes, “cathartic”.
“There’s a lot of different perspectives in the show, so there’s not one message to convey,” said Kline, who will be portraying Mortiz Stiefel in his second role as a member of Hoof n’ Horn. “I hope everyone gains something from it. The issues covered are so wide and vast, I think everyone will be able to get something mentally, personally or spiritually out of it.”
The show’s director, senior Tori Trimm, has similar hopes for what audiences might glean from the musical.
“There are multiple levels to this show," Trimm said. "There’re lots of timely issues like sexual assault and mental health, but on a broader level, it’s about what happens when communication breaks down … It’s so important to be honest and reach out to people, I feel like that’s something everyone should come away with.”
This is Trimm’s first time in the director’s chair, having previously starred in past Hoof n’ Horn productions such as last fall’s “The Addams Family” and last year’s “Chicago”. She initially had her doubts about transitioning from the stage to behind the scenes, but now enjoys being behind the scenes.
“It’s been awesome,” Trimm said, beaming. “I was worried I’d want to be onstage, but it’s just as fulfilling watching creativity and talent expand, and being able to guide that process. This show has been so collaborative, it’s really a two-way street … it’s just so exciting and new.”
Senior and music director Julia Nicholas was equally enthusiastic about the experience of developing the production.
“It’s been a really amazing experience," she said. "This is my first Hoof n’ Horn production, so I finally get to see how much work goes into the show and how that brings it to life. I love getting to work with the whole production team and the cast, who are all so talented … It’s a beautiful show.”
Some might be surprised to find that Hoof n’ Horn is returning to the Sheafer Lab Theater — a black box space — for “Spring Awakening” after performing their last two productions on the larger stages of the Rubenstein Arts Center. Unlike the comparatively more theatrical musicals on their roster, “Spring Awakening” is an intimate show with a smaller cast that benefits from the close quarters of Sheafer and the close relationships fostered by the reduced scale of production.
“This show has been a lot of fun and very challenging," Kline said. "We have a smaller cast, a smaller theater … But it’s just made us form closer relationships. We really get to bond."
Trimm echoed his remarks. “It’s been really lovely having a small cast and building connections with everyone. I feel like I can give everyone the attention they need.”
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That optimism and dedication can be found in every cast and crew member present. Senior Rebekah Wellons and junior Tim Clayton, who are portraying the show’s adult characters, were all smiles as they stepped offstage after running a scene together.
“It’s going very well,” Clayton said. “It’s a unique challenge playing these distinct characters, but it’s definitely worth it.”
Wellons agreed, elaborating on just how much working on this particular show has meant to her. “It’s very special to do this my senior year. I loved ‘Spring Awakening’ when I was an angsty teen like the characters and now to be doing it from an adult perspective is so amazing.”
For those unfamiliar with the show and its contents, “Spring Awakening” might seem like an odd choice for Hoof n’ Horn’s more well-known roster of performances. Its anachronistic style and uncomfortable subject matter — including, but not limited to, suicide, mental abuse and lots of sex — aren’t exactly audience-friendly. However, the show’s enduring themes and infectious songs wedded with the dazzling talent found at every level of Hoof n’ Horn is bound to make for a memorable production that will leave audiences talking.
As Nicholas so succinctly put it: “People will definitely walk away feeling something.”
“Spring Awakening” will run in the Sheafer Lab Theater from Jan. 24 to Feb. 3 with performances on Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and a Sunday matinee at 2 p.m. both weeks. There will be a talk-back after the matinee.
Content warning: Spring Awakening involves heavy themes including sexual assault, abuse, and suicide, as well as partial nudity. The show is not recommended for young audiences.