The Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) has just recently finished a successful run of the hit Broadway musical, Spring Awakening. Just before the run began Perdeby took some time out with director Dr Harold Mortimer to chat about the production’s journey from inception to final product.

How did you become involved with the production?

I became involved because I was a Fulbright Scholar with TUT four years ago and that programme is something that brings faculty, teachers [and] artists from theUnited Statesto universities all over the place. I was able to teach there for six months in 2008 and every year since then I’ve tried to come back and do something with them. I’ve had a great relationship with them the past four years. While I was up here with a couple of students last year, they [TUT] asked me if I’d like to direct the production. The rest, as they say, is history.

What was the production process like?

When I came back we did auditions. The students were great – we actually made the cast a little bit larger than the show calls for. I doubled up wherever possible. We have a cast of about 25, 26. We got all the music learnt and the Grahamstown Festival came up – one thing I haven’t seen in all the time I’ve been here – so we went to see that and we used the week or so there to learn lines. When we came back, holiday was going on, so we took the time to rehearse during the day and be leisurely. As soon as the holiday was over, we started evening rehearsals. They put a lot of hours in, we rehearsed at least five or six times a week, for three or four hours. We didn’t have very long to rehearse. About two months.

Why was this production in particular chosen?

It has had such a pivotal mark in Broadway and musical theatre history. It has so much contemporary music, a pop/rock combination. It won so many Tony Awards and it just offers such a new, fresh way to get the music out there. It was based on a controversial play from 100 years ago, so you can imagine, after 100 years, it’s not as controversial anymore. It features so many young people which makes it perfect for a college or university because the roles are similar to their own age. It covers a storyline that is easy for them to relate to.

Although Spring Awakening is set in Germany, in your director’s notes, you talk about the South Africanisation of the content of the play. How have you localised it?

Well, now that we’ve seen the costumes, there’s a school uniform which certainly looks like a high school uniform fromSouth Africa. But basically, I wanted to make sure that we included an atmosphere of a different life. Because the storyline is so universal – in my director’s note I said that it wasn’t my intent to South Africanise it, but certainly, because it’s been done in so many different languages, there is no need for a whole bunch of people trying to sound like they’re American. They’re actually trained to kind of imitate that accent – my accent – so as soon as they were able to speak how they really speak, it just eased up their bodies. So in the show you’ll hear a lot of their own language, where it needs to be more intense emotionally. Also, we chose to have a baobab painted on to the back wall of the stage, kind of to a “ying and yang”effect.

It sounds like you’ve been quite creative with the show, so it’s not just a carbon copy of the Broadway version?

No, definitely not. I actually didn’t get a chance to see the show on Broadway. So there are some things that [are] similar because of the text and everything, but there are other aspects that are totally different. The choreography in particular is very original.

Image: Garth Collins


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