Theater professor Harry McEnerny’s casual demeanor and subtle request resulted in an eruption of excitement in Casella Theater Friday afternoon when he asked his cast of “Spring Awakening” to perform an impromptu version of their balls-to-the-wall track, “Totally Fucked.”
Knees were bouncing and hurried shrieks turned to nervous shivers as the cast prepared a full-throttle performance for a very renowned audience member.
The Castleton Theater Department hosted Duncan Sheik, the musical mastermind behind “Spring Awakening,” written by Steven Satar. Sheik won two Tony Awards for his compositions behind “Spring Awakening” and is best known for his 1996 hit, “Barely Breathing.”
Sheik began a workshop session with the cast and crew of nearly 50, beginning with an open forum style Q&A, followed by two hours of performance and critique. He also took the time to reflect with students on his transition process from singer-songwriter to composer.
“It is freeing to be able to write from a perspective different than yourself,” he said.
This is a concept that Sheik has mastered, especially when it comes to writing for alternate genres from “Spring Awakening” to “American Psycho” and even “Because of Winn Dixie.”
“The darker the better,” he said.
Heavy material is something that Sheik is familiar with. He graduated from Brown University with a degree in semiotics; the philosophical study of signs and symbols. He credits much of his success to the culture he received by choosing this path for his education. His experienced equipped him with resources to move freely from one genre to another.
“It helped me see the bigger picture to create something that could combine every communication medium into one production,” Sheik told Castleton students.
Nick Marshall, Castleton junior and lead cast member, said it was beneficial to receive an outside perspective from someone who knows the play as intimately as Sheik. The best piece of advice Marshall took from the workshop was to sing as if you’re alone in your bedroom and no one is watching.
“You’re there to entertain the audience, but don’t act like it,” Sheik told the cast.
Marshall also discussed the benefits of Sheik’s hands-on teaching style.
“There were a couple of times that he had some notes for the bands on how to play certain things. He actually went back and played somebody’s guitar just to show him how to do a certain part”, Marshall said.
McEnerny, director of Castleton’s interpretation of “Spring Awakening,” was most appreciative of Sheik’s commitment and down to earth persona, particularly from the perspective of a director and student mentor.
“I really enjoyed and appreciated how he dealt with the students, with total honesty. And he wasn’t hiding anything; he answered questions from a very honest position,” McEnerny said.
Paige Crickland, Castleton sophomore and assistant stage manager, was most impacted by Sheik’s advice on how to break into the theater world following her Castleton career.
“It was helpful for me to hear, because then I was like ‘okay, I need to go to New York!’” Crickland said.
Crickland said she was able to see just how positively Sheik’s influence resonated through the cast just days before opening night.
“From my perspective, I feel like they amped up their energy a lot. It became more real for them,” she said.
Alexa Fryover, sophomore cast member, was also struck by Sheik’s down to earth temperament.
“He’s so laid back … He actually seemed interested in us. It was nice just to have someone talk to you as if we’re equals,” she said.
Fryover shared with us her hopes for future productions, as well as for the Castleton student body as a whole.
“If we could have more professionals come in, I think it would be fantastic. I would always be willing to do whatever to workshop with professionals. Not just in the