Content warning: This article mentions institutional homophobia and transphobia. 

It’s inarguable that, over the course of COVID-19, Toronto’s theatre industry has suffered significantly. 

The pandemic’s impact on the St. Michael’s College Troubadours is no different. In March 2020, the group’s production of LUV: A New Musical was postponed because of recently instituted provincial guidelines. Since then, the troupe has performed shows in a hybrid format. Additionally, the troupe’s rendition of Salt Water Moon was performed in an outdoor setting.

This is what makes the St. Michael’s Troubadours’ in-person production of Spring Awakening even more exciting. The show, which will be playing March 25 and 26 at Toronto’s Michael Young Theatre, will be the troupe’s first in-person musical since March 2020.

The Varsity reached out to the St. Michael’s Troubadours over email to discuss Spring Awakening’s message, rehearsing in times of uncertainty, and putting on an in-person show.

About Spring Awakening

Spring Awakening is a rock musical with a score written by Duncan Sheik and book and lyrics written by Steven Sater. It’s set in late nineteenth century Germany and explores the stories of teenage characters who struggle with finding their identities. The musical is based on the 1891 German play of the same name, which was immediately banned in Germany upon its release.

Cast member Maya Bogojevic, who plays Martha, described the show as “a dark but beautiful and important story complimented [sic] with absolute bangers of songs.” Bogojevic also referenced themes that the musical tackles, including sexuality and morality. 

“There is a misconception that musicals are all cheesy, fluff pieces with no real morals or takeaways,” Bogojevic wrote. “That cannot be less true in the case of spring awakening.”

Similarly, director Isabella Cesari interpreted Spring Awakening’s message as being about “listening [to] and understanding one another.” Though Cesari noted that the show specifically references “the dangers of parents and authority figures not respecting and understanding young people,” she believes that its message “applies across lines other than age as well.”

“The content in this show is still incredibly relevant today,” added Bogojevic, noting that, in a city like Toronto, themes such as censorship and lack of education are especially relevant.

However, Bogojevic stressed the importance of audience members taking “a deeper look” at how thinking similar to what’s presented in the show is present in schools, homes, and religious spaces. Bogojevic especially highlighted Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill and Texas’ proposed anti-LGBTQ+ laws, which, she pointed out, “are actively taking these resources and support away from… LGBTQ+ kids.”

“The show is dark, but I think it needs to be,” Bogojevic wrote. “It shows the worst case scenarios that can occur when kids and teens are not given the support and resources they need as they are growing up.”

These resources, Cesari mentioned, can also be incorporated into artistic spaces. Cesari mentioned the Broadway revival of Spring Awakening, which incorporated American Sign Language and whose cast featured Deaf actors. 

“I would like our audience to leave the show thinking about instances when they have not felt heard and understood, as well as times when they could have been better listeners, or done more to understand others,” Cesari urged.

“The cherry on top” of an in-person show

Spring Awakening will be performed for an audience for the first time less than a week after Ontario will lift mask mandates in some public settings. However, other universities — such as the University of Western Ontario have cancelled some in-person theatre productions. Being allowed to host in-person productions is a privilege that is not lost on Cesari, who noted: “Uncertainty was definitely the biggest barrier.”

“Between August, when we confirmed this would be the show, and now, we’ve been in various stages of restrictions and reopening,” Cesari wrote. “It was very difficult to predict where we would be, come showtime.”

However, Cesari ensured that her cast was equipped to perform under any circumstances. Lauren Kroell, who plays Adult Women, described that the cast rehearsed “anywhere from 2 [to] 6 hours a week,” in the earlier months of the process, “when [they] were learning the numbers and blocking scenes.” 

Kroell also noted that the show’s opening night was postponed from January due to COVID-19 restrictions. She added that, as the cast quickly approaches the new date of March 25, they are expected to attend “all-day rehearsals on the weekends, and then tech and costume runs almost every night in the week leading up to the show.”

Cesari emphasized the importance of communication in the creative process, especially when faced with uncertainty. “I always made sure to keep the creative team, cast, and production team up to speed so that we could plan for any eventuality,” she wrote.

“I was definitely very curious about how it was going to be put on,” cast member Avril Brigden wrote. Brigden, who plays Ilse, added that, during the pandemic, she’d come across “two amazing versions of Spring Awakening”: a virtual one at New York University’s Tisch’s New Studio, and a masked version performed by Texas State. 

“So going into rehearsals, I knew it would be possible for us to do this show well,” Brigden wrote. “These productions had proved that the story could be told effectively despite pandemic restrictions.” 

Other cast members, however, seemed to be seasoned professionals in the field of uncertainty. Nick Cikoja, who plays Moritz, noted that he performed in Fiddler on the Roof in the summer of 2021. “Only two days leading up to the show, were we able to drop the guidelines,” Cikoja wrote. He added that he was experiencing “some major deja vu” during rehearsals.

“Regardless of what happened, I’m sure the show would have been amazing,” Cikoja concluded. “But knowing that we’re getting the opportunity to perform at a ‘normal’ standard, really is the cherry on top.” 

What can audiences expect?

While the cast of Spring Awakening described their production as a “dark” commentary about society, they noted that watching the show will give audiences a different theatre experience than what you might initially expect.

“I’ve had lots of fun working on lighter shows during my time at U of T.” Cesari wrote. “They’ve been wonderful productions… but I’ve appreciated the chance to really sink my teeth into something with lots of layers and gnarly character choices and motivations, and ambiguity.”

Similarly, Cikoja noted that the process of creating Spring Awakening allowed the cast to “come together, both as a team and as a family.”

“There’s never a dull moment when you have the entire cast together,” Cikoja wrote. “Whether I’m in the wings, or we’re working on specifics, there is nothing but constant support from the cast.”

“I find it beautiful that although we all differ in our academic pursuits, life goals, and future career paths, we were brought together by a common love that gave us the opportunity to create something as powerful as this show,” Brigden added.

“Whether you know Spring Awakening or not, audiences can expect to really see the hours and months of hard work reflected in the final product onstage,” Cesari concluded. “This is a really, really talented group, and I think audiences will be glad they got to experience their performance.”

Editor’s Note (March 23): This article has been updated to reflect that the St. Michael’s College Troubadours have held other in-person shows since March 2020. Spring Awakening will be their first in-person musical in two years.