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Duncan Sheik talks about 'Spring Awakening', music, and more!

Duncan Sheik talks abut "Spring Awakening"
Photo courtesy of Cygnet Theatre, used with permission

I had the pleasure to chat with “Spring Awakening” and “American Psycho” composer Duncan Sheik when he was in San Diego at the Cygnet Theatre. He was here to see their current production of “Spring Awakening” and be the guest of honor for an evening chat back. Luckily, there was so much that was discussed that I am breaking it into two articles for you! First up, here is everything “Spring Awakening”!

One of the most distinctive things about “Spring Awakening” is the use of music in the show and the type of music that it is to tell the story. But the combination of getting into the head space of an angsty teenager and being influenced by other music was where Sheik took inspiration.

“Being a recording artist who tours and performs and who has never had a normal job or anything, I have never really evolved past my seventeen year old self. So it wasn’t really hard because I’m stuck in that emotional zone, permanently, for better or for worse. In this case maybe for the better because it is easier for me to access that emotional place.
The music that I grew up listening to when I was a teenager is kind of the music that is the most important stuff to me and the stuff that I go back to, so it wasn’t a stretch at all.
Whenever I am working on a new theatre piece, or anything. I am definitely being influenced by records that I have recently listened to or appreciate. For example there is an English band called ‘Wild Beasts’, young twenty something kids that just made a record called ‘Present Tense’ that is gorgeous, and really cool, and incredibly sophisticated; in some ways that’s informing a lot of what I am up to. Last year it might have been James Blake.
During the time of ‘Spring Awakening’ it was Radiohead or Bjork. These things cycle through your consciousness and it’s silly to say they’re not influences because they really are.

'Whisper House' was fun because I got to draw from three time periods. Which were when the ghosts were alive in the early 20th century, the World War II setting of the show, and really the fact that it is contemporary music. So you’re kind of playing with the aesthetics of each of those times and that was cool -especially to be able to write an old timey story song, which I hadn’t really done before.”

While Duncan clearly has had success with his music in theatre, he loves being able to go outside the box in bringing music to the stage.

“I love really traditional musical theatre writers who do great work and great craft; there is totally a place for that. But I think if the musical theatre world is only that it causes big problems for the genre because it is not inclusive of the wider world.
I love 'Grey Gardens', I’m going to 'Bridges of Madison County' and I’m really exited to see it. This is not a critique of people who work in a more classic modality of writing musical theatre. But for me, certainly with these pieces, it seemed right that stylistically the music be much more in touch of what’s currently in the zeitgeist.

When I watched it (‘Spring Awakening’) last night, I realized these things like “Word of your Body” have this incredibly baroque quality to them. I’m not sure if I intended it but that how it feels and it does feel right. So that was a happy accident.”

So how does he feel like the Cygnet Theatre production and cast are doing with their presentation of the show?

“I was really moved in a way that I have not been, watching this show in a long time. I was really excited about it again. We’re hoping to make the movie this year. It got my wheels really turning about the future life of the show and what it could be. I thought the production design is great, the space is really well suited to the piece. Your Melchior and Wendla are two of the best voices in that role, literally ever; I don’t care Broadway or anywhere else! A lot of those harmonies are really hard to sing, and every time those guys were on the stage it was so strong and clear and powerful.

It was definitely one of the best regional productions I have ever seen.”

“Spring Awakening” at the Cygnet Theatre March 6 - April 27, 2014. Show times are Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 3pm and 8pm, and Sundays at 2pm and 7pm.
Tickets can be purchased by visiting Cygnet's website at www.cygnettheatre.com or by calling the box office at 619-337-1525. Cygnet's box office and theatre are located at the Old Town Theatre, 4040 Twiggs St. in Old Town San Diego State Historic Park.

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