In part five of a series of interviews with the cast of Ovations Theatre’s Spring Awakening, meet mentor actor RJ Pavel.
Joel: What is your name, where did you graduate college, and what is your role in Spring Awakening?
RJ: I’m RJ Pavel and I play Otto. I went to The University of the Arts in Philadelphia for Musical Theatre.
Tell us about your role. What do you find most challenging or interesting about playing this character?
There actually isn’t too much about Otto in the text. And I absolutely love playing characters that leave a lot for the imagination to play with. It’s definitely challenging in the rehearsal process to discover how Otto may react to certain situations, what he thinks about other characters, what kind of student he is in school, especially when he is not the main focus of the story line. But that’s also the fun part. You need to give those characters a story line, something to strive for. Every time we run a scene, I find a little more about him.
The show touches on some difficult and some dark themes such as abuse, abortion and suicide. Why is it important for teenagers to portray these issues, and why is it important for audiences to see it?
It’s life. These themes were relevant yesterday. They are definitely relevant today. And, unfortunately, they will be relevant tomorrow. But it helps to tell stories and converse about such things to learn how to deal and make steps to move forward. Some may deem this show and production “inappropriate”, or even think just the conversation of these matters is wrong. But that is exactly what Spring Awakening wants to challenge. Hiding from the truth. These young adults who make up the rest of the cast are incredibly mature in rehearsal (have I mentioned talented out the wazoo yet?). They don’t giggle at certain terms or take these subjects lightly. This isn’t the School Edition of the show. I watch them evaluate these scenes, and, yeah, maybe get a little uncomfortable once in awhile, but they put the story first, what it stands for, and just go for it. I’ve loved Spring Awakening and it’s characters since I was 13 or 14, younger than these student actors are today. It’s beautiful to see these characters come alive in front of me by actors who are actually the age of those characters going through the struggles of high school, growing, first loves, becoming and discovering who they are. All these wonderful experiences we hold with us. All of us adults have been there. We can’t pretend our children won’t be too. To quote another show, “Children will see and learn. Children will listen”.
What is the most valuable thing you’ve learned from working on the production?
Being in a room full of teenagers whose faces aren’t glued to their phones is simply incredible. These days it’s rare to see a baby without an iPad. But look! They are acting and reacting in real time. On their feet! Kids are hilarious. These kids are hilarious. Overhearing their conversations, I’m astounded about how smart and witty they are. I think we need to listen to the younger generation more and not shrug them off as “kids”. The future is right in front of us.
How many shows have you worked on with Ovations Founder and Artistic Director Darnell Morris? What do you like most about working with him?
This is my second show with Darnell now. I played Chip Tolentino when he directed Spelling Bee (The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee) back in 2010. Darnell doesn’t play around; he never let’s anything slide. You better be on your game when working with him. He comes to work with these visions of the show and they are so original and different than other productions, but still so true to the story. He is also just a joy to be around. We could be working on a scene with some dark subject matter (especially with this show) and he always knows how to make us laugh at some point when least expected. Then getting back to the point he’d say with a straight face, “but actually though”. And it’s back to work we go.
Ovations Theatre’s Artistic Director has been combining mentor actors with student actors since the inception of Ovations Theatre as well as with other programs he has worked with in the past. Why did you want to be join the production as a mentor actor and what have you learned about yourself as an artist during your Spring Awakening experience?
At first, I was actually a little hesitant about the idea of being on stage with 8-12 graders with such heavy material. Then I thought, what a cool thing this is. Spring Awakening is the perfect show for what Ovations does. And it’s been rewarding from day one. As an artist you deal with a constant questioning and reflection of self. Some days you wonder whether you’re doing the right thing, or if you are wasting your time putting so much energy into something that may turn out to be absolutely nothing. And other days you feel invincible. There is no black and white. It’s a great feeling to walk into rehearsal after a long day and see the student actors where I was a decade ago. They are all so passionate and driven, blindly going for what they want without anyone telling them “no”. There is a real hunger to learn. They’ve definitely helped me to keep going, and maybe I’m here for a reason.
What have you learned about yourself the actor and singer during your Spring Awakening experience?
Spring Awakening has me wanting to work with students more in an educational setting. I was in a production of Little Women, a play by Jacqueline Goldfinger, in 2012 as a Teaching Artist. We went to schools around Philadelphia and taught drama classes geared toward prepping those students to see the show. It was a short process, but I remember it being one of the most rewarding things, just like Spring Awakening. The students (6th-12th graders) were so excited when they finally arrived at the theatre after their classes the previous week. You’ve never seen a more passionate audience during a post show talk back. Or during the show for that matter. It was like a live studio audience for a soap opera every night…of Little Women. It was crazy. Since then, I’ve been a little selfish. I think using my skills as an actor and singer to inspire and educate others is something I’ve been missing out on.
Spring Awakening plays from December 2-4, 2016, at Ovations Theatre performing at The Kreeger Theatre JCC of Greater Washington – 6125 Montrose Road, in Rockville, MD. For tickets, purchase them at the door or online.
Meet the Cast ‘Spring Awakening’ at Ovations Theatre Part 1: Marjorie Long and Josie Weinberg.
Meet the Cast ‘Spring Awakening’ at Ovations Theatre: Part 2: Ethan Miller.
Meet the Cast of ‘Spring Awakening’ at Ovations Theatre: Part 3: Chloe Friedman and Meghan Carey.
Meet the Cast of ‘Spring Awakening’ at Ovations Theatre: Part 4: Yasmin Ranz-Lind and Heather Kirschner.
Meet the Cast of ‘Spring Awakening’ at Ovations Theatre: Part 5: Mentor Actor RJ Pavel.