Vincent Kempski is wowing audiences in The Keegan Theatre’s critically acclaimed production of Spring Awakening. Here he talks about the challenges of playing a rebel and working with Directors Mark A. Rhea and Susan Marie Rhea.
Joel: Why did you want to appear in Spring Awakening?
Vincent: I knew almost nothing about the show prior to my audition and callback. I did a good amount of research once I was called back and was immediately enthralled with the story, music, and characters. It was edgy. It was raw. It was rock. It was a fusion of everything I looked for in a show.
Joel: Tell me about the character you are playing.
I play Melchior Gabor, who has an interesting dynamic throughout the show. He knows more than he should at his age, making him subversive and rebellious. However, he holds an inquisitive approach to everything he comes in contact with. There is always more information and his knowledge continually grows, sometimes in directions he cannot control.
How is Melchior like you?
I have always believed that the more you know, the more you don’t know. I feel that I am just as compelled to further my knowledge of varying subjects as Melchior is. He has such a vast imagination that can sometimes get him into trouble.
What challenges have you faced playing Melchior, and how have you overcome these challenges?
The greatest challenge that I am still working to overcome is breaking down the psyche of Melchior. Each character is written so beautifully that it would be a sin to not truly grasp onto the motivation of their thoughts and actions. Comprehending the depth of the show was worth the long and tiresome nights. There were moments where Mark, Susan, and I would find Melchior acting like a wise-guy and pompous. We went back to the drawing board and had to stir his motivation from a different place: his innocence, intellect, etc.
These are not happy people in this show. Have you ever faced similar situations in your own life, and how have these experiences helped you prepare for this role?
I have not faced situations similar to those in the show, making it slightly more of a challenge to relate to.
Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik’s score is so beautiful and powerful. What is it about the score that moves you?
It is so rare to find a show where the music can stand alone as a work of art. And it’s not just a few songs – every song. To add a visual aesthetic to that heartfelt, raw emotion just adds another dimension to an already incredible score. Each piece contains such depth and beauty that molds the show.
The score allows your characters to ‘speak out’ and express your inner feelings. Tell me about your solo(s) or songs that allow you to do that.
Melchior’s first song, “All That’s Known” takes place at the top of the show. He has just defended Moritz for answering incorrectly. Our professor, Herr Sonnenstich, then strikes Melchior multiple times for quarreling against his teaching. The song is an inner monologue piece where Melchior is questioning the knowledge he is receiving and what he knows is not truth.
“Mirror Blue Night” is the second to last number in Act I. It is another inner monologue piece. It follows the beating scene between himself and Wendla. Guilt is at the forefront throughout and I think Melchior realizes that his smarts could be dangerous.
“Totally Fucked” – pure rock. One of my favorite numbers to sing in the show. Melchior has just been caught having written the “depraved and athestic document” to Moritz about sex and things related to that nature. He will be sent to a reformatory school. The cast just rocks it out. Teenage angst floods this number.
What has been some of the advice Directors Mark and Susan Rhea have given you that has helped you develop and mold your performance?
How they aren’t a duel-phenom in New York right now still baffles me. Mark and Susan let us explore. They let us see where each character resides within us. And I think because the show is about genuine teenage emotion and angst, so much of it just inherently came from ourselves.
We’re balancing on a tightrope while juggling on a unicycle. The show is so powerful, and it is so pivotal that every night we hit each plot point and emotion. This show is a make or break deal. It’s there or it isn’t. After months of preparation, floods of notes, and a group of people so dedicated to this production, I believe that we have brought a sentiment and passion to the stage. And that is all Mark and Susan’s doing. They have pushed me beyond the barriers of what I thought I could do with Melchior. We were all able to reciprocate their thoughts and creation onto the stage. I would drop anything on a dime to work with them again.
What have you learned about yourself as an actor working on this show?
No matter how far you’re pushed, you can always go farther. There are always more choices you can make and there are no limits of what you can do. With a show so sensitive and ardent, it’s difficult to prevent going overboard. Simplicity is always better.
How can today’s audiences of all ages relate to the lessons and themes of Spring Awakening?
We’re all kids at heart – every cast, crew, and audience member. Everyone has experienced what each and every character is experiencing. It is OK to have innocence. The show is timeless. Even though it takes place in the early 1900s Germany, it relates to all.
What do you want audiences to take away with them after seeing Spring Awakening?
So much hard work and effort was put into this production. I hope that it is visible how much love and care we have for this show. I have grown so fondly of Melchior and of every single character. This is going to be a hard one to let go of once we close.
I want audiences to be swept away to another place. I want audiences to become attached to each character onstage and to grasp onto the messages relayed – that everything comes with time, to live in the present, to not be older than you are, and that innocence is such a beautiful thing, so hold onto it.
Spring Awakening plays through July 8, 2012 at The Keegan Theatre at Church Street Theater – 1742 Church St, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call (703) 892-0202, or order them online.