In Part 1 of a series of interviews with the cast of Metropolitan Youth Theatre’s Spring Awakening, meet Erin Claeys.
Sam: Why did you want to appear in Spring Awakening at Metropolitan Youth Theatre?
Erin: Spring Awakening has been one of my all-time favorite musicals for a long time, so when I saw the ad for auditions I went out on a whim and tried out. I went with one of my friends, legitimately knew no one else, and had very low expectations (that being said, Ilse has always been one of my dream roles!), but I am so happy that I took the chance. It definitely has paid off!
Tell me a little bit about Ilse.
Ilse has been kicked out/ran away from her town after facing years of abuse from her father. She now lives in an artist’s colony, called Priapia, with bohemian artists and she leads a very modern, “risky” life in the colony.
How is Ilse similar to yourself?
Like Ilse, I always want to appear to be strong and brave despite any challenges we may face. I think I do a slightly better job than she does, but, then again, we come from pretty different circumstances.
What has been your greatest challenge in portraying Ilse? How did you overcome these challenges?
I originally didn’t want to admit that Ilse is a somewhat weak and desperate woman. She has gone through so much in her short life and she is looking for compassion and affection anywhere she can find it. In this day and age, I truly want all of the women I portray on stage to be good, feminist role models so when I realized how vulnerable Ilse is, I was a little disappointed. However, I also realized that her vulnerabilities are what make her strong. She is such a nuanced and interesting character and if anyone has an excuse to be desperate, Ilse does. I have a deep respect for her willingness to break the status quo and do whatever it takes to get out of a bad situation, even if it leads to future pain. I now accept her desperation and really build from that point when forming her in my mind.
Are there any life experiences you have faced that have helped you prepare for this role?
Last summer I went to Mongolia and on the trip I was really faced head-on with my many vulnerabilities. That taught me a lot about strength, but also a lot about accepting my weaknesses just as Ilse has had to do throughout her life.
How have you interpreted Chad Vann’s vision for the show? How has he helped you to develop and mold your performance?
I am really glad that our version of the show has moved away from the typical angst-ridden Spring Awakening that you would expect to see, especially with such a young cast. Through forcing us to focus on the deep, core messages of the show, Chad has completely changed my perspective. However, Chad has also allowed me to take the reigns with my character and I was able to form Ilse’s foundation and then he just added what he felt was necessary to make her fully come to life. I also liked the added perspective for the ensemble moments of us each being our future adult selves looking back on what happened in the past in an attempt to understand what went wrong.
What have you learned about yourself as an actor throughout this process?
I have learned a lot about ensemble. I spend almost more time on stage as a member of the ensemble than I do as Ilse and watching all the scenes and reacting to them has really challenged me mentally. My brain is always exhausted after a run because every second that I’m on stage, I have to be thinking about what is going on and how I would react as my future self looking back on these memories. I can’t zone out, but I have no lines or melodies to force me to stay in the moment.
What is it about Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik’s score that most moves you?
Everything about the score is incredibly moving to me. The melodies are so poignant and memorable and the lyrics are powerful but poetic. For example, the song I sing, “Blue Wind”, at first glance makes basically no sense. But every time I read it and sing it and think about it, I find a new way to interpret it. There are so many directions that can be taken with this show, but, no matter what, the music will stay relevant and fitting which is definitely a unique trait of the score.
Is there any particular moment or number in the show in which you feel you’re most able to express your inner feelings?
“Touch Me” is basically pure bliss for me. It is a joyful release of all those teen-romancy feeling we all get and once we are done with that song I feel as though I’ve just taken a shower and all my worries and tensions have been washed away. There is such a slow, powerful build that once you finally reach the moment of musical climax, so many feelings rush over you and you can’t help but smile. That being said, “Song of Purple Summer” has always been my favorite song in the show and I always am close to tears when I sing it. It is filled with so much hope and promise for the future and is also musically stunning.
Why should audiences come see your production of Spring Awakening? What makes the production different from others?
Our production isn’t just about teen angst! It is about individuality, freedom, vulnerability, and so much more and I know that every single person will be able to relate to it in some way. The show itself is a great combination of awesome music and beautiful characters and it makes you think, so there really is no reason not to come! Plus everyone in the cast and crew is insanely talented and it’s pretty incredible that we’re all just a bunch of teenagers, but I am so proud of what we have produced together.
Meet the Cast of Metropolitan Youth Theatre’s ‘Spring Awakening’: Part 2: Quentin Araujo.
Meet the Cast of Metropolitan Youth Theatre’s ‘Spring Awakening’: Part 3: Lexi Rhem.
Meet the Cast of Metropolitan Youth Theatre’s ‘Spring Awakening’: Part 4: Carlos Castillo.
*The series of interviews are by Sam Cornbrooks.