My stomach was in knots as I sat in the lobby of Durham Performing Arts Center tonight, awaiting the doors to open so I could take my place on stage for the award-winning musical “Spring Awakening”. I was offered a chance to sit in one of the 40 wooden chairs set up on stage as part of the performance. I was nervous to sit under bright lights facing 2,800 theatre goers. But my role was a cinch. I just had to play the casual audience member, along with the other folks who paid $25 for a rare chance to see a touring Broadway show from the actors’ point of view. In other words, I just had to be myself.
Well, that’s not quite true. There were some rules. I was told not to wear perfume or bright colored clothes. I couldn’t eat or drink on stage. DPAC provided lockers to hold all of our belongings. No fiddling around allowed.
A quick Google search filled in some blanks about what to expect, but I didn’t want to read any on-stage audience accounts too closely and ruin the experience. But I did learn that none of us would be asked to participate in the performance and that I might not realize some of the fellow on-stage audience members were actually cast members.
Spring Awakening is a rock musical based back-in-the-day that focuses on a bunch of teenagers learning about sex and sexuality without the aid of adult insight. There’s kissing, nudity, masturbation scenes and more. But it’s portrayed tastefully.
Back to my on-stage seats. My nerves settled almost immediately after I took my seat. I jokingly waved to folks in the third-tier, pretending like I spotted a friend in the crowd. It was fun. Once the musical started, I immediately noticed the spit. It makes sense that these actors would be spewing saliva as they belt out tunes, but I’ve never noticed it from the front of the house. Fortunately, the audience stayed dry.
One of the opening numbers featured a lot of stomping by the actors, and it was the first time I experienced choreography that moved me — literally. I could feel the stage rippling beneath my feet, the empty chairs of the actors rattling around me as they pounded the stage. I could see the red ring one of the young actors left on the breast of his piano teacher, a small hickey that the rest of the audience may never realized was briefly real. I could see the tears welling up in the eyes of the actors in a mourning scene. When the fog rolled out in a mystic scene, I felt like the actors were being swallowed.
The one significant difference I noticed with the stage seats is that the connection with the actors and plot felt different than if I was facing them. In scenes where I think I would’ve typically cried along with the actors, I sat stoically and admired the acting instead. Also, the wooden seats were pretty uncomfortable. Cushions would be a welcome addition.
I don’t know if there are still any stage seats available for “Spring Awakening,” which runs nightly through Sunday. But if you ever have the chance to watch this show from that perspective, definitely seize it. And if you love a little controversy some pop/rock musicals, it’s definitely a show worth checking out. Just make sure you’re pretty comfortable with the person you go with, because you never know how someone will react to mock masturbation.