Angus Grant plays the character of Melchior in Spring Awakening, written by Frank Wedekind and directed by Simon Stone, opening at Belvoir Downstairs this week.

In the lead up to Opening Night he spoke to Australian Stage's Sonia Allan.

Angus GrantMany of us might be new to Frank Wedekind’s work. Could you tell us a little about the play Spring Awakening?
Well, it's a German early expressionist classic (written in 1891), which seems to have had quite a few incarnations in its time. It was controversial in its day for its content - it's basically about a group of young teenagers around fourteen, fifteen years of age who are all coming into their early adulthood and experiencing their “spring awakenings,” the pain of puberty and their sexual and physical growth, and its about the world and society controlling them and the struggle that these kids have to go through in facing that. I think that was part of why it was so controversial because at its time it was so candid about the issues it deals with, and that was really a shock for people then.

What would you like readers of Australian Stage to know about this particular production's interpretation?
It's an interesting one. We performed this last year at (art gallery and venue for live performance) 45 Downstairs in Melbourne, and it was a particular adaptation and take on it, but this production again is quite different. It's been completely redesigned and re-imagined. You may be aware that there's a musical version of Spring Awakening on Broadway... this is not the Broadway version!

It's probably one of the most interesting pieces stylistically I've been involved with, and it's going to be presented in quite an abstract way, really sharpening the point of these kids’ divisions from each other and the way that they're fed information that they're having no control over. The production focuses on the consequences of manipulation in these kids’ lives, and the design is boldly highlighting that. The translation and adaptation of the work is quite innovative, and it will be a boldly theatrical piece as well.. It's going to be an interesting show, very theatrical, and I think, beautiful.

Hayloft sounds like an interesting group. What would you say are the group's aims, what kind of work are they looking to put onstage?
I'm an ongoing member and associate artist with Hayloft. I was involved in the original production of Spring Awakening, we did Platonov earlier this year, and this is my third production with Hayloft. It's a fantastic group, and it's still very much in its embryonic stages really. This is the third or fourth show that Hayloft has put on, and there's been a number of the same people involved each time. I don’t know if we have a manifesto or anything like that yet, but everyone involved is very passionate about theatre, interesting theatre, and shaking up what we can see on the stage onstage here in Australia.

Based on the stuff that we've done it seems that predominantly we are doing late 19th century, slightly obscure pieces, and making them relevant and interesting for today, playing with form and playing with the content to present it for a modern audience. But that's not going to be the only thing we're going to do, we're not only hell-bent on performing obscure works! But the works have tended to be from one person wanting to put on a particular show, or a particular idea, and everyone else jumps on board to help them realise that.

What I’ve read of Spring Awakening strikes me as using language that is quite beautiful and soft - how would you describe (playwright) Frank Wedekind's voice? What's his style and tone?
I think you'd be right in describing it Wedekind's language as beautiful, there's a lilting, beauty and melancholy to the words. His work has been translated from the German, and different translations have a different take on it, and succeed or fail.

With this production Simon (director of Spring Awakening, Simone Stone) looked at several translations and kind of cobbled together the bits that worked best in each of them. He found that some worked better than others and he would take from this or that one. And, as he speaks German himself, when he wasn't happy he'd do his own translation.

Wedekind's original language is somewhat gone from this version. This translation is designed to be a modern take, and any old-fashioned language has been replaced with more modern phrases.

How did you go about preparing for your role as Melchior?
Well, we've actually spent quite a bit of time in rehearsals talking about our experiences as teenagers and the awkwardness and difficulty of early sexual experiences, first kisses, that kind of thing. I think that's been really helpful to remind ourselves of that. None of us in the cast are the age the characters are, we’re all older than that, so it's a representation of that age.
{xtypo_quote_right}With Melchior particularly he's a can-do kind of a guy, he's an agitator, a questioner. ... he questions things, thinks about things, wants to shake things up. I can't honestly say that's who I am - I'd kind of like to be more like him!{/xtypo_quote_right}
Preparing for performance about remembering our own awkwardness and frustration. That helps with the characterisation. With Melchior particularly he's a can-do kind of a guy, he's an agitator, a questioner. He's one who doesn't accept the received knowledge, he questions things, thinks about things, wants to shake things up. I can't honestly say that's who I am - I'd kind of like to be more like him! It's a case of me allowing myself to be more of who I wanted to be. It doesn't all work out well for Melchior but I appreciate his approach to life.

You're a singer as well - could you tell me about the groups you sing with?
When I was living in Brisbane I was singing in a group called Livewire, but that's a few years ago now. It was good fun, and maybe a little daggy! When I was younger, growing up I was involved with choirs, musical theatre, jazz, all that kind of thing. In my old group Livewire, we did after dinner entertainment, a lighter style, but it's a while since I've done that.

I'm a singer in a band now called Twin City Radio, and we're in the middle of recording our first EP. The music of Twin City Radio is a kind of thinking man's pop rock, but it's always difficult to categorise music styles. It's definitely pop and rock, but I’d like to think it's more than just the pop formula.

I notice you work in disability services when you're not performing. Could you tell me what drew you to that work, and what your experiences in that sector have taught you?
I work at a centre for adults with intellectual disabilities, and sometimes physical disabilities as well. Many of the people at the centre are reasonably able, they don't require 100 per cent care all of the time and in some ways they can look after themselves. There is a young person's section there as well, for ages 18-25.

To be honest, it was really chance that drew me there in the first place. A friend of mine worked in that area as a music therapist; I was looking for work that was going to be flexible around acting work, and my friend suggested I go along and try out at this particular centre. I've been working there on and off for six or seven years now. It's fantastic, I get to do a whole range of activities and things while I’m there including quite a bit of music, I play in a band called The Bandits at the centre, and we sort of help a group of clients out there, playing gigs and stuff. I'm looking to set up a proper drama program there as well.

I would say that there's things I've learned there that probably do make me a better actor, but really they probably just make me a better person. The joy in life that some of these guys have is really infectious, and it can't help but open you up to life and people more.

Working there is about being open and accepting of people and, you know, learning that is bound to make you a better actor.

Spring Awakening opens this week at Belvoir St Downstairs. Further information»

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