The Un-Common Theatre
What Makes an Un-Common Production Uncommon?
This summer the Un-Common Theatre Company in Foxboro, MA will be performing Spring Awakening, a musical by Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater. Un-Common is the first amateur theatre company in the US to be granted the license to perform the rock musical, set in 19th century Germany. But this is nothing new—or even uncommon—for Un-Common.
"Six years ago, we started the Young Adult Company." explains Chris Lowey, Co-President of Un-Common. "We were trying to find a way to keep our high school graduates and alumni as part of our company. We wanted the next generation to take the company forward and stay part of the family."
As a result of that planning, Un-Common began looking for different works, some with more mature themes and challenges. In addition to their school-aged productions, some of the young adult shows they've performed include Batboy, Assassins, Sweeney Todd, and Anyone Can Whistle. It was this last title (one of the lesser known shows by Stephen Sondheim) that attracted the attention of Music Theatre International (MTI) when Un-Common first performed the show about ten years ago.
"MTI became very curious," Lowey said. "Youth theatre companies don't often think of performing the show. They sent someone to see a performance, and they were very impressed. We've kept in touch with them and have been able to do some really exciting things, like piloting the school edition of Rent a few years ago. When we're looking for something uncommon or different to produce, we're able to go to MTI and ask for challenging, interesting and new material."
Three years ago, MTI invited representatives from Un-Common to New York to preview the first reading of the school edition of Avenue Q. Although Un-Common was unable to produce the show at that time, they were offered a "first shot" at Spring Awakening. Veteran Director Christa Crewdson leads a strong production team which includes Music Director Esther Zabinski. Crewdson plans to steep her actors in the original play (written in 1891) in an attempt to deepen their understanding of the characters and of the time in which they're living.
Lowey explains, "There is nobody else we could have trusted this play with except for Christa. She'll be tasteful in all areas. Everything that is done is done for the forwarding of the story and no other reason. We're not looking to be shocking or edgy; we're trying to give the kids an opportunity to work in a professional environment."
One of the missions of Un-Common is to "develop the life skills of youth through the professional theatrical experience...(by) developing children's confidence, self-esteem, teamwork and effective life skills." Un-Common's Young Adult group is designed to offer 16 - 21 year olds an opportunity to be cast in cutting edge shows that they would not normally have an opportunity to be a part of at their age.
This summer, several members of the production team for Spring Awakening are Un-Common alumni. "Things are starting to happen the way we hoped," Lowey said. "It's exciting to see how all of our work will continue with this next generation. They will give back what they got from others."