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James Baker On ... Spring Awakening

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Local theatre needs support and Manchester is not short of smaller companies which engage audiences on a weekly basis. Assembled Junk are one such company and they are about to stage Spring Awakening in Salford, so may get more bums on seats, as a result. We spoke to James Baker - the co-artistic director (he works alongside Austin Fitzsimmons) about the show, the company and the future.

Can you tell us why you set up Assembled Junk and what their ethos is?

Assembled Junk was established after realising that the North needed a home for northern produced musical theatre. Musical theatre that was current, inventive and echoed what the London fringe scene was producing; high-quality musicals. The idea initially came when I was sat in a Cafe Nero, in Sidcup, with two of my ex-students; Alex Buchanan who is now in Thriller and Sarah Goggin who has just finished in Taboo in London. With their support, they gave me the strength to believe in the idea and its because of that chat,  I approached a long-term friend and musical director (Austin Fitzsimmons) to join with me and create Assembled Junk.

Why stage Spring Awakening?
Spring Awakening is as relevant today as it was in 1891. It was apparent from my early read that the themes were prevalent in our current society. I was left with an overwhelming sense of responsibility for our youth. Being a lecturer, I believe that the correct nurturing is the answer to cultural and social change. Spring Awakening gives me the chance to try and encourage this change.  As a director, I have a strong love of contemporary musicals. I find that my theatrical language compliments contemporary musicals.

In a world of juke box musicals, what can the show offer people seeking an alternative to the likes of Viva Forever?
Spring Awakening will be an interactive, immersive and immediate show... one that will challenge the audience intellectually and emotionally.

Why do you think the show failed in the West End?
Because I think material such as Spring Awakening isn't for a full-scale proscenium stage. Transferring this show directly to and for its audience demands them to interact directly with the material, actors and the stage.  I also believe the West End version was washed with American attitudes in which the British audiences palettes didn't respond so well to.

You are staging it at Studio Salford. Why does this setting suit the show?

It's intimate and it's exactly what I love about London venues such as The Union or The Landor, it allows you to immerse the audience into the world of Spring Awakening in a way that traditional staging could never allow.

The material remains edgy and controversial. How would you like traditional musical theatre fans to react?
Edgy and controversial? To a musical theatre audience possibly, but in the grand scheme of youth culture, it's another day at the office. It's just a re-telling of the realities. I actually don't see it as shocking... I think what is more shocking is the idea that we 'parent' these children and as a consequence, what unfolds is at the hands of human beings; we made it, so we can change it... yet are we? It's not shocking, it's tragic!

How are rehearsals going so far?
Great - the cast are brilliant and responding well to the artistic approach to the work. The work feels human; real and original. It's be born from an organic and truthful treatment and one that serves the work. Excitement is growing and we're all excited to give Manchester & Salford what it finally deserves. But it isn't easy. Self producing comes with its own set of challenges and difficulties, but hopefully we are hitting them face on and providing a first class production.

What's your favourite song in the show and why?
Going into the show, "Touch Me"... SIMPLE! Why? I'm not entirely sure why, but my heart seems to know. Instinctively it does something to me... but as is the case, I've discovered a new love for so many of the songs. Musical Theatre song is never realised until you have a piano and a voice, then it is born and you can begin to comprehend the genius in the creation of the song.

Why do you feel the show has got a faithful following?

Because It's niche... It’s young, it was an original style of show, so instantly it gained its own cult following and fan-base. I also think it's an incredible musical and one that you don't truly see until you lift out from the page.

Describe Spring Awakening in 3 words.

Totally Fucking Awesome!

What are your plans following the run?
To keep going. I want to build a fan base who support Assembled Junk’s mission and values so we can continue offering the North something fresh and new but to do this we need funding. This project has been self-produced. So, now it’s over to the audience, to support by buying a ticket and helping us sell out the show.

James Baker was speaking to Glenn Meads

Spring Awakening is at the Studio Salford from 15 - 21 April.


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