By Christine Imperatore
Sarah Howard and Jordan Barron sat on the patio of Starbucks on Slaughter and Escarpment, simultaneously sipping on their sweet beverages and answering questions about their current performance when a woman walked up and politely interrupted.
“Were you guys in Spring Awakening?” she asked.
“Yes, we were!” replied Howard.
“It was really good and you guys were really great!” said the woman.
Barron and Howard, both seniors at James Bowie High School, graciously accepted the praise.
“I feel like I just saw a movie star,” the woman added.
It’s no surprise that these two have become somewhat of local celebrities over the past couple of months. Howard and Barron, both 17, have been performing at Zach Theatre since Sept. 21 in “Spring Awakening”—an intense and dynamic rock musical that showcases their wonderful talents.
The show is set in Germany in the late nineteenth century. Based on a German play written by Frank Wedekind in 1891, which was later banned, the musical follows a group of adolescents who are confused by and sheltered from the truth about their blooming sexuality and their impending journey into adulthood.
“It’s really just all universal themes, showing that teenagers in 1891 were having the same problems that teens are having today,” says Barron
After making its Broadway debut in 2006, “Spring Awakening” went on to win eight Tony Awards with music by Duncan Sheik and book and lyrics by Steven Sater. The Broadway performance earned a multitude of praise by critics and Zach Theatre’s production continues that tradition.
“This character scared me like crazy but I think since he’s a teenager coming of age, it’s a lot easier to click into than something else,” said Barron.
He portrays Moritz, a young boy struggling with the pressures of falling behind in school and having to answer to his parents. He has to play some of the most emotional scenes in the show and tap into some issues that not all teens face, but many of them do and they do so in silence.
“I remember at our first rehearsal the director said we all had to completely trust each other and make sure it was a safe environment,” says Howard.
“Because of that I think that we were able to connect a lot more to our characters and everything was so much more real,” she adds.
Barron and Howard agree that working on the show has been a great experience for them.
“The cast has completely become our second family,” says Barron.
“The whole production process was really great but it’s really the people who make it so fantastic,” says Howard.
Howard plays Anna, a character who often lends her voice to some beautiful harmonies with the rest of the girls.
“For me the music was a lot harder than what I’m used to,” says Howard, “The harmonies are more challenging than you think.”
“It’s a much more emotionally deep show so it really involves a lot of focus,” says Barron.
Both teens have been involved in theater from a young age and found their influences early on.
For Barron, performing was in his genes. His mother and father met while performing in an adult show choir.
“I grew up with ‘West Side Story’ instead of ‘The Power Rangers’,” he quips.
He made his first big stage debut in the “The Wizard of Oz” at Bass Concert Hall when he was just nine years old.
Howard explained: “I just liked Disney sing-along videos as a child and I would annoy my parents with them so they put me in a voice class when I was in second grade, and then after that came a musical theater class which I was actually too young for but I did it anyway.” Gazette readers may remember that Howard sang along with her idol, superstar Josh Groban, last spring when he surprised her and agreed to her request to join him on stage at a concert in Dallas to sing with him.
Her first big audition was for the same production of “Wizard of Oz” that Barron did, but she ended up doing “Annie” at that time instead.
Barron first heard about the opportunity to be in “Spring Awakening” while involved in the summer production of “Footloose” at Zilker Theatre. A few of his fellow cast members were going to audition and he had been enjoying shows at Zach Theatre for years.
“I thought ‘I’m probably way too young, but heck, I might as well try’ and then ended up making it farther than a lot of others apparently,” he says.
Howard had past experience with Zach Theatre as she was in their production of “High School Musical” during her eighth grade year.
“The people at Zach are just so great and working for them is so wonderful and the musical is just fantastic, so we just kind of sent them an email and asked for an audition,” she says.
Growing up in Austin has definitely been a great catalyst for Howard and Barron’s interest and opportunities in theater and the arts.
“Within Texas it’s kind of an oasis of the arts,” says Barron.
“If you audition for stuff in town, no one wants to see you do badly, they want to see you do well,” says Barron, “and if you mess up on stage nobody is going to say ‘ugh, I hate this show’, they just start rooting for you after that.”
After graduating from Bowie in the spring, both Barron and Howard plan to study musical theater in college. They hope to continue to hone their craft and one day make it a career.
“I know I’m going to try and live in New York for at least a year after college,” says Barron.
“I’m trying to go to school in New York,” interjects Howard.
“I’m really hoping to go and work in London at some point too,” she adds.
Howard also credits her experience in “Spring Awakening” as a reinforcement to her future plans.
“I was looking at doing musical theater before this show, but doing a musical this intense and spending so much time on it showed me that this really is what I want to do my whole life,” says Howard.
Barron is mostly inspired by others who are trying to work or have made their career in theater.
“I’ve worked with so many people who do not make much money but yet they are still happier than most people in the world,” he explains
Howard credits her voice coach of 10 years, Molly Wissinger as a major influence in her passion for theater.
“She has really enforced that as long it makes you happy, then it’s what you should be doing and I’ve always really looked up to her for that,” says Howard.
These young stars can certainly be role models for other local young adults who hope to break into theater and they have some great advice for others.
“Try and be involved in the community, because there are really lots of opportunities but people just don’t look for them,” says Barron.
Howard adds, “auditioning can be scary but it’s so worth it.”
“Spring Awakening” runs through Nov. 13 and all performances start at 8 p.m. There are no shows on Mondays. It contains some mature themes and brief nudity, so parents should bring their young teenagers at their discretion. It is not suggested for young children.
“The show was written to entertain not to offend anyone, even though it does have some explicit themes. So don’t let that scare you away,” says Barron.
Tickets are available by calling 476-0541, by visiting the box office at 1510 Toomey Rd. or through www.zachtheatre.org. Discounted tickets are available for students or by becoming a Zach Theatre subscriber.