From Germany, with love
Kaleb Van Rijswijck is well aware of what it’s like to be a teenager—and he’s putting that knowledge to good use. As a member of the newly formed State Street Theatre Company, the Bellingham High School senior spent the last weeks of his BHS tenure helping put the final touches on Spring Awakening, a controversial musical about teens discovering the ups and downs of sexuality opening June 21 at BHS. Although the actor, director and musician will be leaving town for the bright lights of Chicago at summer’s end, he made time in his busy schedule to answer a few questions about the production.
Cascadia Weekly: How long has the State Street Studio Theatre been around, and what’s its aim?
Kaleb Van Rijswijck: The State Street Studio Theatre has been around for five months now. It is a collaboration of several local students and outstanding artists who strive to put on spectacular productions together.
CW: You’re a graduating senior at Bellingham High School, but from the sounds of things you’ve been active in theater—both at the school and in the community—for a while now. When did you know you wanted to be an actor?
KVR: I have had a niche for performing ever since I can remember. But, to be honest, I used to have terrible stage fright. It wasn’t until I was forced to audition for a production outside of my school that I really got hooked. I was about 10, I think, and I remember loving every second of it. I made the decision right there that this is what I wanted to do with my life.
CW: You’ve directed before. What are the challenges of directing, as compared to acting?
KVR: The challenges a director faces is that everyone depends on you. Everyone waits for you to tell them where to go, or what to do, or how to say things. It can get overwhelming sometimes, especially in shows with larger casts. But it’s all the more satisfying when you get to witness your work bloom on stage. It really is indescribable.
CW: What have been some of your favorite roles over the years?
KVR: Some of my favorite roles have been “Jack” in Into the Woods at the Mount Baker Theatre; “Chime” in RPG; and “Melchior” in Spring Awakening. Melchior has always been one of my dream roles.
CW: Spring Awakening has some pretty racy content. Why was this the show you chose as your final hurrah before going to study the performing arts in Chicago?
KVR: The thing about Spring Awakening that still amazes me is that the original play was written in the 1800s in Germany, and was banned because of its racy content and heavy subject matter, but all of the issues in the show are still very relevant. Every single problem the kids face in this provincial German town emotes through 21st century music, which is pretty neat.
CW: For those not in the know, what’s the basic plot of the play?
KVR: Spring Awakening is a rock musical based on the controversial German play Spring Awakening (1891), by Frank Wedekind that was banned in Germany for some time due to its frank portrayal of abortion, homosexuality, rape, child abuse and suicide. Set in late 19th century Germany, the musical tells the story of teenagers discovering the inner and outer tumult of sexuality.
CW: Will you be employing German accents?
KVR: No, all of the actors in the play will portray teenage members of society who are very true to the 1800s styling, but very relatable to the 21st century as well. We felt, as a cast, that adding accents to the show would be slightly distracting and might take away a bit of the sincerity.
CW: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
KVR: On Broadway, hopefully. Once I am done with a professional acting career I would very much like to come back to Bellingham and open a performing arts high school. With the way the arts departments are getting cut in general, it would be nice to have a school where the arts were specifically in the curriculum.
CW: What are you most excited about when it comes to your upcoming studies in Chicago?
KVR: I’m most excited to live in a large city and study what I love doing. I’m so looking forward to waking up every morning, looking out my window, seeing all of the buildings and going to sing, dance and act all day!
CW: Why has Bellingham been a good place to hone your acting/musical theater talents?
KVR: Bellingham’s theater community is a incredibly small, tight-knit group of performers who are all so friendly and so passionate about what they do. It has been a pleasure to grow up surrounded by all of that love of the arts.