In a big cast of hot young actors, two of the stars of WaterTower Theatre's current production of Spring Awakening are sizzling standouts: Adam Garst, a 2010 Baylor theater grad in only his second role on a local stage, and Kayla Carlyle, who's been acting and singing professionally in Dallas and Fort Worth for the past five years.
In the Tony-winning rock musical by Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik, Garst plays sexually charged German schoolboy Moritz Stiefel, one of two leading male roles. Carlyle has a supporting role as Ilse, a teenager wise beyond her years and longing for the more innocent days of childhood. These two characters share a long, intense scene and a rocking duet in the second act -- the best moments, dramatically and musically, in this production.
If you saw the Broadway version of Spring Awakening or caught the tour that came to the Winspear last year, you should venture to WaterTower's to discover how much better Garst and Carlyle are than their counterparts in those. If you haven't seen this musical before, WaterTower's may be less provocative (no nudity) than others, but it's well worth the ticket.
Like the excited young fans who wait in the WaterTower lobby to meet these actors after every performance, we stalked Garst and Carlyle to find out who they are and how they do what they do.
First up, Adam Garst, a native of Sugarland, Texas, where he was a "choir kid" in high school.
You Baylor theater kids are taking over the Dallas theater scene, aren't you? Adam Garst: I do know a lot of people here. We have a big base of Baylor people in LA, too, working their way up. Dallas theaters are important in terms of Baylor's reputation. I came here because I knew I could start networking fast. I wanted to continue doing theater and get on my feet. I'm working toward building my resume and getting my Equity card and eventually moving to New York or LA. But I'll be here for a while. One of my goals is to work at the Dallas Theater Center. I've got an audition with them soon.
Do you have a day job? I'm looking for one at Starbucks or something. Right now this show is my job.
The way Hair was in the '60s and '70s, and Rent in the '90s, Spring Awakening now is the show young people relate to and young musical theater actors dream of doing. Was Moritz on your dream role list? He was. I thought I was running out of time because of how old I am now . In terms of musical theater, there aren't many good baritone roles, like lead roles. Tenor is the hot thing in contemporary musical theater now. But this show is perfect for my voice. I relate to Moritz in a lot of ways. Just the ADHD and how twitchy he is.
Do you have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder? I did have it, but it's probably just ADD now. I've lost a bit of the H. Throughout high school I was on Adderall, which I hated. It was terrible. I hated the way it made me feel. Then I found that theater was sort of my outlet to get rid of that extraneous energy. I could put it all out onstage.
There were some walkouts the night I saw your show. Why does Spring Awakening upset some people? Is it the wanking and spanking? This show touches nerves. There are still taboos in talking about sex. A lot of subscribers at WaterTower are older and grew up not talking about sex. We weren't surprised that people were going to leave. It's bringing up serious issues and some people don't like the message. Onstage it doesn't faze us at all.
Do you have a favorite moment in the show? My favorite song is "Don't Do Sadness." But my favorite moment is the scene where Moritz confronts his father. I only say a few lines and then get slapped. Steven Pounders, who plays my father, was one of my professors at Baylor and I'd never gotten to act with him. He's incredible. He gives you so much. That scene is always right there. I don't have to try at all.
...Now, Kayla Carlyle, who's had leading roles at Casa Mañana children's theater and Uptown Players. A psychology grad from Texas A&M, Carlyle studied acting at KD Studios. Her day job is managing a women's wear retail shop in Willow Bend mall.
You're playing Ilse, a supporting role, not Wendla, the "Lea Michele role" in Spring Awakening. You're OK with that? This is one of my top five musicals. I never got to see it in New York but I fell in love with the music. When auditions came around, I was considering Wendla. That's usually what I play, the ingénue. Terry Martin [the director] and I talked about it and I really fought for Ilse. She's got so much meat to her and so much that's not told in the script or just from the music. She has two songs and one scene. It was the opportunity to make up my own story. And it so happened that Terry thought the same way.
You're still a young actress but you're a decade older than some of the other kids in this show. Feeling old? It's kinda weird. I've been acting for five years. All these kids have been acting since they were babies. They have more experience than I do but I didn't go to school for theater. I gained most of my experience by being onstage and learning from other actors. I was a sponge.
Not to name names, but you've starred in some rotten musicals at other theaters in the past year. Is it all just a learning experience? One of my directors of one of those shows put it best: You pet the puppy. You just try to make it the best you can.
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The seating arrangement for Spring Awakening has the audience close to the actors. Distracting? Unlike other shows where you're on a proscenium stage, in this one we're allowed to look at people. You see exactly what everyone is thinking. You see people squirm. What's funny is that the messages of this show are so relevant to today. It's from 1891 but we're still dealing with same issues about sex education today. It's funny to see older patrons squirm away from it. It's still a subject people don't know how to talk about. I say take your kids to see it and open your eyes to it. That will initiate conversation. I was raised Southern Baptist. You put a promise ring on your finger to not have sex and then you go to college and go, whoa, what? My parents didn't talk about it. They were, like, don't have sex until you're married.
Your director for this show toned down the sex scenes a lot. No nudity. Why? We had people walk out just from the fake masturbating scene. So, yes, he toned things down. Terry is very protective of his subscribers. With the younger audience, they get it.
You've worked steadily for a few years now in Dallas theaters. What do you think we need more of and less of? We need less inhibition and more strength. Dallas theater would be phenomenal but we fear a lot of things and play it safe. Directing, material, casting - there's a lot of pleasing and not enough risk. People need to be ballsy and bold. There's so much theater happening here. Why can't Dallas be No. 3 to New York and LA? The market is huge. I hope we start to collaborate more and work together. We're strong enough and we definitely have the talent.