Jordyn Mitchell of Bettendorf and Krianna Walljasper of Moline are best buds bonding over a beautiful musical that speaks deeply to them and so many young people.
Since 2012, the CLA has staged the coming-of-age rock musical (every other year), with music by Duncan Sheik and a book and lyrics by Steven Sater. Based on the 1891 German play of the same name, it opened on Broadway in 2006, starring Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele.
“We keep doing it because the message of communication and understanding between generations is timeless and needs to be repeated,” director Dino Hayz (CLA owner and creative director) said recently. “The artists at the Center keep wanting to do it year after year.
“It is one of my favorite pieces to produce. It was very different to direct it in proscenium style rather than the round,” he said of the current theater. “The show is especially beautiful this year due to the stellar cast.”
Mitchell, a senior at Bettendorf High School, plays Wendla. She is a teen who laments that her mother gave her “no way to handle things” and hasn’t taught her the lessons she is meant to know as a young woman (the opening “Mama Who Bore Me”). She tells her mother that it’s time she learned where babies come from.
“The reason I wanted to do is because it’s been one of my favorite shows since I saw it in 2018,” Mitchell said, noting that is one Walljasper was in.
“When I saw it then, I just thought the story was so beautiful and the songs were cool,” Mitchell said. She’s been in CLA shows since she was seven – and has done 25 altogether.
Her favorite Bettendorf musical was last year’s “Bright Star.” She prefers the larger CLA theater, compared to their old space at 2008 4th Ave., Rock Island.
“The proscenium layout is pretty cool and it definitely gives the show a completely different vibe because the last time they did it, it was in the round,” Mitchell said.
The center “has always been a home for me and has always been a place that pushed me as an artist, and I think it’s what has made me been able to call myself an artist because the atmosphere is so creative,” Mitchell said. “You just feel like you have the ability to create something really beautiful there. And it’s something you haven’t been able to experience at that many theaters.”
Another CLA show that was a highlight for her was this past summer’s “Rent,” when she played Maureen.
In “Spring Awakening” (set in 1891 Germany), Mitchell’s character is innocent, but gets pregnant, is forced to have an abortion, and dies from it.
“Her storyline is very sad and her character is innocence and ignorance, but still like light and happy,” she said. Even though it’s set in the late 19th century, “Spring Awakening” feels very contemporary and relevant, Mitchell said.
“It’s definitely super relevant still,” she said. “There’s always that same dynamic between generations — where the younger one is wanting to talk and evolve and there’s kind of that push back from older generations.
“Right now, for me the show hits really hard because of the recent overturning of Roe v. Wade,” she added of the Supreme Court decision overturning the federal right to abortion.
“I feel really honored to have a part in this show,” Mitchell said.
Krianna Walljasper (the youngest daughter of theater veterans Tom and Shelley Walljasper) is a 2021 Moline High grad who now works at the QC Fuel coffee shops.
She played Anna in the 2018 “Spring Awakening,” and is now Ilse.
“I always like to make my part the best,” Walljasper said, calling Ilse an artist who is different and pushes people’s buttons.
Identifying with the role
“She has instincts that make people uncomfortable,” she said, noting she identifies with the character, because when she was in grade school, “I was different and was told I needed to find another school,” Walljasper said. She and Mitchell have become very close because their roles in “Spring Awakening” are best friends.
“Getting into character takes me so long, that mental state, because it’s so deep and it’s so raw and to give the audience the full experience that they need,” Walljasper, who’s 19, said. “Sometimes you’ve just got to put yourself in that spot and then go home afterwards and realize that it’s just a show even though your mind is still there with it.”
The first time she was in “Spring Awakening,” she described it as “a spiritual awakening for me, because so much happened during that experience.”
That cast was stunned by the accidental death of adult cast member Tim Cook during rehearsals. “He was so strong, so good. So as a fifteen-year-old going through this stuff in a show and then it happens in real life,” Walljasper recalled.
This is only her second CLA show, since she grew up at Circa ’21 Dinner Playhouse (her parents’ acting home) in Rock Island.
A young Circa veteran
“I’m a Circa kid, that’s just the way it happened,” she said. “I would have loved to be able to afford to go to Center and for my parents to Be able to do that, but at the same time, they were working as actors and brought me because I have to go.”
Walljasper has been on stage in 11 Circa shows, the last being last year’s “Winter Wonderland.”
Compared to Circa, “it’s a relief to step into the Center and create this and make it your own,” she said, crediting Haz with giving the cast much more freedom. “He has trusted me, and puts his faith in me as an actress to create, which was like it was in 2018.”
At Moline High, she was in “Chicago,” “Meet Me in St. Louis,” and then her dream role as Natalie in “All Shook Up” (the female lead), which was forced to shut down in early 2020 after one performance due to COVID.
“I will say to this day, that is the best opening night performance I’ve ever had,” Walljasper said. She had seen “All Shook Up” at Circa in 2011.
“I had my blue suede leather jacket and I said, I’m going to do this one day and then it got pulled out from under my feet,” she said.
Walljasper especially treasures “Spring Awakening” because of the depth and challenge of the darker role.
“I just feel like everybody at Circa will always look at me as a little girl,” she said. “So I finally feel like somebody is seeing, I’m not playing a happy person. I’m not the comic relief of the show. It is deep; I’m going to make you sob in this role, and I never got that before.
“I really appreciate that, because it really gives me the opportunity to step out of my comfort zone,” Walljasper said.
“It’s amazing to see how much I’ve grown because I didn’t really ever think that it was going to happen or I was gonna get this part,” she said. “I feel like everybody just looks at me as — oh, you’re the baby Walljasper. I’m not a baby anymore.”
“Spring Awakening” will be performed Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 1:30 p.m. It is rated R for language and mature content. Tickets are $15, available HERE.