The Daily Tar Heel

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Tuesday January 18th

Hairspray dances its way into PlayMakers

Cast of Hairspray
Buy Photos Cast of Hairspray

As part of PlayMakers Repertory Company’s award-winning Summer Youth Conservatory, 30 high school students and recent graduates will bring flouncy dresses and dancing tunes from the iconic musical “Hairspray” to the Paul Green Theatre.

For five weeks, the participants in the conservatory’s Theatre Intensive program undergo training every day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. under the tutelage of theater professionals.

TheatreTech, a workshop held concurrently, focuses on scenic, costume and lighting production. Participants become apprentices to PlayMakers’ professional staff.

Both workshops culminate in a showcase from July 16 to July 20 that is open to the public.

“We try to create a program that is modeled after the professional process, so we don’t run rehearsals any different than we would other professional shows that we produce,” said Jeffrey Meanza, associate artistic director of PlayMakers.

“All of us treat this production with the same level of professional respect and importance.”

Desdemona Chiang, a director based in Seattle and San Francisco, and Matthew Steffens, a choreographer based in New York, were brought in to guide the Theatre Intensive program.

“The whole idea is that you drop these students who’ve mostly done work in school settings into this crazy eight-hour day that we professionals do all the time,” Chiang said. “We’re not cutting any corners just because they’re young performers.”

Fortunately, the students have not failed the high standards.

Steffens, who is currently working on an off-Broadway play, said he gave the students the same choreography he gave to the dancers in New York during the audition.

“I chose not to dumb it down to see if they can pick it up, and they did,” he said. “That was a testimony to their talent.”

But the musical is not merely about dancing and singing.

Chiang and Steffens said “Hairspray” has a meaningful message that needs to be conveyed.

A civil rights activist from the ‘60s even visited a rehearsal to talk to the performers about equality, a prominent theme in the musical.

“You can’t get around that this is a musical full of joy and happiness, but in the end we want them to walk away like, ‘Yes, we can change,’” Chiang said. “There’s potential for activism.”

James Scalise, a recent high school graduate, plays the lead male role. He will be a freshman at UNC this fall.

He said he applied for the PlayMakers program because he was impressed by the quality of the shows produced by previous participants.

“It’s a really good education into how professional theater is really done,” Scalise said. “I hope the audience will come out of this show shocked that this was brought to life by people of high school age.”

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