Eleven alumni and other community members are lending experience, skill and enrichment to the theater program’s production of “Hair” this month after only one student was cast by director Gene Biby following low turnout at auditions.
First-year theater and choir student Sammy Williams played Catharine in the fall play, “A View From the Bridge.” Now, she performs as Jeanie in “Hair,” a rock musical by James Rado and Gerome Ragni which follows a group of hippies in 1967 New York who rebel against racism and the Vietnam War by using drugs and promoting free love.
“Casting was a little more challenging than I thought it was going to be,” Biby said.
He said the annual musical cast is normally made up of mostly students, but “Hair” took five weeks to cast and recast after five actors dropped out due to time commitment conflicts.
“My classes were waitlisted this quarter so I don’t think there’s an issue of wanting to be involved,” Biby said.
He said even though the show is out there, he doesn’t believe this contributed to low turnout because he’s directing a revised version without nudity.
Biby said he thinks part of the problem is that men who sing, dance and act are in high demand and most men who can are already involved in theater groups or working full-time jobs.
Stage Designer Mark Owsley said he’s certain more student actors will audition for future plays. “I’ve been here 30 years and there’s a cycle,” he said. “Two years ago we had a packed theater program, but then those kids moved on.”
Biby said Clark has a student-first policy but he’s open to community members when students are unavailable.
Clark graduate Zak Campbell recently earned his Masters in Acting degree from the Birmingham School of Acting in England. “Hair” is his 11th Clark show. He said, “You can’t take students from Clark because they’re from Clark, they have to be able to perform the show.”
Student actress Williams said few other students auditioned and she wants more students to be cast in shows.
“We should do this together and try to get to know each other,” she said.
Campbell and Williams said they believe student turnout is low because Clark’s theater is small and hidden.
“Not a lot of people know about the shows because we’re in this tiny corner of the art building,” Williams said.
He said it doesn’t feel strange to perform with Clark after having graduated.
“I love Clark, it’s my home and always has been,” Campbell said.
Williams said she still enjoys working with community members.
“It’s pretty cool getting to know people I wouldn’t know otherwise,” she said. “I look up to them because they’ve been doing this for so long.”
Williams said she had to get used to how close the show requires everyone to be.
“With this show, you can’t care what people think of you because we’re all hippies on drugs,”
Williams said. “We have to be able to be comfortable and sensual.”
She said that though rehearsals were “all kinds of awkward” at first, the cast built chemistry was built through “cuddle puddles on stage when we’re not doing anything.”
Campbell said cast members also embrace each other to release the tension of touching.
Biby’s struggles in casting went beyond finding students. Typically, “Hair” has at least four black men and four black women but Biby could only cast two.
The show’s only black female actor, 16-year-old Moe Lewis, saw an ad online, sent in a resume and headshot and then auditioned. Vocal Director April Duvic said Lewis doesn’t seem less experienced because of her age.
Lewis said people don’t push her boundaries on stage and she enjoys working with older peers.
“It’s nice to be needed for my ethnicity,” Lewis said. She said she doesn’t feel tokenized because of the impact the show has on society. Biby said “Hair” is one of the first musicals to address rebellion against war and promote feminism. He said he chose the play as a reminder that society today faces the same issues as 51 years ago.
Graduate Tim Busch performs in “Hair” as the only black man. Lewis and Busch said they don’t feel the show is harmful even though there are racial slurs.
“The show is perfectly offensive,” Busch said. “The purpose is to point out how ridiculous it is how society categorized us, and still does.”
This is Busch’s 11th show with the theater program and he said he isn’t surprised Biby chose this show.
The cast members said they are excited to perform for the community, especially students.
“Come see the show and bring your homies,” Busch said. “You’re about to see some hippie shit.”
Hair is playing Feb. 23, 24, March 2,3,8,9 and 10 in Decker Theatre