Hairspray Paves A New Era of South Theater

Laura Turner, Business Manager

Earlier this year, The Southerner covered the lack of diversity in South’s theater program. Involvement of minority students increased greatly during the winter production of the musical Hairspray.

Sophomore Wendy Unger has stage managed for South productions since she was a freshman. She explained that involvement in theater usually spreads to friends of people who get involved as ninth graders, but these friend groups generally consist of people of the same racial background. Because of this, minority students might rarely be encouraged to get involved in theater.

“We get the same percentage of new people each time [audition cycle],” Unger explained, “But for this one it [consisted more of people with an] African American or Somali or otherwise background.”

Senior Willie Washington explained that he got involved with Hairspray “Because I was eager to see if I could be a main role, so I pushed myself to audition.” Washington was Seaweed, one of the leads in the show. He added that “They kind of told us they needed African American people.” Segregation is a main theme in Hairspray and almost half of the show’s characters are African Americans.

Both Unger and Washington noted a problem with this. “With the segregation of the play, we kind of were segregated… Communication was declined pretty much. Outside of rehearsal there is less communication.” Unger noted that there were opportunities for the crew to get to know each other later in the cycle. “Especially during the last two weeks of the process, we worked together all the time and we were in the same space. You kind of had to end up getting to know everybody you were with.”

They also both agreed that South Theater would continue to be a welcoming place for students of all backgrounds. “I feel like this was sort of a test to see if it would work, and it became successful. We kind of paved the way for others to do it, encouraged and inspired other people,” said Washington. “I wish I was doing [theater] as soon as I got here.”

“It… was a fun experience,” he said. “It kind of showed the way things actually used to be… Sometimes we would feel pressure to act a little bit naive or ignorant [of segregation]..” But he felt that the issues present in the play could have been better addressed. “I felt like we should have focused more on the segregation and communication issues between the groups so we could actually get a message out.”