About 130 Charlottesville High School students from various backgrounds are collaborating to produce a play that highlights romance, comedy and prejudice.
The musical “Hairspray,” which will run from March 27-29 at the Martin Luther King Jr. Performing Arts Center, is one that Charlottesville High drama teacher David Becker said resonates with him in a special way.
“It’s about the high school experience for students that don’t feel like they belong, or are different,” Becker said about the show, which features more than 80 actors, 25 crew members and 25 musicians. “It’s about how people can overcome perceptions and show everyone what they are made of despite assigned prejudices.”
The musical is about segregation issues in Baltimore during the 1960s, but Becker and his students said the story will resonate well with the high school’s community and the area as a whole.
“This school has a lot of diversity, and it’s nice to have a show where we can include all of those people,” said senior Colleen Shea-Hackett. “It talks about a lot of change that happened in the ’60s. It’s not just about singing and dancing.”
Becker said the show is written in a clever way because it intentionally breaks free of restraints during the integration of schools in the 1960s to promote inclusion.
Trevir Craft, also a senior, said that oftentimes the same students put on the school’s plays, and that a same few frequently hold the lead positions. He said it’s different this time having a musical like “Hairspray,” which has a broad appeal.
“Doing something like this is special because it brings out the best in everyone and brings everyone together,” Craft said.
Shea-Hackett said the community will appreciate “Hairspray” because it has a happy ending and everybody wins.
“The entire school is excited about this show,” said senior Abigail Haggerty.
Madeline Michel, drama teacher at Monticello High School, said “Hairspray” started the integration of diversity for her program in 2011.
“It had a large, diverse crowd,” Michel said. “After that I made it a point to find plays that would appeal to every subset.”
The play has attracted a lot of first-time theater participants at Charlottesville High School, including senior Rajeanna Caldwell.
“I’m a singer, but started doing theater when I found out we were doing ‘Hairspray,’” Caldwell said.
Becker is in his sixth year at Charlottesville High School. With six levels of drama classes, he said he has more than 120 classroom students and almost 200 others who participate in plays throughout the year.
Despite those numbers, Becker said encouraging students to participate is not always as easy as it has been with “Hairspray.”
“It’s challenging within this community and this particular environment because Charlottesville High School provides so many opportunities for kids to get involved,” Becker said.
“I sometimes struggle to get kids to realize that when you say you are going to do something, there is the follow-up commitment to see it through,” Becker said.
Becker said another challenge is having students in plays who aren’t in his classes.
“I text them to remind them of rehearsals but even that doesn’t always guarantee them a ride home,” he said. “That’s a challenging aspect that affects commitment.”
Still, Becker said he loves his job and seeing final productions come together.
Michel said it takes a lot of work to get students involved in theater who are normally not inclined to do so.
She said Becker is a kind spirit and cares a lot about his program.
“The look on the students’ faces when they feel like they have made something happen is indescribable,” Becker said.
He said the best feeling is when the students see success and are encouraged to participate again.
“That’s what teachers and directors always want,” Becker said. “That’s my assessment, my [Standards of Learning].”
Tickets to “Hairspray” are $5 for students and $10 for adults and may be reserved at www.theatrechs.org.