As PLAYERS prepares to open the curtains on its fall musical this Thursday evening, some might be surprised to learn that this production of Hairspray almost never happened. The initial selection process for the play began last spring. In order to promote diversity and heighten inclusivity within the organization, which had been a platform of two of the PLAYERS presidential board candidates, the board reached out to Saleema Smith, Becton Scholars advisor and Reading Specialist here at LM. The board asked her and the Becton Scholars to recommend shows that had more diverse casts and themes. Upon receiving their suggestions, the committee met for a couple of weeks and ultimately arrived at two choices- Hairspray and Fiddler on the Roof. After concerns were raised among committee-members that the Players company did not at the time have enough actors of color to fill all the needed roles in Hairspray, the committee, in a blind vote, decided to go with Fiddler on the Roof.
This choice sparked dispute within the company. People were either thrilled to do Fiddler on the Roof or they hated it. This internal dispute led to a meeting by the board on behalf of the reading committee explaining why they chose Fiddler. This meeting was not a pleasant one, and tensions arose. The fight for Hairspray became a group effort, a collaboration of both students and Smith. She said, “I was very disappointed and unfortunately not surprised when PLAYERS chose not to do a diverse show. I know that when you are asking people to change, it can be difficult. But when we are in education, we are called to action to be ever growing and ever changing because we are teaching a dynamic population with different needs and interests.”
After several meetings and forums to discuss opinions, upon a suggestion by Hasadri Freeman ’19, it was decided that PLAYERS would hold a pre-audition workshop to determine black student interest in the show. This workshop, lead by Freeman and Gabby Barrett ’19, went spectacularly and there were nearly fifty black students in attendance. At the workshop, we were able to prove that we have enough black talent at our school, and that it made sense to do Hairspray this season. It was truly beautiful. Principal Sean Hughes agreed with the decision saying, “I am so glad that we ended where we did. I think that these conversations were tough and courageous. I think that having more kids involved it, with diverse backgrounds, makes for a better program. Also, it is a better representation of the student population here at LM.”
After many months of thinking deeply about what transpired in the making of Hairspray, I’ve come to some conclusions. Putting on a play is about telling a story, and we tell better stories when we try to include many voices. PLAYERS should want as many different types of people involved in any given production process as possible. I think that the board realized that and saw the possible future for PLAYERS in putting on Hairspray.
Ultimately, nothing makes a group of people stronger than struggling together. I am writing this article because I love and believe in PLAYERS, and I know that the struggle for diversity will make us a stronger organization. I am also writing this article because every student deserves to go to a school where they feel welcomed in any club, sport, or organization. Lastly: go see Hairspray. Putting on any show involves more work that you could imagine, and it will be an amazing production.