Big hair, big talent

The 2014 Summer Youth Conservatory brings high school students and Hairspray to the PlayMakers stage

It is 1962, Baltimore. The music is big and the hair is bigger.

And on the Paul Green Theatre stage, the talent is big, too.

This past week at UNC-Chapel Hill, after five weeks of intensive rehearsal and training with the Summer Youth Conservatory (SYC), high school and middle school students performed the Tony award-winning Hairspray.

Through the Conservatory’s Theatre Intensive, TheatreTech and Theatre Quest programs, students ranging from middle school to recent high school graduates received stage, performance and behind-the-scenes technical training from PlayMakers professional staff, stage managers, costume designers, choreographers and Hairspray director Desdemona Chiang.

The students came to PlayMakers from across the state and with varying levels of experience.

“Some of [the students] have done professional theatre in the area,” said Jenny Wales, education manager at PlayMakers. “Some of them have auditioned for the first time to be in a production, and they’re cast in our Summer Youth Conservatory. Some of them have done multiple productions at their high schools, but this is their first opportunity to really take on a professional experience.”

The audition process was difficult, requiring that a pool of 80 potential performers be whittled down to a cast of 30. Even after the seven years the program has been in existence, that process doesn’t get any easier.

“It’s a lot of broken hearts,” Wales said.

What comes after the audition process, though, is excitement, anticipation, passion and the makings of an ensemble cast.

“The level of training the SYC students receive is unparalleled,” Wales said. “This gives them the chance to refine what it means to be a professional actor.”

According to Wales, the production of a mainstage show by high school students is pretty rare in regional theatre in American today.

“We have had students who have participated in the SYC who have gone on to major in acting or voice in college who are making the commitment to a life as a professional artist, and we also have students who go on to major in engineering,” Wales said. “While we are collectively sitting together for those two and half hours in the theatre, there is something magical that happens.”


Story and video by Melanie Busbee, Communications & Public Affairs

Published July 18, 2014.