From May 4 to May 6, Fairfax successfully put on a production of “Hairspray Jr.” after a five-year hiatus following the retirement of drama teacher Joyce Harris. The production boasted a cast of over 30 students and was led by Angela Barrett, an incoming theater teacher who previously taught at Taft High School and Bancroft Middle School.
Although Fairfax-affiliated nonprofit organization Greenway Arts Alliance has continued to host theater and dance classes for students after school, the last actual production at Fairfax dates back to 2012 with Harris’ production of “Grease.”
“When I saw the theater department position opening up, I just jumped on that. I wanted to do it so badly,” Barrett said. “It’s so different and so nice to be teaching at a high school again. I’m really thrilled to be here!”
Despite Barrett’s optimism, she was met with several practical obstacles in preparing for “Hairspray Jr.”: She had no access to an orchestra, which meant she had to opt for the “junior version” of the musical, using taped instrumentals of the numbers instead of a live pit orchestra. To save on additional costs, the set design was done by Angela’s husband, Tim, with the help of Fairfax art class students, and costumes were prepared individually by the students in the cast. The choreography was done entirely by Kamile Lengvyte, cast member and a Fairfax junior. The students, busy with schoolwork, were only able to rehearse three times a week after school for two months.
“It’s a miracle that Barrett and the cast pulled off the production in just two months,” said Fairfax English teacher Erik Travis. “Not only was it complete, but it was also amazing!”
“Hairspray Jr.”’s cast was a diverse ensemble of some of Fairfax’s best and brightest: female protagonist Tracy Turnblad was played by Jenny Jinjoo Park, class of 2017’s Cornell-bound valedictorian. Corny Collins was played by Gabe Dillion, a senior who was drawn to “Hairspray”’s inspirational plot of overcoming racial segregation. Penny Lou Pingleton was played by Joyce Do, a senior and former k-pop trainee at YG Entertainment.
“I’ve always wanted to be in a musical or play,” said Do. “I think musicals are essential in arts education because it combines many disciplines: acting, singing and dancing.”
In a time when arts education is being threatened nationwide, the revitalization of Fairfax’s theater program is a huge step in the right direction. According to The Washington Post, President Trump’s plans to eliminate funds for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities that support “nonprofit groups […] such as dance companies, radio stations, orchestras and theaters” by $971 million. The NEA funds local arts-related projects that are especially crucial for smaller cities and small business owners in the industry. Creative elective classes such as Barrett’s theater class, however, may be one of many ways to resist the effort to suppress arts education.
Barrett has high hopes for the future of Fairfax’s theater program.
“Because of the interested generated this year, I’m hopeful that more students will show up early for next year’s production. I like to do shows that have a message, so I’ll be looking for something that can help students to see another perspective that might be different from their own,” Barrett said. “Theatre has had such an impact on my life, and many of today’s youth seem so starved for a creative outlet. My goal is to provide that opportunity.”