photo courtesy of Katie Chidester

photo courtesy of Katie Chidester

Mary Windsor
  Staff Writer

Students in UNC-Greenboro’s School of Music, Theatre and Dance will perform the colorful hit Broadway show and Tony

Award winning musical “Hairspray” during the month of October at the Taylor Theatre.

On Oct. 1, the cast and crew will perform a “Pay What You Can Preview” show. “Hairspray” will officially run from Oct. 2 through Oct. 8.

For this production, UNCG brought in guest theatre professional Amy Marie McCleary from Florida to direct and choreograph the musical.

McCleary has worked in the theater industry for 30 years. Her first choreographed show was when she was six at her local dance studio. She went to school for theater at New York University. After that, she began performing in regional theater companies around the country.

“I think a lot of directors and choreographers start out as performers, but they’re two completely different animals. I still like to perform, just less now. The hours as a director are better for family life,” McCleary said.

When directing, McCleary feels as though she has a part in all the roles, and is able to affect the picture at large. There’s a stronger sense of being able to work with individuals and help them grow in their paths as performers.

“As a performer, there’s the immediate gratification that comes from being on stage and hearing applause, of course,” McCleary said.

“I have a strong background in dance, all throughout high school I did ballet, jazz and tap,” McCleary continued.

McCleary currently works for a theater company in Florida as the resident director choreographer.

She has most recently directed and choreographed the 2015 national tour of “Memphis,” as well as the national tour of “The Wedding Singer” in 2010. “One of my favorite productions I’ve been involved with is ‘Cats.’ That’s one that’s very near and dear to my heart,” McCleary said. “I love dance so much. It’s a great show to really express things physically which is what I love.”

This isn’t McCleary’s first time working with a production of “Hairspray.” It’s her third time choreographing and her second time directing this musical, though she has never worked on it with college students.

MFA student Justin Cohen, the musical direct Monday – Thursday 12 pm – 5 pm and Friday 12 pm – 4 pm. or for “Hairspray,” contacted her about directing the musical.

“We are colleagues from Florida and had worked a lot together there. When he heard they were doing ‘Hairspray,’ he said he knew a friend who would be perfect for it and called me,” McCleary explained.

She was extremely excited at the offer. She loves working with college kids, watching them grow in their talents and teaching them things that they’ve never done before.

“We’ve been doing some fun lifts in the show,” McCleary said. “I’ve just enjoyed really choreographing them and pushing them to do things on stage they’ve never done before.”

This process has been challenging for McCleary, especially since she normally works with professionals who are able to rehearse from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. With the students, they’ve been doing three-hour evening rehearsals. They’ve had a month of rehearsals so far, and she’s been feeling a time crunch. At the professional level she normally does a two-week rehearsal of 16 hour days.

She was able to watch the auditions for the musical over Skype and flew up from Florida to watch the callbacks. She taught the finalists a dance combo, listened to them sing and watched them perform before being able to have a final say in the cast member choices.

“When you inspire someone to do something they didn’t think they could, that’s one of the most rewarding parts about my job,” McCleary smiled. “To challenge them and give them a new skill set, and give them confidence in life and when performing.”

Since she has directed “Hairspray” before, McCleary is using plans and choreography that she has used in the past. Most of the choreography she is using in this year’s production has been taught at the professional level, so it has been challenging for some students.

“I wanted to have them experience that level of choreography,” McCleary said. “I’ve definitely pushed some of them to that height.”

When planning a performance, she generally begins four to five months in advance by listening to the score and getting ideas. She does a lot of research, especially if it’s a show where period dance is involved.

During her first time choreographing the show, McCleary spent a lot of time looking at late 1950s and early 1960s dance clips and getting inspired by those styles.

The most important thing McClearly wants the audience to feel from “Hairspray” is that even though it is a fun musical, the story also contains an important message.

“I want them to be thoroughly entertained and laugh a lot, but what’s so powerful is that it has a really strong message underneath that,” McCleary explained. “It’s about accepting yourself and believing in who you are. It’s about knowing that everyone is worthy. That’s a really powerful message in this day and age.”

Categories: Arts & Entertainment, Upcoming A&E Events, Visual & Performance

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1 reply

  1. I will try your unique technique, I hope it works for me.. Thank you for the great piece!


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