In 1988 director and resident weirdo John Waters used prancing Baltimore teenagers to touch on the city’s history with tense race relations in his film Hairspray. The movie became a cult classic and was adapted into a hit Broadway show, and then brought back to the screen in movie musical form in 2007 with even more zing and pep than the original. Even though the film’s way of telling hard messages was chipper and colorful, the real meaning behind it all contained a much more serious tone. The Kinkaid School, with a predominantly upper class white student body, and George Washington Carver, with a student body mostly consisting of minority students, take a page from the perky teen’s book with their collaborative production of the musical.
"In Hairspray, groups of high school students who do not typically interact with one another learn how to come together and appreciate their differences," says Justin Doran, drama instructor at The Kinkaid School. "While portraying the characters of this show, that is exactly what happened with our own students."
Doran co-directs the production with Roshunda Jones, Director of Theatre at G. W. Carver. For Doran and Jones, a major priority of the production was facilitating conversations about race between the high schoolers, already a challenge in these tense racial times, says Doran. The stark difference between the schools threw an additional wrench into their plan.
Kinkaid and Carver vary tremendously in racial and economic makeup. The Kinkaid School is located in Piney Point Village, the wealthiest neighborhood in Texas. 82.9% of Piney Point Village residents are upper class and white. Carver High School, on the other hand, is located in Acres Homes where 87% of residents are black and 32% of neighborhood residents live below the poverty level.
This cultivated mistrust on both sides. The Kinkaid School parents worried about sending their children to G.W. Carver High. The parents of the G.W. Carver High School parents feared their children would be racially profiled in affluent areas surrounding The Kinkaid School. These preconceptions put the enterprise at risk. “It is not possible to have meaningful conversations until there is a foundation of respect and trust,” says Doran.
The production was also a logistics test. Simply coordinating schedules took considerable effort, Doran says. But the educators and students prevailed. “We all had to learn how to communicate, compromise and collaborate when at times it seemed like it would not be possible.”
Hairspray opens at G.W. Carver over the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend. Doran sees significance in the timing. The Hairspray co-production simultaneously examines the conflicts of the Civil Rights era and proves the viability of King’s ideals. “I see it as a celebration of the work he did,” says Doran. “To come together and put this [production] on with a generation that could actually change things is his message.”
Carver performances: $10 presale, $15 at door. Friday Jan 15 at 7:30, Saturday, Jan 16 at 7 and Sunday, Jan 17 at 2:30. George Washington Carver, 2100 South Victory St.
Kinkaid performances: $10. Friday, Feb 26 and Saturday, Feb 27 at 7 and Sunday, Feb 28 at 2. The Kinkaid School, 201 Kinkaid School Dr. 713-243-5442. kinkaid.org/