The energy and talent behind Hoof 'n' Horn's 'The Producers'

<p>Student-run theater group Hoof 'n' Horn's musical "The Producers" runs Oct. 12-15 in the Sheafer Lab Theater.</p>

Student-run theater group Hoof 'n' Horn's musical "The Producers" runs Oct. 12-15 in the Sheafer Lab Theater.

Nobody walked in the Sheafer Lab Theater on Thursday. As the cast and crew of Hoof ‘n’ Horn arrived for rehearsals of its upcoming show “The Producers,” people dashed across the level platform that serves as the stage or practiced dance steps in the corner or thundered down the stairs of the seating area. Even when the cast and ensemble gathered around the piano to warm up, they remained in motion — bouncing lightly on their heels and playfully pushing one another. Their energy never  flagged, not even after running the choreographically demanding opening number and rushing around to construct the minimalist set for one of the show’s funniest songs, “Keep It Gay.” How does this student-run theater company find the time and spirit for rehearsal after a long day of classes and other extracurriculars?

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“It’s really fun,” senior Graham Jackson explained. “You need a lot of energy, but I’ve got it. It’s not stressful, it’s carefree.” 

Jackson plays Max Bialystock, an untalented theater producer whose musicals typically open to widespread criticism. His accountant Leo Bloom convinces Max to raise an exorbitant amount of money for another musical so that the two can collect on the profit after the show inevitably flops. Bloom is played by sophomore Tim Clayton, who has already starred in two other Hoof n’ Horn productions. Although this is only Jackson’s first show with the company, he already feels at home with Hoof n’ Horn.

“Everyone’s been really welcoming,” Jackson said. “You’re just accepted into the group.”

“It’s something to look forward to at the end of the day,” Clayton said. When asked what he hopes the Duke students will gain from the show, he and Jackson exchanged knowing glances; “The Producers” is a famously irreverent musical. “I hope we make people laugh. ... School can be so mundane, sometimes people need a break. People will be shocked by how hard they’re laughing — well, they’ll be shocked by something.”

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This consensus was shared by freshman Multazem Oliver, whose first role with Hoof ‘n’ Horn is as the show’s only female lead, the Swedish bombshell Ulla. 

“People should just come to have a good time!” she said. “Putting on a show in five weeks is hard, but it’s a great community. … We have family dinners and always support each other.”

Oliver is one of eight first-years who will star in the show, a staggering number considering “The Producers” has a cast of only nineteen. Director and junior Jackson Prince was not intimidated by the amount of new talent — in fact, he embraced it. 

“Twelve people [in the cast] have never done a show with us before,” Prince said.  “I never thought I’d be the person teaching people the culture of Hoof ‘n’ Horn. … This is the first-years’ first community at Duke. We try to keep everything passionate and accessible for them.”

“The Producers” is the first comedy that Hoof ‘n’ Horn has produced in three years — “The Drowsy Chaperone” being their last comedic show — as well as Prince’s first time in the director’s chair. His perspective on his role perfectly encapsulates the philosophy of the program as a whole. 

“What I’ve learned is that everyone brings their own talents and skills to the theater — cast, crew, pit, techies,” Prince said. “Everyone knows what they’re doing better than me. It’s my job to unite everyone under one vision.” 

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As a student-run program, Hoof ‘n’ Horn relies on the collective commitment and talents of its members in order to execute successful shows. With such passionate students at the helm, Hoof ‘n’ Horn promises to deliver yet another excellent musical. Producer and sophomore Sharon Kinsella is just one of many members tackling the less glamorous aspects of rehearsing and putting on a show in the short span of five weeks. 

“My job entails a lot of oversight and logistical preparation, making sure everyone has what they need,” Kinsella said. “It’s challenging, but it’s great to be a main person in production.”

Prince watched the cast hurry around in anticipation of a run-through of the opening number with a fond smile. He knew that nobody had time to walk, but with such an enthusiastic cast, a light-hearted musical and a strong sense of fraternity, no one wanted to walk. He hoped that this high-energy environment will translate to the show and, eventually, to the audience. 

“This campus could use something that’s just fun with no message behind it,” Prince said. “I know people are going to be laughing.”

The words had scarcely left his mouth when the cast erupted into uproarious laughter at a hilarious improvisation by one of its members. There is no business like show business, but Hoof ‘n’ Horn knows how to make business fun. 

Editor's note: Jackson Prince is The Chronicle Editorial Page Editor.

“The Producers” will run Thursday, Oct. 12 through Saturday, Oct. 14 at 8:00 p.m. in Sheafer Lab Theater, with two 2:00 pm matinees Saturday, Oct. 14 and Sunday, Oct. 15. There will be an 11:00 a.m. revue of the show Saturday, Oct. 21 in Nelson Music Room for Family Weekend. 


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