This October will be particularly spooky with Hoof ‘n’ Horn’s latest musical: “The Addams Family.”
The plot of this performance differs from both the original cartoons and the two ‘90s movies, though it follows the same family of aristocrats who enjoy all things macabre and gruesome, not realizing that others find this fascination strange. A more grown-up Wednesday Addams brings her boyfriend and his Midwestern family home to meet her family, and chaos ensues.
“It has all of the classic ‘Addams Family’ beats that create the classic story we think of, but so much of it is also this story about change,” director and senior Jackson Prince said. “It’s not just a plain gag comedy show, which is what you might expect.” Prince is a former opinion editor at The Chronicle.
Producer and junior Jenna Clayborn said the story will be familiar to all parents, but the music updates the show and revamps the story line.
“This is really a story of how we relate to people, regardless of what time we set it in,” she said.
“The Addams Family” stands out from other fall Hoof ‘n’ Horn shows with its emphasis on ghoulish hair, makeup and costumes. The company usually uses a less complicated style of hair and makeup, but for this show, the cast members all had to learn how to do horror makeup and will be wearing more elaborate costumes.
Hoof ‘n’ Horn always tries to put on a big fall show; in past years they have produced “The Producers,” “Sweeney Todd” and “Assassins.” A bigger fall show allows the company to pull out all the stops, investing in set building, sound and lighting.
“The biggest selling point was being able to show off what we can accomplish as students in every aspect of what it takes to produce a show,” Clayborn said.
The larger cast and crew, boasting an 11 person ensemble, also allows more freshman to become involved, both onstage and behind the scenes. Prince said he was impressed by the number of first-years from Project ARTS, the arts pre-orientation program established in 2015, who wanted to become a part of the Hoof ‘n’ Horn family. Prince served as the co-director for pARTS last year and spearheaded the program this year.
“This year we had an exceptional number of first-years come out to do the show,” Clayborn said. Hoof ‘n’ Horn expanded the ensemble to accommodate all the new talent.
For junior Tim Clayton, playing Gomez has taken him out of his comfort zone. He has performed in five other Hoof ‘n’ Horn shows and has been involved since his first semester at Duke.
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“Gomez is a pretty big, loud, sort of ringleader personality,” Clayton said. “It’s been a lot of fun, but it’s been something I’ve had to work a little harder to find.”
Hoof ‘n’ Horn calls itself the South’s oldest student-run theater group, dating back to 1936. The company has grown to include people of diverse interests and backgrounds.
At least 80 people are working on the fall show, said Prince. In addition to the cast onstage, publicists, graphic designers and set builders work with the crew.
“Don’t just think about what’s going on onstage,” Prince said. “Also think about how many people, how much passion, how much energy is behind the five weeks of work that you’re seeing onstage.”
Prince said he was struck by the fact that the arts center allowed Hoof ‘n’ Horn to stage their show in von der Heyden over Parents Weekend, when the center could have surely secured another performance. Tickets for that Friday and Saturday are already sold out.
“It’s the smartest thing that Duke has ever done,” Prince said. “Duke is bold enough to say, ‘We believe in our arts students. We believe that they can put on content that will give us a good name.’”
Working in the Rubenstein, instead of the Bryan Center’s Sheafer Lab Theater, where Hoof ‘n’ Horn traditionally puts on its shows, does present its own challenges. For the spring production of “Chicago,” Clayton and Clayborn said they needed to find a new location for the pit orchestra, which ended up being onstage. In Sheafer, the pit was offstage.
“Since [the arts center] is so new, we haven’t figured out exactly how to make that work as perfectly as it did in Schaefer,” Clayborn said.
Clayborn said the arts center allows for more creativity with the set, due to the theater having multiple levels. In Sheafer, the company had to focus on building large set pieces, but in the von der Heyden Theater, they can be more creative with furniture use.
“The Addams Family” is more commonly staged in high school settings. According to Playbill, the show was the most-produced full-length musical in high schools for three years in a row.
But bringing the show to the college level allows for more in-depth character study, said Prince. The depiction of the relationships in the show is more nuanced due to more experienced actors taking on these roles.
“We’ve approached each of these love stories with more of an understanding of what we’re talking about,” said Prince. “It allows for a lot of the jokes to hit harder.”
Hoof ‘n’ Horn also gave the show the company’s own flair and played around with the script, updating some of the humor from the original 2009 version.
“It’s the best coming-together of the Hoof ‘n’ Horn community that I’ve seen,” Clayborn said.
“The Addams Family” runs Thursdays through Saturdays from Oct. 11 to Oct. 21. Buy tickets at tickets.duke.edu.