It has been almost a year since an in-person performance has been staged before an audience at Duke, but that hasn’t stopped student theater organization Hoof ‘n’ Horn from going forward with their spring musical.
Hoof ‘n’ Horn will present the musical “Dreamgirls” April 8: how exactly this performance will be performed and consumed by the Duke student body is not yet certain, but the show will go on. If circumstances remain favorable and cases low, this will be the organization’s first uncancelled spring musical since last year’s “Pippin,” which, like most events, was called off shortly after Duke sent its students home for the semester. University-wide restrictions remain in place limiting the number of people allowed within close proximity of one another, rendering the cluttered stage and packed theater impossibilities until the global situation drastically improves.
“We have to make decisions on how the final form of the show will be presented to the public given ever-changing COVID-19 safety regulations,” said “Dreamgirls” producer Kacia Anderson in an email interview with The Chronicle.
Despite the logistical uncertainties, Anderson was confident about the organization’s choice of a spring musical. “Dreamgirls” recounts the rise of Black singing trio The Dreamettes as they find themselves plucked from obscurity to become first backup singers, then an independent group. An upbeat and dazzling show, “Dreamgirls'' is perhaps most well-known for its Black main cast, as well as its allusions to the careers of multiple famous Motown singers and groups from the Shirelles to Little Richard. The musical seems a perfect fit for the current socio political climate, expertly combining a much-needed uplifting score with an examination of the struggles that Black women especially face.
However, the timing, according to Anderson, is completely coincidental. “I don’t think any of us could have predicted that producing the show this Spring season would be so fitting given the past eight or so months.”
Instead, the choice was more directly motivated by the success of the organization’s 2020 production of “The Wiz,” which was met with acclaim from Duke students and the Durham community alike for its energetic production and sensory-friendly performances. With a mostly Black cast and inspired by the sounds of Motown, “The Wiz” was the last in-person Hoof ‘n’ Horn performance as well as one of its most beloved. The opportunity to feature another Black-led show was of critical importance to the organization, even if they couldn’t have foreseen the national events regarding the Black Lives Matter movement and how the unending deaths of Black people at the hands of the police have shaped racial discourse over just the past few months.
“I definitely feel that the show is important given the current cultural climate. Given the past success of ‘The Wiz,' Hoof ‘n’ Horn definitively wanted to continue to build on the success of the show and take another opportunity to highlight Black culture,” Anderson said.
That showcase will arrive in some form in April, most likely through virtual means of production and performance. The persistence of the pandemic has forced nearly every campus arts organization to turn to virtual spaces, harnessing platforms like Zoom to sustain the spirit of live performance. For Hoof ‘n’ Horn, this will likely include video recordings and editing decisions predicated on the lessons learned from the other virtual shows the company has hosted since social-distancing guidelines were first implemented.
“I’m very lucky that people on this production council and the resources we have among [Hoof ‘n’ Horn] members have some level of experience with virtual productions since the arts have made a shift to virtual performances due to the extent of the pandemic,” Anderson said. “Lessons learned from the editing and recording process are especially helpful, as well as ideas to bring a production to life in an untraditional setting.”
Anderson is also confident that no matter the means of presentation, Hoof ‘n’ Horn will manage to deliver the same creative zest that has made their shows such a staple of the Duke arts schedule.
“Depending on the final form, we have to enlist the help of a skilled and large team of editors. We hope this entire process, while new, will stay true to the heart of what it means to have a [Hoof ‘n’ Horn] production while maintaining everyone’s health,” she said.
“Dreamgirls” will be an experimental endeavor for everyone involved, but the vibrant spirit of the show will no doubt translate to the audience that eventually experiences it regardless of the medium.
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“I hope that the Duke community will take the opportunity to engage with this virtual musical as a chance to learn and appreciate Black art and the influence it has in our lives,” Anderson said.