Syracuse University’s What Theatre to Bring 1960s Musical “Hair” to the Stage

The talented student group has recreated the world of the anti-Vietnam War movement and the sex revolution.

What Theatre, Syracuse’s student-run theater group, began with eight architecture students at Syracuse University.

Originally named Warehouse Architecture Theater, the group was formed in 2006 by Danton Spina and Alex Coulombe as a way to provide architecture students a creative outlet besides working within their major.

“There was a frustration with the fact that so many of us in the school of architecture were involved with theater in high school, and then all the sudden we weren’t able to do it anymore,” explains Coulombe. So they found a way to make it work. “We made time to rehearse at all hours of the day, sometimes at three in the morning while working on a studio project, and built all the sets ourselves.”

By the next semester, the organization had evolved into an opportunity that allowed all Syracuse students to participate, regardless of their major. The group's members display a passion for drama, but their majors span across the various schools at Syracuse.

“It blows me away that What is still going strong at Syracuse and I’m so proud of everyone who took up the reigns after the original members left,” Coulombe reflects.

What Theatre now has a student-composed e-board that handles areas such as finance and public relations. This is in addition to a creative team which consists of directors, a choreographer, a music director, and a stage manager. They perform two shows a year: a musical in the fall and a play in the spring.

The audition process for the upcoming show “Hair” occurred in September, as students were asked to prepare a cut of a song and a minute-long monologue. Some members were called back, with the group making difficult decisions to form a selective cast of only fourteen members.

From there, the group jumped into preparations and haven’t slowed down since.

“We have rehearsal basically five days a week,” says Andrew Martini, a junior studying Public Relations, who has taken on the role of Claude. “About two, two and a half hours a day.”

And as the show gets closer, the time commitment only becomes greater. Martini explains the weekend before the show is the beginning of ‘tech week,’ which means intense rehearsals until the show on Wednesday.

On Sunday, the cast is joined by the pit orchestra and the technical crew for an eleven-hour rehearsal. Stage manager Jen Bideaux will work on the technical side to ensure the lighting and sound come together, and music will be added to the cast’s dance numbers.

Max Murphy, a sophomore studying English Education, has taken on the position as assistant director for “Hair.”

“I’m there to act as a second pair of eyes,” he explains.  “During the show I blocked a couple numbers, I do character development, I give notes, and just help in any way that I can especially when our director, Grace Hildreth, isn’t there.”  Murphy speaks to how unique it has been to create such a bold, compelling show:

 “There’s no wall between the audience and the cast. There are points where cast members interact with the audience….like there’s one number where literally every cast member goes out and serenades members of the audience. It’s not just a show but an entire experience.”

Written by James Rado and Gerome Ragni with music by Galt MacDermot, the non-traditional musical tells the story of a New York City-based “tribe,” a politically active group of young adults opposed to the Vietnam War despite living with conservative parents.

“The show introduces the audience to the hippies and their culture, there’s a lot of drugs, but they’re also protesting the Vietnam War and other issues like racism and oppression,” Martini explains. The plot depicts his character’s struggle with the issue of being an eighteen-year-old male while the draft is going on.

According to Martini, one of the greatest challenges of the show has been taking on the role of a hippie. “Because we’re inhabiting people of a different time, there is a lot of research that goes into that. We have to remember we aren’t college kids in 2015 anymore. It’s 1969 and it’s a different time.” 

Although “Hair” is set in an entirely different decade, the cast still believes that the audience will relate to the play. It’s a great show for a college audience, Martini believes, because the themes and the issues they are fighting for are still relevant today. He believes the audience will benefit from the show and connect with the characters.

“And it’s such a fun show,” he adds after pausing. “You get a sense of love and passion when you see it and that’s so uplifting for the audience.”


Post new comment

* Field must be completed for your comment to appear on The NewsHouse
The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.