Mariah Sletten | Staff Writer
Tanita Cronk | Staff Writer
Ramon Varela | Photographer
Before you see a play on opening night, the cast and crew worked long and hard to put it together. “It’s a lot of commitmnet,” Says Mckenzie Lang, a Music Edutacation Majoring acting in “Hair!” Rehearsals for “Hair!” started on February 7th and ran Monday through Thursday from 6pm to 9:30pm in the evening. After spring break (during which the platforms onstage were assembled), they also met on Fridays and extended their rehearsal time to a full four hours per night, Paul Aberasturi, the play director, explains.
“By the end of the rehearsal,” Aberasturi says, “everybody’s pretty wiped out—but it’s great; it’s in a great way.” Rehearsals end with a sense of accomplishment.
“It’s fun,” Shirley Mier, the music director, says. “It’s a good experience to work on this type of musical, despite the sheer amount of work that’s going into it.”
“My philosophy here is to direct plays with the mindset that college is preparation for the professional,” says Aberasturi. “By elevating our minimum standard of quality, we’re teaching people what they need to know. . . . This isn’t just extracurricular fluff—a side thing the college does for fun. This is an academic program.”
Will Slayden, the technical director, comments, “That’s one of the reasons I work in education, really, is that I get to teach these students the process, you know, and they get to learn these methodologies.”
“It’s really wonderful when you start to see us pull stuff out of the actors that they didn’t think they were able to do, you know,” says Aberasturi, “because we bring in actors from the first time they’ve ever done something, to actors who have been doing stuff on stage for years and years and years. We do everything, we mix it together, so it’s really neat to see that broad array of talent, and where they grow over the course of the course that they’re in.”
“When I go to see a musical,” says Mier, “I enjoy the music, and I enjoy the story and all that, and I also am aware of how much work it took, and what the process was that they went through to put on a show, and I get enjoyment from that too.”
Slayden says he hopes that people come to Century productions “because they know that there’s going to be art presented onstage, and they don’t care what play it is. That’s the reputation we’re trying to build. . . . They know they’re going to get good scenery. They know they’re going to get good costumes. They’re going to get progressive acting, progressive directing. It gives them something they can’t get at another venue in this area.”
Because of the level of work going into its productions, the Century theater department welcomes any help it can get. “Anybody that wants to get involved, we will find an opportunity for them to be able to do so,” says Aberasturi. “Anybody. We’re not going to turn anyone down. . . . There’s so many other areas to be involved (with) in a production: costumes, or lighting, or sets, or sound; makeup and hair.”
Slayden says, “For some of our shows (especially bigger productions), the students get very directly involved in the artistic decisions. They’re actually making decisions, making moves on things.” There are a couple students who have been working with him for several years.
Johnny McCallum, who has “kind of intrinsic” artistic talent, according to Slayden, and “knows his stuff, when it comes to my shop,” and Brianna Markie, who is “doing all of the hair and makeup. So, she’s doing all the kind of contextual research, and you know, what makeup looked like in the sixties and what women would have worn it and which women wouldn’t have, and shaving choices . . . She’s in charge of all that kind of stuff.”
“Another thing I love about this show,” says Slayden, “is this, honestly, is probably the most diverse cast we’ve ever had on our stage. We’ve got all ends of the sexual spectrum. We’ve got probably four or five different races represented onstage. We’ve got age brackets ranging up (from teens) into the fifties.” Kelly Knox, fifty, a student majoring in Human Services, is making her theater debut in “Hair!”
“So there’s a big, broad range,” Slayden says, “and that’s another thing that, in the past couple years, we’ve been trying to focus on, is just this school dictates that we have to have more diversity on our stage. The all-white show stuff has got to go. . . . Century College is the most diverse school in the Midwest—I mean, we have more countries represented here on this campus than any other school in Minnesota. That’s pretty significant . . . and we need to reflect that on our stage, as well.”
About the choice to do “Hair!” Slayden says, “I think that, to a certain extent, doing this show is also a statement about the type of art the theater department wants to do. We want to be able to say that everyone’s welcome inside this theater. We also want to produce modern things, that make you think… Theater, in my eyes,” he explains, “should make you leave questioning your choices. You should walk out thinking about life, and thinking about why your life is the way it is—and you should also walk out thinking about the way the problems in the play resolved (and why it happened that way).”
Alongside places like the White Bear Center for the Arts and Lakeshore Players, Slayden says, “We would like that, say, four years, five years from now, when people think of art and theater in the Northeast Metro, they think: Century College.”