By Thomas Stubbs, Staff Writer
The music building’s downstairs band room is a cavernous space, but for the past few weeks it has been filled with energy, humming with chatter and anticipation up to its very rafters. The usual silence that permeates Furman’s academic buildings after hours has been shattered by the Pauper Players, a student-run musical theatre company that puts on a full production each semester. This time around, the show is “Hairspray,” an irrepressibly upbeat musical that follows the teenaged Tracy Turnblad on her quest to prove her worth, find love and stand up to social injustice. Set in the early ‘60s, “Hairspray” boasts a soundtrack that plays like the earliest Rock ‘n’ Roll records, the rich textures of blues and gospel infused with that irresistible backbeat. The show demands relentless enthusiasm, and by the feel of the room, the Paupers have it in spades.
Into this invigorating scene walks director James Douglas, who gathers the company with the chipper salutation “Come hither, young chaps!” Douglas, a senior, was the driving force behind the selection of “Hairspray.” He felt that the show, whose content confronts racial segregation in 1960s America, provided an opportunity to highlight the oft-overlooked diversity of Furman’s campus.
“I wanted to demonstrate that promoting diversity in school organizations was possible, and Pauper Players is a good place to start,” said Douglas.
To that end, Douglas reached out to FUGE, Furman’s gospel choir, to help make the show happen. “I took the idea to them before I took it to the Pauper Players,” he said, “and when they responded positively, I knew we could pull it off.”
After talking the cast through some logistical odds and ends, Douglas hands the rehearsal over to music director Drew Whitlow. Music is the focus for the first half of the night; then, the cast will run the same numbers with choreography. ll those layers of learning make long ensemble rehearsals necessary. Lines and individual dance steps can be learned on one’s own time, but musical theatre is more than the sum of its various actors’ skills. The cast members must learn to coalesce as a performing unit, and that means spot work and seemingly endless repetition.
No one seems to mind, though. Affection for musical theatre is something of a prerequisite for being part of the Pauper Players, but that alone cannot explain the vibrant atmosphere of the room. The members of the company have grown to enjoy each other’s … well … company.
“We’ve all become very close,” said Jasmin Waites, the President of FUGE who plays Motor Mouth Mable in the show; “I’m a senior, and this is my first show with Pauper Players, but I’ve gotten to know just about everyone.”
Her sentiments were echoed by Pauper Players President Ryan Holub. “You build such a strong sense of community when you’re working together towards a common goal. It’s a lot of work, and it takes a lot out of you, but we bond over that. It feels like a party every night,” Holub said.
The party comes to the McAlister stage for three nights Feb. 2, 3 and 4, and everyone’s invited. Tickets can be purchased at the door or beforehand from Pauper Players members.