David Rossetti Creates New Choreography with Students for Hairspray

Hairspray at Gainesville Theatre Alliance

Guest choreographer David Rossetti (center) and cast members Haden Rider, Rane Tipton, Greg Hunter and Ashley Campbell rehearse for the Gainesville Theatre Alliance production of Hairspray. Photo by Simpson Custom Photography

Students in the Gainesville Theatre Alliance’s (GTA) production of Hairspray have an opportunity that many theater students don’t always have. A choreographer and actor in the GTA production, David Rossetti brings his experience and knowledge to the show. Featured in the 2003 National Tour of Hairspray, Rossetti is using his experiences to choreograph and perform in the GTA production.

For the GTA production, Rossetti has decided to use “mostly new stuff.” For those who love the original productions dances, there is no need to panic. He adds, “I put in a homage to the original. [The] choreography is so good; you can’t necessarily find anything better.”

When he begins to choreograph a show, Rossetti has a standard process that he follows; however, for Hairspray, this process was a little different because he “knew the material so well.” One of the first steps he completes is to “listen to the music over and over again.” By doing this, it allows movements to “form in my head, and I get it on paper.”  

Once he has the basic foundation for the choreography for the show, he begins to teach it to the students. As the students learn the dances, they are able to have input and create some of the choreography themselves. Rossetti mentions, “I leave some holes because I like to collaborate with the students.”  

During the production audiences can expect to see familiar dances, some of which audience members may have done themselves as teenagers. According to Rossetti, the show includes such dances as the “Twist, Monkey, Pony, Cha Cha, and the Madison, which is kind of like the Electric Slide of the time period. It started in Baltimore, where Hairspray takes place.”

“It takes a lot of hard work and practice to make it look as easy as it does on stage and have fun,” Rossetti mentions, and one unique way that the theater company has worked to promote the production was a workshop that taught the general public the numbers from the musical. This way the public gets to experience firsthand the work that the actors put into performing a show.

On October 22, the community was treated to a dance class led by Rossetti. According to Jim Hammond, the show’s director, the event was “designed to get the community talking about the production weeks before it opens.” The idea was born out of a few conversations and a discussion about the popularity of television programs such as So You Think You Can Dance.

“Ben Cameron, former Executive Director of TCG (Theatre Communications Group), has spoken about the mistake theater often makes in being too mysterious, too secretive about our creative process. Sports are much more inclusive and transparent when it comes to welcoming fans to view behind the scenes,” Hammond explains. “Not everyone wants to go to the stadium an hour before game time to watch the players warm up, but a good many do. In fact, many fans are loyal to a team because of the ability to meet players and witness the process. Our Hairspray Dance Session is an effort to give interested audience members the perspective of our actors in a typical dance rehearsal.”

During the workshop, the participants learned the closing number of the musical, “You Can’t Stop the Beat,” as well as a little bit of the “Nicest Kids in Town” number. The goal of the workshop was to “give people an idea of what we do. Dancing can be very athletic,” states Rossetti.

Hammond, also on staff with GTA, mentions, “This is a new strategy that we plan to continue. You can imagine the possibilities with upcoming shows like The Grapes of Wrath, The Importance of Being Earnest and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Our marketing team is having a blast with these events.”

Hairspray, presented by the Gainesville Theatre Alliance, will play November 8 through November 19 at the Hosch Theatre in Brenau University’s Burd Center for the Performing Arts. For tickets and more information, please visit the Gainesville Theatre Alliance website.

By Kenny Norton