When you were in high school, was there a role that got away?
Hunter Bell: There was! [Laughs.] We did a school-wide production of Oliver! so the junior high could be in it and obviously, the elementary school to be orphans. I think was a junior and I was like, "I want to be The Artful Dodger. Of course I'm going to be The Artful Dodger," and of course an actual seventh or eighth grader got it. I think I made it to a callback, but maybe that was just our drama teacher being like, "Well, I don’t want to totally humiliate you…" and I did not get the part of The Artful Dodger. I was ensemble guy #3. I was amazing…the "Oom-Pah-Pah" guy or "Consider Yourself"…I did not get the part, but I triumphed the next year with the lead in Pippin. So, take that Artful Dodger!
Susan Blackwell: I went to this really, really small school and my seventh grade year I was cast in Oliver! because if you could stand and you didn’t need a bra yet, you could get cast in Oliver! And then my eighth-grade year they did The Music Man and I wasn't cast, and even in eighth grade I was like "Big mistake. You are idiots. You have no idea!" But the weird thing is, even in eighth grade, I was like "I do know I have talent." I know people whose parents would have thrown a fit, but that's not who my parents are.
Is there a high school movie that you most relate to?
HB: I loved all those John Hughes movies. I was a kid of the 80s, so definitely "The Breakfast Club," "Pretty in Pink." I wanted to be rich and pretty like Lea Thompson. She was the pretty, rich one in "Some Kind of Wonderful." I also wanted to make out with Andrew McCarthy in any movie. I liked "Sixteen Candles." I wanted to make out with Jake. I remember Jake pulled up in the car with the cake and he was like, "Yeah, you. We're going to sit cross-legged on the table…" I could relate to that in my mind. I would replace Molly Ringwald.
SB: I went to an adult prom and you could dress up like anything, and a girl came dressed as that girl in "Sixteen Candles" who cut her hair. She fully came in a wig with a chunk of hair cut out, and I was like, "That is deep. That costume is amazing." I wore my own prom dress. I wore my junior prom dress to that, and I still fit, so… please print that. [Laughs.] I always felt like [girls in high school movies] were so rarified, like they were either really rich or they were all f*cking each other… "Teen Wolf," I guess.
HB: Thespian by day…teen wolf by night. [Laughs.]
SB: Aspiring thespian…I couldn’t get cast.
What were your prom and after prom like?
HB: I'm going to out somebody. My prom date was Broadway producer Debbie Bisno. Take that, Debbie. And we had a good old time. I wore my show choir tuxedo, so I was comfortable with that. I was pretty square and pretty nerdy, so I wasn't like a real party kid. We went to somebody's house and had pizza.
SB: The place where we had the prom was a hotel. I was back visiting my family in Ohio last year, and now it's just like completely disused and boarded up and graffiti'd, but it was super glamorous at the time. I started feeling, as I was getting ready to go that night and curling all my hair – I had gigantic hair – I started feeling like, "I feel so hot. I feel so weird." If you look at my prom pictures that night, you can start to see the sickness setting in. I'm guessing a flu of some variety. I had bought the most expensive dress I had ever owned, and for many years it was. I made my mom buy me this dress. This was huge. It was like $385. I still don't have that kind of money. P.S. I still have that dress. Somebody just posted on Facebook. The after prom was the following day at King's Island Amusement Park, and I fully had the flu and I went because I didn’t want to miss...
HB: YOLO is what the kids say.
SB: There was a picture of me sitting in the line where you wait. Just sitting on the railing of one of those lines with night-before hair, just a complete mess. I also remember lying down on park benches and being like, "You guys go on ahead. I'm going to sleep on a park bench at this amusement park," because I was so sick.
HB: Seniors rule!
Did you have high school relationships?
SB: Those people are all still living, I can't talk about it. I'm not kidding. I don't want to create fights.
HB: I had a crush on a boy named Davis Kirby and he was in Broadway shows… Broadway's Davis Kirby. He was super cute. He played Charlemagne to my Pippin.
SB: I had full-on high school things, but those people are still married.
Is there a specific time during your high school years that you would go back to?
SB: I was my happiest and most fully self-actualized when I was doing the high school musical. My senior year I did Hello, Dolly!, which is ridiculous for a 17-year-old person to play the lead in that show, but I felt like I really came into my own. I remember people, my peers, looking at me differently and – you know that look that people have get, like, your value has shifted? Over a two-and-half-hour period of them watching that show your currency has risen – high school famous! It wasn’t about being more visible or more popular. I was in alignment with myself, and I just felt happy and the most myself.
HB: I would agree – going back to the shows. I loved doing the shows, also rehearsing the show after school because that building was like my home. I loved going in on the weekends and building the sets and going to Wendy's…
SB: I can still smell that.
HB: Sawdust and platforms. And a little to when we, to reference Broadway's [title of show] -- Jeff wrote a song called "A Way Back to Then," which was very much about going back to that time in school where you couldn’t wait to go to rehearsal.
SB: I think it's ironic that I just said I felt most myself when I was playing a 60-year-old Jewish matchmaker. I just think it's interesting.
What was your worst first day of school outfit?
SB: This is an easy one. So, I moved to this school in seventh grade. I had been in Catholic school, and I moved to this new school and I took great care to pick out the outfit that I was going to wear on the first day of school. I was convinced that this was going to be a transformative – not just a page turn in my life, not even a new a chapter, but a new volume in my life, and I had such high expectations for it. I picked out a little kelly green t-shirt with a v-neck and there was a big applique, on the breast, of an elephant staring right at you... and jeans. I was like a spider monkey. I had these really long legs and really long arms. Jeans that, brand new, already gave me a wedgie and were too short. I couldn’t find jeans that fit. I got a new hair cut at the SuperCuts, a Dorothy Hamill – after it was in fashion – and I was certain that I was just going to rule the school in this outfit. I don’t know why I thought that was the power outfit – the green v-neck shirt with the applique of the elephant looking right at you – but I went to my new school, and I was trying to find my first classroom and the bell rang and the door opened to one of the classrooms and it hit me in the face. It was like a John Hughes movie. I got knocked out on the floor and I watched people walking over me, and because nobody knew who I was, nobody would stop. The outfit was cursed.
HB: I wore a little uniform, which I appreciated, because it kind of neutralized everybody. I do remember we had out-of-uniform days for spirit days, and I begged my mom to buy me these parachute pants and this shirt, like a kind of v-neck with little shoulder pad kind of things. We're talking like '83, '84 here – and I thought in my mind, "This will kill!" It did not. It was uncomfortable, and didn’t fit well and it wasn’t even me. I was trying to be something I'm not. That's why you go do theatre. But yeah, in my mind I was like, "This is going to be amazing." It was not amazing. It was amazing for different reasons. I was convinced it would make me the most popular kid at school. It went unnoticed. I think people were like, "That's weird." Everyone else was wearing jeans. That was a misstep, that outfit.
If you didn’t know what a thespian was, what would you think it meant?
SB: A gay lady, I guess.
HB: [Laughs.] Yeah, I'd go with lesbian or…
SB: An Italian motor bike.
HB: I'd go with those answers. I can't top that.
Is there one play you wish was taught in high school drama classes?
SB: [title of show], I guess.
HB: The Laramie Project comes to mind. Anything that makes sure that anyone that would feel less than or disenfranchised in any way, that they felt different either through gender or sexuality or race, that would make them feel like rock stars. I think about political things like The Laramie Project, or Terrence McNally plays.
SB: I work with a lot of high school and college teachers, and I just moderated this gigantic discussion with 200 high school teachers about curriculum and what they are producing at their high schools. I was so amazed and heartened by the material that they're doing – really, really challenging stuff and interesting stuff about all sorts of politics and issues – in the most inventive ways.
HB: I want to add that I'm always impressed by schools and administrations that feel comfortable for kids to write their own stuff and produce their own plays, because I find it so moving and so honest. These kids are smart, and they're in the world and they are going through all kinds of stuff. For them to express themselves through a piece of theatre is pretty powerful. I'm always pleased with programs that support that and will mount productions of them and let the other kids come see them. Kids are smart, and hopefully anything that starts conversations is a good thing.
What was your first stage kiss?
HB: Mine was Our Town. I played George and a girl named Julie was my first girl stage kiss. My first boy stage kiss [Laughs] was with Deven May. I did a reading and got to make out with him and that was fun.
SB: I don’t remember, but I think I might have kissed in West Side Story [as Anita]. It was this really cute guy named Dan Jannings – hi, Dan, if you’re reading this, and hello to your lovely wife Shelly.
HB: And what do you call stage kisses and movie kisses?
SB: Free passes. I remember my first movie kiss, but I think I might have kissed Dan Jannings in West Side Story.
What were your cast parties like?
SB: There's a picture on Facebook this very second of a cast party from a community theatre production of Really Rosie. I played the cat. I forgot my lines in that production…and there's a picture of the cast party. We're little, we're in elementary school. It's at the director's house, and it looks very spirited.
HB: We went to a lot of Pizza Huts and Bennigans. It was down the street from our school, so that felt cool... Or some late night Wendy's.
SB: I lived in the middle of nowhere, so they'd be hosted by the parents of one of the kids. A lot of pizza was eaten. You can count on that.
Who were your Broadway idols when you were in high school?
HB: I loved Howard McGillin. I thought he was awesome. I took trips with my high school theatre troupe to see shows. I loved The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Betty Buckley and Bernadette Peters.
SB: I loved, loved, loved Terrence Mann. I was in love with Terrence Mann – Rum Tum Tugger, Javert – I loved him. How are you doing, Terrence? I’d like to shout out to your lovely wife, Charlotte d'Amboise. I loved him, and it's so funny, because we did a benefit a few years ago and Terrence Mann was also on the bill. He came by to say hello, and I couldn’t even make eye contact with him. I was just in love with him. I thought he was so sexy and so talented.
HB: We'll set up a double date with you and Terrence Mann and me and Howard McGillin. [Laughs.]
SB: I feel like all of my high school anxiety is coming back.
What was your high school archetype?
HB: I think I was a nice theatre guy, but I definitely was a theatre geek – a proud theatre geek.
SB: I was a cheerleader. I had a lot of friends, and I was a bonafide weirdo, so I don’t know what that mash-up is. I was me. I was the Susan archetype.
HB: Tweet us #TeamHunter or #TeamSusan! [Laughs.]
SB: Kids should be their own archetypes. Be your own archetype!
Broadway Back to School 2015 is presented by the Educational Theater Association and the International Thespian Society. The concert benefits arts education for schools in underserved areas.
For more information, or to purchase tickets, click here.