Hoof ’n’ Horn celebrates its diamond anniversary this year, and current students and alumni plan to make sure that the occasion is dazzling. As one of the oldest student-run companies in the country, Hoof ’n’ Horn has spawned several generations of alumni who sought artistic expression—or just a creative alternative to their studies—through its musical stage productions.
“Our seventy-fifth anniversary provides a great opportunity to invite alumni back to celebrate the rich history we share but also to show them where we are now,” says Hoof ’n’ Horn president Nathaniel Hill ’12. “I regularly get e-mails from alumni who are checking in to see what’s going on or if there’s anything they can do to help.” As part of the program for Duke’s Reunions Weekend, April 8-10, Hoof ’n’ Horn will host an alumni reception and present its spring musical, Aida. During Homecoming weekend in the fall, the group will sponsor an alumni gala and cabaret.
According to records in University Archives, Peter E. Callahan ’37 came up with the idea for Hoof ’n’ Horn in 1936, but the group wasn’t able to stage a show until a few years later. In May 1941, with William Keller ’41 at the helm, Hoof ’n’ Horn made its stage debut with Say When. Since then, the group has mounted productions ranging from Broadway favorites (Grease, Guys and Dolls, A Chorus Line, Rent), to now obscure works (Flap ’er Sails, Idol Chatter), to studentwritten plays (Magnolias and Madness, I’m Emir Here).
A number of Hoof ’n’ Horn alumni have gone on to successful careers in the arts, including Preston Whiteway ’04, who won a Tony Award last year for his work as the director of the Eugene O’Neill Center in New York; and Margaret Skoglund ’10, an associate at Aged in Wood, a Broadway production company responsible for Avenue Q and In the Heights.
Although Skoglund says she initially thought she would pursue a career in law, her involvement in Hoof ’n’ Horn as a stage manager and producer convinced her that she could thrive in the entertainment industry. “I thought most things we did in Hoof ’n’ Horn were college specific, even Duke specific,” she says. “After working professionally, I realized many of those skills translated to ‘the real world.’ I can secure rights for a show, run a tech rehearsal, organize a sitzprobe [a rehearsal when the actors sing with the band], and, perhaps most important, step up when unexpected problems arise.
“As hyperbolic as it sounds, Hoof ’n’ Horn changed my life. To find something you’re fiercely passionate about is thrilling.”
Yet most current and past Hoof ’n’ Horn members won’t ever be in the running for Oscars, Emmys, or Tonys. Nathaniel Hill says that the group attracts a wide range of students, not just those interested in acting or theater. “It’s wonderful to have a pool of great actors who might go on to do well professionally, but any successful show comes down to the work of all the other people who are not acting—the people involved with lighting, music, costumes, choreography. We actually have a lot of students from Pratt [School of Engineering] who are involved right now.”
Leslie Montfort Marsicano ’78, M.Div. ’81 got involved with Hoof ’n’ Horn as a sophomore—she was in the chorus of Gypsy—and liked it so much she kept coming back. She became part of the executive committee that helped select which shows to produce, and by the time she was a senior, she landed the title role in No, No, Nanette. The role had the added bonus of allowing her to spend time with a fellow student she’d just begun dating—her future husband, Michael Marsicano ’78, M.Ed. ’78, Ph.D. ’82, who played oboe in the orchestra.
“For someone who is completely nonathletic, it was fun to be part of a team of people working, often well into the night, to create something together,” says Marsicano, now associate dean of academic administration at Davidson College. “It was exciting to see if we could pull it off. Sometimes it was very close. I remember being told one opening night in Page Auditorium to be sure not to touch the set as the paint was still wet.”
Broadway production assistant Skoglund echoes Marsicano’s appreciation for Hoof ’n’ Horn’s “come one, come all” attitude.
Lights, Camera, Action!
Hoof 'n' Horn celebrates its 75th anniversary
April 1, 2011