Kari Hayter grew up in Manhattan Beach and taught drama at Palos Verdes High School before launching her career as a professional stage director. Now, she’s coming home to the Palos Verdes Peninsula.

Hayter is directing Hairspray at the Norris Theatre in a run that starts April 26 and ends May 12.

What brought her back?

Producer Chris Gilbert was the impetus, said Hayter.

“I’d done a production in Anaheim of the musical Violet, and Chris came to see it and was inspired by that production,” she said, adding that her vision in directing that musical was different than most interpretations.

“Chris and I started having a dialog about directing at the Norris.”

Having history as an educator in the area, she was familiar with the theater, which made her excited to take on directing a project there, she said.

“Chris and I are both interested in exploring stories in new ways that might not have been brought to the stage, stripping away unnecessary elements and getting to the root of a story,” she said.

“I wanted to re-envision the 60s community in Hairspray in a different way than had already been done on Broadway. I wanted to make it feel more about the story than the spectacle of the experience,” she explained.

According to Hayter, the creative team found a simpler way to tell the story of teen Tracy Turnblad and the discrimination she and her friends faced. 

Hayter says it feels “wonderful” to be back in Palos Verdes.

“It’s such a great community, and there is such enthusiasm for the arts," said Hayter. "We’re hoping to inspire audiences in a new way to come look at a piece of theater. The Norris can be an advocate for that.”

Growing up on the hill helped the director shape her approach, she said.

"In understanding the community, I feel ready to inspire the audiences here, to see what kind of theater is being done out there, and let them know we can see theater differently here in our own community, and get them to go to the theater."

She said she wants to make people excited about going to the theater.

Recently, Hayter has worked extensively with the Chance Theater in Orange County, as well as directing musicals at South Coast Repertory, California State University Long Beach, and with the After Hours theater company in Los Angeles.

Additionally, she’s working on Broadway in the Park in Tustin.

Musicals are a big part of the Norris Theatre’s production repertoire as well, and Hayter promises to bring something fresh and different to the genre.

“We’re telling a story about tolerance and acceptance with Hairspray, and that is an important theme," said Hayter.

"And it's relevant today to get people to be open minded, tolerant, and receptive; it’s an important message about being who you are and accepting people around you,” she said.

“I think it’s important to come see the show.”

Hairspray runs at the Norris Theatre April 26-May 12. The theater is located at 27570 Norris Center Drive in Rolling Hills Estates.

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