Cole Haden grew up in Bethany Beach and Dagsboro, graduated from Sussex Central High School and is heading out to college after the summer. He could be just one of many teenagers in Sussex County, but Cole Haden is unique.
He was his class valedictorian. He has addressed a crowded Indian River School District Board of Education meeting and made his point. He is a barista at the Artful Bean, where he has a following of older patrons. And he is an actor and a musician, and has been accepted into the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston.
With intense, dark eyes and wearing his trademark blue under-eye glitter, Haden’s appearance conveys presence and poise. He is very much his own man.
“I attended a five-week camp at Berklee last summer and loved it. There was such a sense of community, ambition, drive and creativity there,” said Haden. “Then I went for a live in-person interview and audition. It’s cool that the camp counselors include some of the same faculty that I’ll be learning from this fall. My major will be electronic production and design.”
“I think that moving from Delmarva, where I was incubated as an artist and inspired by the presence of water — especially in winter — to the city of Boston will add a huge new dimension to my work,” he added.
The music genre that drives Haden’s passion is contemporary electronic.
“When I compose, it’s not notes on sheet paper. It’s more in the Björk and Depeche Mode style. I take avant-garde and pop influences, and experiment with triggered beats and samples while sticking to my fundamental trust in the human experience,” he said.
When this reporter looked at him blankly, he helped me out with an analogy.
“You know the modern abstract painter, Wassily Kandinsky? Well, he listened to sounds as inspiration for his visual art. I may look at a painting — how the paint was applied to the canvas, the blend and tone of color, its geometric forms and symmetry — and from that get inspired to compose.”
Haden is excited to have been selected to perform for a second time at the Freeman Stage as one of the Locals under the Lights on Thursday, Aug. 27. It is a free, bring-your-own-chair show starting at 7 p.m.
“My friend Ryan Phillips will be accompanying me on electric guitar,” said Haden. “It will be a 20- to 30-minute mini-set, a theatrical musical performance, in costume. It will be like my last hurrah as a high school graduate on stage in Delmarva — the culmination of everything thus far.”
His father, Rick Haden, said he is amazed by his son and is excited to watch as he continues to develop.
“But I’m not surprised,” he said. “He has never deviated from his dream from when he was 3 years old. He always wanted to perform and create his own full show.”
The Freeman Stage is not the only venue to see Cole Haden this summer. He is one of the actors on the Clear Space stage in Rehoboth every Saturday night at 10 p.m., with the Delaware Comedy Theatre (DTC).
David Warick is the founder and artistic director of the DTC, as well being the drama instructor at Sussex Central.
“I first met Cole six years ago, when we both performed in the play ‘Flyer’ — coincidentally at the Freeman Stage. Then I directed him in a couple of plays at the Southern Delaware School of the Arts, where I was a teacher and Cole a student. Subsequently, we were both at Sussex Central, and I will never forget his playing the lead in ‘Amadeus.’ I think he was still just a sophomore,” recalled Warick.
Rick Haden also was in awe of his son’s performance in “Amadeus.”
“We didn’t know anything about the role before we saw him on stage. He learned it all in his room after he went to bed at night… and he had to speak Italian, French and German, as well as English! Cole is as comfortable performing in front of 500 people as talking one-on-one.”
The Saturday shows at Clear Space throughout the summer are called “The Late-R Night Show.” It is an irreverent, adult improv comedy show that changes with each performance, depending on audience input and participation.
Warick he has been impressed with Haden’s versatility, physicality and goofiness doing improv comedy for the first time.
“The audiences love him,” he said. “My only advice to any future teacher of Cole is to get out of his way. He is so capable and creative, you just have to provide him opportunities and let him go.”
Haden said he knew in the eighth grade that he wanted to attend the best local high school for his interest in the creative arts. So he utilized “school choice” to go to Sussex Central after spending a day “job-shadowing” Judith Loeber, the department chair for visual, performing and technical arts, and nationally acclaimed artist.
“I had never heard the term before Cole called me,” said Loeber. “He followed me the entire day, sitting in on AP classes and talking to students. He had an unusual maturity and was obviously so bright and had such a variety of creative interests. We connected.”
In turn, Haden credits Loeber for not only encouraging artistic freedom but having an ear and making the time to listen, challenge and support.
“Until my senior year, I always felt on the outer circle of high school,” said Haden. “I thought in the eighth grade I might be gay, but I really tried to have a girl crush, and invited [the girl] to a middle-school dance. She wanted to sit on the bleachers and talk. Then Lady Gaga came on, singing my favorite, ‘Bad Romance.’ I knew all the choreography, and I couldn’t resist jumping up and dancing. I saw her watching me and knew in that moment it didn’t add up.
“Now I identify as pansexual, which means I’m attracted to a person’s being, and whichever gender is attached — I am open. Regardless, it’s not something I want to define me.”
It was coming home one evening last October and seeing a newspaper on his kitchen table with a headline that enraged him that pushed Cole Haden into the limelight as an activist and leader.
“There was a school board member, on the front page, saying something like, ‘It’s not OK to teach that it is OK to be gay.’ I just knew I must write something that captured what I was feeling and I had to be at that next school board meeting.”
In a short period of time, Haden had 300 signatures on a petition to allow the inclusion of reference to LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and more) issues as a standard in health teaching materials.
He was the first to arrive at the next school board meeting, in order to be assured the opportunity to speak. His respectful, dignified tone was appreciated by all concerned and earned him lengthy applause and mention in several newspapers. The school board eventually agreed with his position and, later, the dissenting individual chose to resign.
“It made me realize the power of one individual’s voice and how thankful I am to live in this community,” said Haden. “The student body was so supportive. Since then, as a senior, I felt more connected and have a new sense of camaraderie. I’m ready to move on.”
“We are blessed to have three wonderful children,” said Rick Haden. “Cole is the eldest. Some people wanted him to study engineering at university because he is so good at math… Talking to him is like playing checkers vs. three-dimensional chess. But his passion is music and performing, and that’s what he must do.”
Talking fondly about his family, Cole Haden said, “I have twin sisters, Alexis and Erin, who are 16. As passionate as I am for music, they are about healing people. I’m sure they will practice some form of medicine in the future. Our parents are so supportive of us all.”
Cole Haden is a name to remember. His teacher, Judith Loeber sees his name in lights in his 20s and as a teacher himself in his 30s. David Warick sees Haden’s future as an absolutely unique performance artist in the mode of no other.
Come out and see Cole this summer so you will be able to say, “I saw him when…” Or listen to a taste of his music on http://soundcloud.com/
The websites to learn more about events at the Freeman Stage and Clear Space Theater are
www.freemanstage.org and www.clearspacetheatre.org.