Method Act

WAILUKU – As Leighanna Locke studied herself in a mirror Monday afternoon, she held her long blond hair one last time before bidding it farewell for charity and for the theater at Shuga Boutique Salon in Wailuku.

“OK, here we go . . . ” she said.

The 31-year-old mother from Wailuku decided to donate her hair to the nonprofit organization Locks of Love in preparation for her lead role in the Maui Academy of Performing Arts rendition of “Les Miserables.”

“I’ve never had my hair cut this short,” she said while laughing and holding about a foot of her hair. “I guess we’ll cut it into a pixie cut or something I hopefully like.”

In the musical, Locke plays Fantine, a single mother with a young child in 19th century France. After losing her job, the attractive young woman is forced to sell her front teeth, her hair and herself into prostitution in order to support her daughter, Cosette.

“When I was cast, I recently saw the movie and thought, ‘How am I going to do the whole haircutting scene,’ ” said Locke, who got the part in April. “After mulling it over for about a week or two, I offered to cut my hair, but the director initially said he’d come up with something to avoid it.”

“I was kind of surprised she even offered because I didn’t think anyone would cut their hair just for six performances,” said Executive and Artistic Director David Johnston, who witnessed the actress cut her hair. “This is a volunteer job, so when she came forward I was stunned.”

A few weeks after her initial offering, Locke said Johnston and choreographer Andre Morissette approached her again about cutting her hair, but this time suggested donating it to Locks of Love.

“That idea just stuck with me,” she said. “Whether it was worth cutting my hair for only two weeks of performances didn’t matter. Donating made it feel like the right thing to do.

“At that point, it was no longer my hair.”

Sealed in a Ziploc bag, her hair will be sent by mail to West Palm Beach, Fla., to create hair prosthetics for children suffering from diseases such as alopecia areata, where hair falls out in round bunches, and undergoing cancer treatment. One hairpiece typically takes about six to 10 donated ponytails at least 10 inches long.

While watching her remaining hair groomed by salon owner Sabine Dellaria, Locke remembered having her hair cut short for a play in elementary school and wondered why she was nervous in the first place.

“I’ve been telling my friends that I was going to cut my hair for the role, and they’ve all been so worried about it,” she said. “I was getting texts all day about it.

“But there’s something about that, in why are women so nervous about cutting their hair?”

Locke, who has starred in other Maui musicals such as “South Pacific” and “The Sound of Music,” thinks the experience will help her in her performance.

“It’s given me insight on how Fantine must have felt when she cut her hair,” Locke said. “There’s still this stigma of women cutting their hair. . . . It’s like women feel they’re going to lose a part of themselves.

“It must have been so difficult for Fantine because David gave me a choice, but she didn’t have one.”

Johnston, who has worked with Locke since 2005, said during the hair-cutting scene, the wig she will be wearing will “magically” be cut off and removed.

“There’s something about this that will make Fantine real to the audience,” he said.

“Les Miserables,” based on the French historical novel by Victor Hugo, will make its debut on Maui in late August in the Maui Arts & Cultural Center’s Castle Theater. Comprised of about 80 cast members and a 25-member live orchestra, the musical will be “the largest theatrical performance this island has seen in a long time,” said Carolyn Wright, director of education and programming.

Looking at her noticeably lighter head, she could not wait to Skype with her mother in California and get home to her husband and 9-year-old daughter.

She does not know if this will be a permanent look.

“My long hair is definitely a part of my identity,” she said. “Despite all the hairstyles I went through, I still identify being a long-hair person . . . but clearly right now I’m not.”

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at