When I first got into theatre I was fed a steady diet of Rodgers and Hammerstein: “Oklahoma!,” “The King and I,” “The Sound of Music,” the like. So, when I first encountered “Hair” in my freshman year in college, I was shocked and equally enamored. This musical was full of life. The cultural context of the late 1960’s is such a departure from 1900’s Oklahoma, 1930’s Austria, and 1860’s Siam. The built-in crowd interaction and fourth-wall breaking in this show was delightful. So, when I heard that Weathervane Playhouse was producing “Hair” I leapt at the opportunity to audition. I was overjoyed when I got the call to join the cast as Neil “Woof” Donovan.
This production of “Hair” will be my first performance in a musical in nearly a decade. The rehearsal process for this show has been a real challenge, but rewarding. I’ve had to re-learn how to rehearse a musical and to work in a particular way. For several years I worked with Heads Up Productions (now Wandering Aesthetics) creating ensemble theatre productions. I became accustomed to doing free-form work with a group of actors I knew very intimately. So, this process has been a bit of a whirlwind. But I dove right in.
“Hair” is the old cliche of “all singing, all dancing” so I’ve had to really train my body and voice to be able to handle the opera-esque expectations of this show. Much of the dance is free-flowing as it would have been at the Be-In’s in the sixties. Not all of the dance is tightly and precisely choreographed so I’ve had to create a toolkit of movement. I’ve pulled from social dance crazes of the 50’s and 60’s and supplemented it with my own emergent dance. I began attending Dance Your Soul gatherings to meditate, move, and connect with others. This has helped me understand what it might have been like to “commune” with a group of like-minded individuals in the sixties. Many of the songs in “Hair” are chock full of specific references. And many of the lines come through at lightning speed. I’ve had to train to get better at spitting out a lot of lyrics while also imbuing meaning behind them and honoring their cultural intent. There is a tremendous amount of physical touch and interaction in this show and it’s taken time for the tribe to break down the barriers and engage with each other. In a matter of 4 weeks, we’ve been tasked with becoming comfortable hugging, kissing, lifting, spinning, and rolling around with a group of total strangers. But it’s come about organically. It hasn’t been imposed.
For “Hair” I have listened to more 1960’s rock and psychedelic music than I have in my entire life. I’ve created a playlist featuring The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, The Doors, and Big Brother and the Holding Company. I’ve attempted to limit my sonic intake to songs that Woof would have heard growing up in the 50s and 60’s. In preparation for this performance I’ve researched the effects of psychedelic drugs (in a purely academic sense). I’ve even tried to induce hallucinations using eye-coverings and listening to white noise (called the “Ganzfeld Technique”). I want to know what Woof would have been seeing, hearing, and feeling as he took his many trips. His reactions to these ‘psychedelic symptoms’ have dictated a lot of my decisions on how he moves, speaks, and reacts. It’s all very groovy and mind-altering.
I’ve met Vietnam veterans and learned more about the cultural implications of the war and why a young man would desire to dodge the draft. This era was a very tumultuous time and as someone who lives in a relatively tame social climate I’ve had to dig deep to find what moves me (and what would have moved Woof) to action. Oftentimes the characters in “Hair” are portrayed as caricatures. The musical depicts a tribe in a collection of vignettes. Despite this convention I’ve endeavored to make Woof believable and relatable as a human being. He is more than just a free-loving, drug-eating, hippie protester. He’s a young man trying to pin down his identity and his place in the world. He’s aggressively questioning his religion, his political affiliation, his economic situation, his sexual orientation, and his commitment to pacifism.
My involvement in “Hair” has helped me shake off some theatrical rust and has reminded me why I love the creative process.
Beads, flowers, freedom, happiness.
- Thursdays — Sept. 3, 10 and 17 — at 7:30 p.m.
- Fridays — Sept. 4, 11 and 18 — at 7:30 p.m.
- Saturdays — Sept. 5, 12 and 19 — at 7:30 p.m.
- Sundays — Sept. 6, 13 and 20 — at 2:30 p.m.
For tickets, please visit www.weathervaneplayhouse.com or call 330.836.2626.