“Hair contains smoke effects, strobe lighting, adult content and nudity” (Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park)
In other words, this latest revival in Central Park is not for kids. Yet I saw quite a few young ones in the audience last night and I wondered what they thought. I saw the original Broadway production of Hair shortly after moving to the New York City area when I was in tenth grade from St. Louis. My parents took me and quite enjoyed it, leftist liberals that they were. I remember vividly the end of the first act (when the actors got naked) and going to the Stage Deli afterwards. I even vaguely remember what I wore as it was such a big event. (Definitely had on more make-up and a shorter skirt than my mother approved of.)
I was sixteen. I was young adult. The characters and actors were young adults too. Doing what was cool then including:
- Taking lots of drugs. Now I was a hick from St. Louis and scared of drugs. I knew about them, but only first encountered them after seeing this play. You see, I too became part of a Tribe. Members of that tribe were arty types, some of whom were also small-time marijuana dealers, one got busted for growing some right behind the elementary school, another for having a plant of the stuff in his window, and everyone even vaguely hip smoked grass at parties. It was like beer. It was considered pretty tame stuff compared to LSD and its like.
- Having lots of sex. The birth control pill was still a pretty new thing so this generation was really quite wild. For other people still as I was a very innocent YA in 1968 and the Pill was still a few years off for me. Oh I had boyfriends and we fooled around. But our tribe was nothing like the orgasmic Tribe in Hair. And abortion was still very much illegal in 1968. (One of my friends went to England to get an abortion. That is what you did back then when you could afford it. If you couldn’t…well, you’ve heard the stories.)
- Working to end the War. Now this I did —a lot. My dad took me to my first anti-war protest in St. Louis. I took home my “War is Not Healthy for Children and Other Living Things” sign and propped it in the corner of my bedroom where it stayed till we moved. In New York I helped start and led Hudson Youth for Peace (HYP — got it?). I do not remember much of what we did other than organizing a walk-out from school when they bombed Cambodia, but I do remember being very excited when someone called to try to get me to join S.D.S.
So seeing Hair last night took me back to when I was the age of the kids in the Tribe. And I can’t help thinking how different things are today. Yes, there is a war, but there is no draft, there are no body bags on television, there is nothing like the huge animosity that existed then between older and younger (the so-called “generation gap”) and between liberals and conservatives (resulting in some horrific situations). Hair was a huge, huge issue for boys. Huge. That American flag played around with by the Tribe on the Delacourte stage? That would have gotten conservatives in 1967 crazy. Believe me, I’m not nostalgic for the bad stuff, but I am so glad the Public did this joyful revival of this show. It gives a taste of the wildness and fun of that time. It wasn’t all silly or selfish. It was a really wonderful time and I’m still waiting to see it properly presented in a YA book. (Leda Shubert, you helped levitate the Pentagon — is that perhaps in the book you are writing? If not, no problem, but someone needs to get it in one!) While there are several terrific books about this time I’m still waiting for one to give the flavor of it that this musical does.
I like this clip from Milo Forman’s 1979 movie of the musical because it ends with some actual footage of those anti-war protests of the 60s.