What a Piece of Work

I don't always block our shows (i.e., work out the staging) in advance. With most shows, there are certain scenes that will be physically complex that I have to block ahead, but I love letting actors find their own way when I can, mostly because the staging ends up looking more organic that way. Some shows, like Chicago or Bat Boy are just so complex and/or stylized that I have to block every moment. With Hair, it's some of both -- lots of moments that have to feel utterly spontaneous, so I will give the actors very little blocking; but other moments are so weird and stylized that I'll have to block them in great detail.

So, for the last week I've been working through the script and blocking what needs blocking. In order to do that I relied on several sources. First, I've got some Hair documentaries on video that have footage of the original cast and staging. When possible, we will use those moments of original staging -- it's not a lot, but I like reaching back and connecting with the original production, especially with a show as special and rule-busting as this one. Most of what we'll take from the original will be little tiny moments; for example, there's a moment in "The Flesh Failures," when the entire tribe puts their hands up in front of Claude's face to block the audience from seeing him. It's a tiny moment, and probably doesn't sound like much reading it here, but it's really powerful, so we'll use that. Also, the first time we did the show, one of the original Broadway cast wrote out for me a long, detailed description of the original staging for "Aquarius," which we will adapt slightly for our show.

My second source is our last production. I watched a video of our 2001 Hair and looked through my script from that show. There aren't a whole lot of things I want to use again from that staging, but a few things are really nice and seem to really nail the moment, so I'll use those. But also, as I watched the 2001 video, I realized there are moments in the show that we didn't really fully understand at the time, though I'm not sure the audiences ever knew. We'll get those right this time.

Another source is a copy of a Hair script I have (no idea where or how I got it) from 1969. It's fairly close to the script we have now, but I did get some good insights from reading it.

Another source is production photos from the original -- these don't necessarily give me staging ideas, but they do help me figure out the writers' original intentions, which is valuable. Some directors don't care about original intention -- I'm not a slave to it, but I always find it extremely valuable.

There are quite a few moments in the show that I now understand better than the last time we did the show, so I think I'll guide our tribe better into realizing those moments this time. Last time we did the show, my favorite thing to hear from audiences -- the people who were actually around in the 60s, experiencing this subculture -- was that we got it "exactly right," the look, the attitude, the mood, the relationships, all of it. Nothing is more important to me with this show than authenticity. Mostly since nothing was more important to the hippies.

This week is going to be such fun. We're really going to dive into the world of Hair. Tonight we'll sing through the entire score (all FORTY songs!). Tomorrow night, we have a "Table Talk" night. I'm gonna show the tribe a couple short documentaries about Hair (including one that I'm a part of!). And then we'll talk about the historical context and the world of the hippies. We weren't able to do this last time because these documentaries didn't yet exist, and I knew way less about all that, not having yet written my book about the show. I think all this will really help the actors. And then Thursday, we will read through the script and sing all the songs as they come up. It will be the first time the tribe will hear the show, see how it all fits together, and they'll probably end up more baffled than ever... It's a weird fucking show!

The first time we did Hair in 2000, I had no idea what I was doing. But we trusted the material and it turned out great. The second time, in 2001, I felt like I really "got it" and I think the show was even better. This time, I've written a whole damn book about the show, so I better know what I'm doing!

It's gonna take a while to get the cast memorized (these songs are a bitch to memorize), comfortable with touching each other and with the extreme emotion of the show, comfortable with the many devices from the experimental theatre world, and really tuned in to the hippie worldview that underpins the entire show. It'll take a while but we'll get there.

It's quite an adventure in front of us and I feel so strongly that the end product will be even more wonderful than the last two times. Judging by ticket sales the last couple times, you'd better call Metrotix now... I'm just sayin'...

On with the Groovy Revolution!