Ooooooo, The Bed!

As of last night, we've staged the whole show except The Trip in Act II, which we'll do Monday. It's still amazing to me how willing our tribe is to try crazy things, break rules, and throw themselves into the relative chaos of this beautiful, baffling show. So Thank You once again to the Osage for so cheerfully following me down this road, even when you think I may be losing my damn mind. Your trust is wonderful.

Hair is a very difficult show to stage, partly because it's really strange, using experimental theatre devices and so forth, and partly because it's also very complex, with lots of stuff going on much of the time (and The Trip is the most complex of all, which is why I saved it for last). When a show is supposed to feel spontaneous and sorta chaotic, it's extra hard to find ways to focus the audience's attention where it should be focused.

Because, after all, even though Hair doesn't feel like it has a plot, it really does...

This blog is supposed to be a truthful chronicle, warts and all, of our process, so here's one of the warts, a glimpse inside the messy process of making theatre. I realized when I got home last night that I don't think the way I staged "The Bed" works very well. The proof of this is that the tribe really didn't understand what I was going for. They seemed totally lost, even frustrated, which has not been true of any other moment in the show. If the actors feel that lost, it's most probably my fault.

So I need to re-think this number. Why is it here? How does it function? Deep down at its core, what is it about? How does it advance character, plot, or the show's themes? Is it just about playfulness or is there something more? In other words, maybe it's about something underneath that's different from the surface meaning.

Here's a piece of the very odd lyric from "The Bed":
You can lie in bed
You can lay in bed
You can die in bed
You can pray in bed
You can live in bed
You can laugh in bed
You can give your heart
Or break your heart in half in bed

You can tease in bed
You can please in bed
You can squeeze in bed
You can freeze in bed
You can sneeze in bed
Catch the fleas in bed
All of these
Plus eat crackers and cheese in bed...

What on earth??? This is a hard song to make work because it's one of those rowdy, silly, playful songs that populate so much of the Hair score, but it comes at a very intense, sad moment in the show. Why is it there? Why break up the intensity and the building dramatic tension that's leading straight into the finale? Why stop the show for a list of things you can do in bed (only some of them sexual), when we're about to send Claude off to the Vietnam meat grinder?

Part of the answer may just be the perverse pleasure the show's creators took in consciously rejecting expectations every chance they got. Part of it I think is the juxtaposition of Claude's sadness, fear, apprehension, guilt, etc. against the still playful, still stoned, still outside-real-life tribe around him. They will go on playing while he goes to Vietnam and gets killed. They will no doubt still be playing when he's sent back home in a body bag.

But is it about more than that? The first half of the song is exclusively non-sexual things you can do in bed. Them the bridge of the song describes the bed in analytical terms:
Oh the bed is a thing
Of feather and spring
Of wire and wood
Invention so good.

Maybe this is a song about rejecting the demonization of "what we do in bed." Maybe this is a commentary on how "the bed" became a strictly sexual symbol in the freaked-out 60s, which in turn made it something "dirty," "private," "adult," rather than a source of pleasure and rest and renewal. Everybody has a bed, the tribe is telling us, and it's silly to attach such heavy, "forbidden" meaning to such a simple, good, useful thing, to reduce it to nothing more than sex so that you can't even talk about it in polite company.

Then the last section of the song finally celebrates sexual acts, but only as one of many things you can do in bed. Sex is only one part of this picture. And notice that the song never uses the word fuck, even though it's all over the rest of the show:
Let there be sighs
Filling the room
Scanty pajamas
By Fruit of the Loom

You can eat in bed
You can beat in bed
Be in heat in bed
Have a treat in bed
You can rock in bed
You can roll in bed
Find your cock in bed
Lose your soul in bed

(Remember, the phrase "rock and roll" was originally a euphemism for sex.) And then the song ends with a warning: "You can lose in bed / You can win in bed / But never, never, never, never, never, never sin in bed." Is that telling us to stop demonizing both the bed as a symbol and also our own sexual exploits, however non-mainstream they may be, to stop thinking of sex as "sin"...?

And maybe the tribe is warning Claude -- he wants to sleep with Sheila before he leaves, but "You can give your heart, or break your heart in half in bed." Going to bed with someone can be complicated...

When I figure all this out (and I've actually come a long way just writing this blog entry), then I'll figure out how to physicalize that, how to make it as clear as possible to the audience, how to use staging to enhance and make the words even more meaningful. Maybe it calls for abstract movement or maybe concrete movement that literally "explains" the song... With things like this, I have to think really hard about it for a while, then forget about it and let it percolate in the back of my mind. As I move through this weekend, this song will sit in my subconscious and hopefully, it will suddenly become clear to me how to make it work. I say "suddenly" because it will feel like that, even though the process will probably take a couple days...

I learned a long time ago that making theatre is not always a conscious process. Sometimes the best art is made subconsciously, by just allowing your artist self to cruise along on auto-pilot. I've been using this same process since 1997 when we did Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris and 1998 when we did Songs for New World, both largely abstract musicals. When I'm having trouble with a number, I stop myself, ask myself, "What is this really about?", and that usually puts me on the right road. That may sound like Directing 101, but it's something too many directors never do... especially with a musical...

We'll see if it works this time... Hopefully I'll have new staging to show the tribe Monday night.

On with the Groovy Revolution!
Kerouac

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