This past weekend I had the distinct pleasure of attending a birthday party for our tribeâ€™s Woof. Hebe and I had a wonderful time meeting his family, their friends, and a couple of our tribe members who were able to attend. They were some of the nicest and most talented people we have ever encountered, and everything from the great live musicians to the fire dance performances put on by their friends from the Burning Man Festival was a blast. Woofâ€™s was wonderful playing music ranging from the classical to HAiR on his various string basses, and one song, where he was accompanied by his sister on cello, made “Sodomy” seem tame!
Perhaps because I was the oldest HAiR person there, I was asked several questions about HAiR productions past and present. I have decided to try to answer these questions, as well as several others that I have been asked on other occasions, in a “Question and Answer” format. I have taken the liberty of re-wording the questions for clarity (and because I do not remember their exact wording), and I wish to stress that the answers are my opinions. I invite any comments and/or corrections from all of the Cybertribe.
Q: Is there usually a nude scene in HAiR?
A: Usually the first thing I hear from anyone when talking about HAiR is the infamous “nude scene,” so it was both surprising and very gratifying to meet someone who was familiar with HAiRâ€™s wonderful score rather than its nudity! But, to answer the question: YES. Starting with the Broadway run, it has been traditional for most of the tribe get naked in the last few seconds of Claudeâ€™s song “Where Do I Go?” at the close of Act I. Of course, the pregnant Jeanie does not participate (at least in any production that I have seen). Most often Claude also stays clothed, but, in several recent productions that I have seen (Act This! production at Los Angeles Valley College, and, most recently, in the great productions at California State University, Northridge and the In earlier productions
Naturally, when HAiR is performed in our countryâ€™s high schools and even SOME colleges, the nude scene is excised. Unfortunately, the nudity is sometimes cut, or rendered essentially invisible to the audience, when HAiR is presented in some municipally owned venues for fear of offending the city fathers. An example of this was the tribe at Port Hueneme, California where, we were told, ALL of the tribe members wanted to do a nude scene, but they were prevented by the director and/or producer for fear that they would lose the use of the municipal venue.
Q: If the tribal nudity at the end of Act I is so “traditional,” why is it not written into the script.
A: Your guess is as good as mine! In fact, the ONLY nudity written into the script is that of Aquarius (Act II, Scene 29, page 2-3 (61)). I have only seen a naked Aquarius in two productions: 1) the Act This! production at Los Angeles Valley Community College female Aquarius), and 2) the Glendale Community College (male Aquarius). Another place frontal nudity is sometimes used in when the guy playing “The Tourist Lady” flashes the audience to show that he is really a man.
I find it most curious that nudity is SELDOM USED where the authors have written it into the script, and USED where the authors have either not indicated it, or where, in the case of “The Tourist Lady” they have specifically indicated that the actor wear “jockey shorts!”
Q: Why isnâ€™t there nudity in “Walking in Space” where it seems so natural?
A: This is a question that I love to hear! I have always wanted to see “Walking in Space” performed with images of space (real, or scientific-imaginary such as those by Chesley Bonestell), nudes, mandalas, or even abstract moving oil-water shapes projected against the tribeâ€™s naked skin. So, in the interest of full disclosure, I must admit to a certain bias on this question.
To answer the question: Some productions do perform “Walking in Space” “skyclad.” In fact, the original Mexican production mounted in 1969 by the OBC director Tom Oâ€™Horgan, and starring Rado and Ragni, did use nudity in WIS. Unfortunately, the government closed the show after only one performance and expelled the tribe! (Some say this was due to the nudity, but the published reports show that neglecting to acquire the proper Visaâ€™s and Work Permits, and, perhaps, failing to cross a few officialsâ€™ palms with silver, might have been a more significant cause of the showâ€™s demise.) At any rate, when Corinne Broskette of the Mexican tribe treated me to a short demonstration of how they performed the scene, I must admit my short hairs got even more curly! I understand that Leo Lunser uses nudity in WIS in his productions, and I read on this list that the recently concluded Sacramento production did also. Alas, I have not seen any of these productions.
As for why it is not done more often, a couple of directors have told me that they would like to, but that they were so concerned about getting their tribe to participate even in the very brief nudity at the end of WIS that they were afraid of totally spooking them by suggesting anything more no matter how nicely it would work in the show. I find this situation most sad.
Q: Why do many tribes decide to perform a nude scene and then light it in a fashion that does not allow the audience to see it? Doesnâ€™t doing the scene that way send a message that nudity is shameful; a message completely in contradiction to a major theme of HAiR?
A: I have wrestled with this question quite a bit in previous posts, and I have stated that I believe that it is FAR FAR better to simply dispense with nudity entirely and be able to see the tribeâ€™s reactions to Claudeâ€™s anguishing over his dilemma, rather than having the audience “left in the dark” wondering what is happening on stage! A perfect example of this was in the Simi Valley production that just closed. This was, IMHO, one of the most wonderful, spot-on productions of HAiR that I have ever seen, but it was marred by performing a “nude scene” which, from many seats in the house, was so invisible that one could not even discern whether anyone was on stage during the scene!
Recently, a colleague suggested to me that he believed that whether or not the audience could see the scene is irrelevant! Not only had the “nudity” served its obvious purpose of “getting butts into the seats,” but it also had served the less obvious purpose of building tribe unity!
People tend to bond strongly with one another and form a “group identity” when they are forced to confront their major fears and overcome them in the presence of the group. The fundamental purpose of the militaryâ€™s “basic training” is NOT to teach military skills as much as to destroy the recruitâ€™s ego by exposing them to extremely stressful conditions. Once they have confronted and overcome these “stressors,” he or she may be reborn as part of the group. These techniques are used in the corporate world when executives are sent on “retreats” to jump out of aircraft or hang suspended high above the ground while sliding along a cable stretched between two tall trees. By being forced to confront such terrifying events, their egos are rendered malleable and able to be reshaped. Since they are all going through a shared experience, they can be molded to have a corporate identity. This phenomenon is very clearly described in the book/movie “1984″ where “Winston Smith” and “Julia” are tortured and then finally “executed” in the fashion that “Big Brother” knew that they feared the most. We find out later that their bodies didnâ€™t really die, but only their spirits. They no longer felt the burning love/lust that they had previously, but rather even denounced their respective mate. They each had been molded into new beings who now loved their torturer, the oppressive “Big Brother” state.
This is not to imply that there is some dark and sinister motive behind the nude scene in HAiR! These psychological techniques can be used for “good” as well as “evil,” depending on what the ultimate goal is (and what goals are considered “good” or “evil” by the observer). However, the techniques used, and the psychological changes that they trigger, are the same whether you are trying to form a tribe of peace-loving Hippies in a production of HAiR or attempting to “turn” a group of prisoners at Gitmo into agents of their oppressor (us).
Appearing naked in public is a very common, and almost primal, fear that many performers have to confront. Public speakers often feel almost naked when they have to stand before a group and deliver a presentation. This is why nervous speakers are often told “to imagine that the AUDIENCE is naked” as a de-stressing technique. This is also why, once people have confronted and overcome their fear of public nudity, they are often rather euphoric and feel quite invulnerable.
None of this is at all new. Many tribal cultures have elaborate, terrifying, and often quite painful “Rites of Passage” which have served the purpose of instilling tribal identity through the ages. What worked then still works today.
I hope that this posting will answer some of the questions of people new to HAiR, and stimulate thought and discussion on this blog.
Blessed be with peace, love, freedom, and happiness!