A Wonderful Alaska Hair Story

Early cast member of ‘Hair’ reflects from Bird Creek on musical’s revival

Joan Daniels sees show as a product of times
Published: October 19, 2007
Last Modified: October 19, 2007 at 03:03 AM
BIRD CREEK — Down a steep, winding, rutted road that leads to a whole new appreciation for asphalt is the spot in the woods where Joan Daniels wakes up in the morning and has since home was still a tent in the early ’70s. She settled here after leaving the tribe, the Seattle-based, national touring company of the Broadway musical “Hair.”
“Hair,” a product of the anti-war counter-culture and sexual revolution of the ’60s, debuted in New York City in 1967, and opened on Broadway the following year. For its 40th birthday, Theatre Artists United is presenting “Hair” at Out North for the next two weekends, although without the nude scene that got the rock musical run out of a few cities and led to two censorship cases that went to the Supreme Court.
Daniels plans to see the local production, but wonders how authentic it can be.
“I’m thinking how difficult it would be to do without being a hippie,” she said. “I mean, for people who didn’t live through the ’60s, it’s really hard to capture that essence.
” ‘Hair’ wasn’t just a show, it was a distillation of the times. These kids weren’t really acting. It’s who they were. They were living the ‘Hair’ story.”
Daniels cracks up at the thought of that notorious nude scene, how as it began a theater full of binoculars and opera glasses would all rise in unison.
“We tried not to laugh because this was a serious moment in the play. The statement was that we’re all human. Nobody had an advantage really at that moment, you were just stripped. We were all just trying to weave through life, you know, trying to figure out what was real.”
“So, yeah, the nude scene was an important scene. And it was revolutionary.”
Daniels’ long, dark, flowing hair is now white and cut short. And, all of a sudden, she’s 66. But she’s chopping wood, hauling water, baking bread.
Home is a double-decker, hexagonal cabin built of rough-cut lumber with an outhouse she wove of willow branches out back. Her off-the-grid home is filled with pottery, herbs and preserves, its dark walls steeped in stories. Over the years, friends and neighbors have parked at her kitchen table to hear them. Stories of how nuts it was to get to her place before the road. Of cooking in exotic places, including kitchens carved out of the snow along the Iditarod Trail. Of the twist in the road that led her to be a cast member of “Hair.”
Daniels could always sing. She’d even had some light opera under her belt. But she probably would never have auditioned if she hadn’t just spent three years in rhinestone-studded outfits dancing in barrooms full of men.
She came to Alaska in 1966 to work as a go-go dancer, in clubs with names like The Billiken Lounge and The Trophy Room. Mostly, she says, she danced for money to buy boards and nails to build her sanctuary in the woods.
In 1969, while visiting in Seattle, she saw an ad for auditions for “Hair.” She applied. So did hundreds of others.
The experience was grueling, she said, and went on for three weeks. In the end, 32 made it, and she was among them.
Right away she got fingered as a “work horse,” she said. She had to learn all the parts for white women.
“These kids, they were really, really good,” she said. “Great singers and great musicians. But they were so into drugs. I mean the drug culture was really heavy down there. Up here people were smoking marijuana and maybe dropping acid once or twice year. But down there, yeah, daily, weekly.
“People would go down and I would do their parts.”
After a six-month stint in Miami, “Hair” started touring all over the country, doing as many as eight shows a week.
“You know in plays where you have entrances and exits, and people are waiting in the wings doing their fingernails? No. Not in ‘Hair.’ It’s all action, all singing, all dancing. You were on stage the whole time.
“We were just working our tails off.”
Daniels’ boundless energy earned her the nickname “Hurricane.” But even hurricanes eventually blow themselves out. After a little more than a year, she left the company and came home.
But that wasn’t the end of her membership in the tribe. When “Hair” came to Anchorage in the early ’70s, cast members stayed with her on her land at Bird Creek, where it was a week of late-night bonfires, guitar playing, singing, cooking fish on the campfire, baking potatoes in the coals and huge salads tossed together from her garden.
“One night there was a terrible car accident by the Indian House, and it shut down the highway for about three hours,” Daniels recalls. “They couldn’t get to the show. Oh, that was a nightmare. Because there were about 12 or 15 of them staying out here.
“We didn’t have any phones in those days. At the auditorium, they were like, ‘Where are these people?’ What finally happened was they flagged down the train. A bunch of hippies stormed the train. And the show started like two hours late.”
What a good time it was. And not just that week.
“It was an amazing year, I tell ya.
” ‘Hair’ was so passionate. It had so many strong statements against capitalism, against consumerism, against war.”
That makes her wonder how it’ll go over in today’s political and social climate, after all these years.



This entry was posted on Monday, October 22nd, 2007 at 4:22 PM and filed under Alumni, Current Events & News. Follow comments here with the RSS 2.0 feed. Skip to the end and leave a response. Trackbacks are closed.

One Response to “A Wonderful Alaska Hair Story”

  1. barbara siomos said:

    Thank you for sharing….

    peace and love,

Leave a Reply

*Required (Not published)