Artistic License… What Does It Really Mean?

(I posted this on my own blog but after reviewing it, I thought it might make for interesting reading by a wider audience. I hope this is okay.)    Â

In the past few days, several people have contacted me by email about some of my blog posts (in particular, my posting about the Mountain Play Association production of Hair) and contested my view that some of the radical changes I have seen in recent HAiR productions aren’t appropriate. I certainly urge these people to publicly comment on my posts and argue their points, as that is one of the wonderful things about the democracy of the Internet. We may not agree, but I would certainly defend your right to put forth your view in public if you feel that way!Â

In each of these contacts, the gist of the argument was that the reason for these changes is “artistic license”, i.e., the desire/need to reinterpret the work in a different way from the original. One person also argued that the source of this need is that HAiR is/was essentially an improvised work and so it begs for further improvisation.

I would like to discuss each of these issues. First, the question of artistic license. The problem with using the term artistic license in this sense is that it is being used incorrectly. Artistic license is the colloquial term used to describe what an artist does to reality, i.e., to distort or ignore reality when creating a work of art. If a painter creates a horror scene out of his view of Disneyland, that is artistic license. If a playwright creates a comic farce out of events that happen in the White House, that is artistic license.

It is not artistic license to take the work of another artist and distort it, especially if that distortion is done without permission. That right is granted and retained expressly by the artist. If you want to do something different to reality, you are required to interpret reality on your own, i.e., writing your own musical. You aren’t permitted to change (on your own) someone else’s work without their authorization. (By the way, as is always true, even this has some exceptions, in particular the issue of parody. You are entitled to change other artistic works without permission by parodying them, i.e., Weird Al Yankovic’s song parodies of popular hits, but when you do that, you have to make absolutely clear it is a parody, and not try to foist the parody off as the original work.)

Yes, I know that “everyone does it”. In some sense, even that isn’t really true. Indeed, most musicals that are presented in this country by amateur groups are changed somewhat, often by shortening a dance number, or changing a song’s key, or even sometimes cutting a few lines of dialogue. This is borderline modification, but in some cases it is necessary and although not strictly legal, mostly overlooked. As long as the overall show is the same, this doesn’t hurt the production.

Cutting a major song is a different issue. I once saw a production of Jekyll and Hyde that dropped This Is The Moment, the signature song of the show (sort of like dropping I Got Life or Good Morning Starshine from Hair – oops, someone actually did that! ;-) I was shocked, because although I actually enjoyed the variation that resulted, if someone coming to the show had been dying to hear that song (knowing it was in the show) and got pissed off, they could easily pick up the phone and call the licensing agency (their name has to be in every program!) and complain. I told the director he was on very dicey turf when he did that, and he knew it. Fortunately for him, in that case no one complained (although I did hear several people muttering about it in the lobby).

Consider this example:Â What if someone decided that, hey, we know that Tony is supposed to die at the end of West Side Story, but you know we want to have a happy ending, so lets just have him wrestle the gun from Chino and go off into the sunset with Maria. Would ANYONE think that a theater company would have the “artistic license” to do that? And yet, that is precisely what I feel like we saw at a recent production of Hair, in which at the end of the show, Claude was brought back to life, hugging Berger and singing Let The Sun Shine In with the rest of the tribe. How does that differ from the West Side Story scenario? Could someone explain that to me?

When a theater group produces a musical, it signs an ACTUAL license with the producing company (you might call THIS the real artistic license in that the author and publisher are licensing you the rights to perform the show) and that license clearly states (in every case that I have ever seen) that the work is licensed to be performed “as is” without changes or alterations. Anyone who then proceeds to change the work in some significant way and uses the term “artistic license” to justify it is not using artistic license at all but in fact is breaching the actual license they are granted by the publishers. This, in our society, is called a copyright violation, and is potentially punishable by losing your license, being sued for damages and possibly even being charged criminally (although that is extremely rare).

People often point to the reinterpretation of Shakespeare as a model for these kinds of efforts, but of course, the difference here is obvious. Shakespeare’s work has long been in the public domain and therefore is completely unaffected by licenses. Thus, it becomes a part of “reality” and can be interpreted freely by anyone who chooses to do so. Most modern musicals are still (and will for a long time be) under total copyright protection and are therefore not permitted to be changed without the author’s express permission.

On to the subject of improvisation of Hair. This is an area where I have learned a lot in the past three months. I, too, came into this process thinking that Hair had originally been mostly an improvised musical. I now know that is almost completely the opposite from the truth. In fact, Hair has, and always had, a very very strong script, written by Gerome Ragni and James Rado over several years, then modified extensively after the original production off-Broadway. These modifications were done very quickly in the three months between the closing at the Cheetah and the opening at the Biltmore, and in fact were not completely written down into a composite final script form until after the show opened, but the script changes were always the product of the authors. Yes, the tribe contributed in the process as the show was being rehearsed, as did Tom O’Horgan, and the highly non-linear staging techniques certainly had an effect on the final script, but it was still a script, just like any other show.

To believe that Hair was completely improvised is a real misunderstanding. The show LOOKS improvised (that is the whole idea) but it is not improvised at all, and it is really important for any production/director/tribe to keep in mind that the lines are there for a reason, as are the songs. Saying that we should be able to do “our own improvisation of the show because, after all, it was originally improvised anyway” is simply a misstatement of fact.

Interestingly, Chorus Line was an example of a show that WAS almost completely improvised (or at least, created from the workshop improvisations of the original cast members’ stories and lives). The story is well known that Michael Bennett took a bunch of chorus actors and had them tell their stories in encounter groups and took those stories and worked them into a show. The script was written from the improvisation, but the improvisational technique is right there in the genesis of the production. YET HOW COME NO ONE EVER REWRITES CHORUS LINE? Why isn’t the argument made that “well, Chorus Line was an improvisation so we just decided to keep improvising and make a lot of changes to update the show”?

I think anyone who attempts HAiR needs to make sure they understand these two points. If you don’t like the show because of the way it is written, fine, but then you shouldn’t do the show. Or do as Jonathan Larson did, and write a completely NEW show based on a group of kids in Greenich Village in modern times facing different problems (after all, Rent may be a remake of La Boheme, but it also takes a lot from Hair). But, I don’t think you should do HAiR “your own way”. That just isn’t justified.

One more point that I am sure many will realize. Yes, Jim Rado has made changes to the show on many occasions (as recently as the production in Toronto last fall). But that is his right, he is the original author (and even some people dispute this, feeling that since Gerry Ragni died, there shouldn’t be any more changes to HAiR, but I will leave that one for the authors and their estates to work out 🙂 ). And if you want to make changes, you may want to contact him. You may even be able to get him to work with you on your concept (several companies have had varying degrees of success with this approach). If you do that, I would certainly agree that your changes would then possibly be authorized. But keep in mind, the vision then won’t be yours, it will be his (possibly influenced by your ideas), as it rightfully should be.

Jon Rosen
Stagelight Productions



This entry was posted on Thursday, May 31st, 2007 at 2:01 PM and filed under Uncategorized. Follow comments here with the RSS 2.0 feed. Skip to the end and leave a response. Trackbacks are closed.

10 Responses to “Artistic License… What Does It Really Mean?”

  1. writerdirector said:

    As the director of the 1980 off broadway revival of HAIR in nyc i would like to weigh in; we updated and i think if one doesnt update unfortunately the show is as dead as a doornail; unfortunately; however this does not mean changing the script; in the script are places for improvisation specified by the authors; places for topical references that were changed from 68 to 72 on bdwy ; one does not have to change the show; just the topical references;
    no extraneous introduction of ipods
    but for example were i to direct it again
    i would set it a few years in the future
    and the war in question is the one in the middle east; now we have punk hair in addition to hippy hairl i would have the first nude scene at the climax of aquarius
    lengthening the opening number to include both the original arrangement and galts second half extension from the 1979 movie;
    and then for the nude scene at the end of act one; instead of the static nude scene which was magnificent and shocking in its day; i would have the orgy danced; i would show a love in in motion; the different couples representing the variations in sexual love like the symbols of the signs of the zodiac; but it is a matter of changing the mis en scene not the script and the script doesnt need chaning; its very close to perfect; the topical references need updating thats all
    thats my opinion as someone who staged a successful well received production of HAIR that was updated in terms of the direction;
    electric blues for example in 1980 was a punk number; ?

  2. bleurose said:

    Great response! I do disagree with you that the show is “dead as a doornail” without updates. I think I might agree that in 1980 that might have been more likely. In 1980, the show was only 8 years from its original Broadway run, and just 3+ years from the revival (that flopped). The US was about to elect Reagan, and the mood had turned distinctly conservative.

    Music had turned disco and the huge nostalgia craze for 60s music hadn’t really started in any great sense (late 60s music certainly wasn’t being heard on “oldies” stations, that was still 50s and very early 60s domain).

    I think today the situation is much different. The show now stands 40 years out, and clearly has the signs of being a “period piece” no question, yet of a period that is tremendously relevant to today. 40 years later we are once again mired in a war that no one really seems to understand, that almost nobody wants (except for Dubyah and Cheney).

    My problem with punk hair is that the culture of punk (and I guess I feel I understand this because my youngest son is a punk rock drummer in a band that just left for its 5th US tour, Arsonists Get All The Girls 😉 is very different from Hair. It is in some ways more fatalistic, less optimistic, and it represents to me more of the “Me” era, i.e., protest in isolation. It also is much more hard edged, and I think Hair represents an era that is not so hard edged (which is it appeal).

    I’d like the younger people of today to embrace more of the ideals of Hair, rather than to put them down. We could use a little more love and peace and a little less head-banging and hurt. Updating Hair to the present (or future) pretty much entails either (a) writing a fiction (if you don’t change its sensibility) or (b) changing its sensibility in a way that I think would make it distinctly “not Hair”.

    Interestingly, no one has yet seemed to be able to make a decent musical out of the punk scene. The closest thing I think is Spring Awakening, which set itself in the 1800’s instead of today.

    What would I think of a modern punk rock musical? I don’t honestly know, as the music doesn’t appeal to me. But then again, my parents didn’t understand Hair and didn’t like it at all.

    But again, just as I don’t see the need to take Music Man and set it in 2007 with some guy forming a punk rock band (or even the 60s a forming a surf group or a Motown group), I don’t see the need to do the same thing to Hair either.

    My question to you would be would you make the changes you propose on your own without asking permission? That was the gist of my post and you seem to have not addressed that question. You say that if you directed it again you would make “these changes”, but dodge the issue of whether this is even permissible. I agree that the nude scene is NOT one of the issues that I have raised. In fact, I think the authors tacitly understood that the nude scene as staged in 1968 was only staged that way because that was all they could do and they left it OUT of the script so that productions could choose to do what they wanted with it. I am thinking about that issue (why the nude scene isn’t written in) and I think that is now pretty clear. Ragni and Rado probably would have done much more if they could have, and they also understood that if they dictated how it should be done, it might preclude some people from actually doing the show at all. So there is simply NO mention of the nude scene in Act I anywhere. People can do it, and can do it as they choose.

    I, too, had considered moving the nudity to the be-in dance, because that is where we did it in 2002 and I liked it. My problem is that the theater we are in is VERY close to the audience and we are concerned how the actors will react to doing a wild frenzied dance nude. In fact, we still are unsure how many people will actually do the nude scene and I am concerned that making it more frenzied will cause more people to simply back off and we will have a very awkward scene.

    So while I am very interested in restaging this in a more innovative way, I am concerned that it will be impossible. If I had a bunch of totally uninhibited actors who were dying to do this, I think I would be right there with your idea (one I too have expressed in previous posts).

    Again, thanks for the response, it was definitely food for thought.


  3. dbeasley said:

    Being a director myself, this topic interests me. When it comes to changing a play/musical, I have very mixed feelings. When directing a show, I generally stay very close to the script, unless I HAVE to change something. I try to leave the script alone. I will edit out lines that I feel are really awkward or I cannot get an actor to convey in the right way, but again, only if I really have to and only if it doesn’t change the meaning of the scene/show. I don’t, however, hesitate to change things when it comes to staging, casting, set designing, etc.

    I think it is understood that each production of a play is different. A production must be true to itself to make sure the story is told in the best way possible for that production. It is impossible to perfectly recreate what someone else has already done and there is no reason to try. Why would you want to? The Broadway production of HAiR has come and gone and cannot be duplicated. Theatre is unique in that the same piece is recreated over and over again with each new production adjusting and re-imagining the story.

    On the other hand, I think it is important to respect the playwright. A person going to a seeing a particular play for the first time has no idea whether he/she is seeing what the author intended or what a production artistic team came up with. A playwright should get credit for his/her work and also should not be held responsible or criticized for changes made by any given director. I am sure a playwright does not want credit/criticism for a play that has been changed to something that they did not intend it to be.

    However, part of the wonderful collaborative nature of theatre is that none of the elements can exist on their own. There must be lights, sets, actors, costumes, a script, and a director and it takes many different artists to make a production a reality. When creating a play, all of these artists have input into what the final product will look like and they all must work together to complete the project. There is a certain amount of compromise inherent in this process. Therefore, once a play leaves the hands of a playwright, it is no longer only his/hers, but the work of all those involved in the production. So the very first performance of the very first production of any given play has already been modified from the original vision of the author. With each new group of artists that produce a given play, there are going to be changes to that play.

    As far as copyright issues go…I have never asked permission to change anything. I don’t even know what the process would be and it seems that it would be too much of a hassle. In a perfect world, I think that an author that allows his/her show to be produced by other people should assume that it will be changed. The author will have to deal with the fact that they are putting their work into the hands of a director who might screw it up. But the director might also be able to breathe new life into a piece and make it better or more relevant. For a playwright it is a crap shoot, but for the sake of the art it is necessary. There have been many great revival productions that have brought plays to whole new audiences. Or, if a playwright only wants the play to be under his/her control, he/she should not make the rights available at all. I also think that a production should note if it has changed a play significantly in its program. I think that it is only fair.

    Those are just some thoughts. Hopefully, I was fairly clear. I am at work and it is hard to really focus on what I am writing.

    See Ya Later


  4. ranasings said:

    Finally, some reasonable voices. Jon Rosen has taken it upon himself to try to make the Mt Play production look as if we have infringed on legal aspects of the script. He should mind his own business and pay attention to his own un-cast show. I’m sure we are not the first to make slight alterations to fit our demographic and venue. Minor changes were made inasmuch as we cut Sodomy and the nude scene, but the script remained almost perfectly untouched; word for word. Our production on the mountain is held in the middle of the day and the 3 days that we have performed have been very, very warm days. We take into consideration the fact that our audience (which was over 3600 at yesterday’s outstanding performance) is sitting in the elements for many, many hours. Any tightening that can be done to the script to keep it clipping along and keep the audience totally raptured is okay. People don’t need to be sitting in 80 plus degree sunshine trying to follow some crazy, nonsensical play. I may be totally insulting someone, and I don’t intend to, but some of the script is not very relevant to the underlying story. We are very much in touch with the story we are telling and we’re telling it well and succinctly. Our audiences love it, the critics (the real critics, not opinionated people) love it, the radio and TV stations love it, we love it, our directors love it and we’re happy.

    Mr. Rosen took the term “artistic license” literally when I used it in an e-mail to him imploring him to consider redacting his hateful blog regarding our production, or more accurately asking him why he chose to write such a hateful blog without even talking to us to see why we made the decisions we did. I guess for his sake I should use more laymen’s terms. I, as an artist, have the artistic license to portray my character however I like. I came into rehearsal with a clear choice and I’ve run with it. I decided Jeanie should and could be very stoned and I based her on a person that I know in my life. That is my right as an artist. So, I hope that clarifies my choice of words.

    The only really disheartening aspect of these blogs is that they were started out of (what appears to be) professional jealousy and hate and that is totally opposite of what HAiR stands for. We stand to love and support one another, to listen and understand and have compassion. With a director like Mr. Rosen who has nothing but negative things to say about other productions, who brings his cast (which last time I heard he can’t even complete the casting process for his own production) to another production and then proceeds to encourage negative behavior from them makes me really wonder what type of director he is. He certainly is not a director that I or anyone I know would ever want to work with.

    Fortunately we have friends involved with HAiR and who are personal friends with the alum and our tribe was lifted in healing by the group that matters. So Mr. Rosen’s words hold no power. I hope he can find his way to kindness. All I see is a hateful, unsuccessful director with a narrow mind.

  5. bleurose said:

    I am happy to respond to these comments, Rana.

    Just for the record, my show is cast now, and yes we had difficulties. That is life in the theater biz. We are a fledgling theater company and don’t have the attraction that Mountain Play has in drawing talent nor the budget to pay them, something which you succinctly pointed out to me in a private email. I have no problem acknowledging that. Indeed I said that the talent of the Mountain Play production was very good.

    My comments were sincere and not intended to be a rant or a diatribe, but merely my reactions at a show that I didn’t like all that much. That is, of course, my right, and it’s your right to disagree. I would hope that we could do it without personal attacks, because if you look back at what I wrote you will see nothing I said that was a personal attack against anyone.

    On the other hand, I am surprised at the vitriol I have stirred up in response. If you do a show, you need to be prepared to criticism, and why my comments would be considered so earthshaking completely eludes me.

    On a few of your points:

    1. “Jon Rosen has taken it upon himself to try to make the Mt Play production look as if we have infringed on legal aspects of the script.” Indeed, The Mountain Play (not the cast, of course, they just do what the director tells them to do, but the staff and production company) HAS infringed on the legal aspects of the show. Whether any action is taken isn’t for me to say. Despite all the allegations to the contrary, I am not vindictive. If I was, I would have called Tams Witmark over this. If I did, I expect they would demand the FOUR removed songs (we aren’t talking about just one song, we are talking about four, which is 12.5% of the music in the show: Sodomy, Dead End, Don’t Put It Down and The Bed) to be reinserted into the show unless Galt MacDermot and Jim Rado gave their consent.

    If you don’t think there is anything legally wrong, why don’t you pick up the telephone and ask Tams Witmark (212-688-9191) yourself if your company had the permission to remove four songs from the show and rewrite the ending. I expect they will tell you that your company had no such right. If you don’t want to do this, please don’t imply that I don’t know what I am talking about. If you are right, you should have no fear of picking up the telephone right now. And if you make this call and Tams verifiably says that you DID have the right to do this, I guarantee I will make a VERY public apology for ever having said that what you did was wrong.

    2. “I’m sure we are not the first to make slight alterations to fit our demographic and venue.” True, lots of other people make changes. That doesn’t mean they should. This was my point, and you certainly can disagree with it, but I believe that with respect to the matter of copyright, most people in the theater community (particularly the amateur theater community) do not respect copyright sufficiently. And we should, we are granted the rights to do these shows by the people who wrote them.

    3. “Minor changes were made inasmuch as we cut Sodomy and the nude scene…” I disliked Mountain Play removing the nude scene (I consider it essential to Hair) but I never said that was illegal. The nude scene isn’t mentioned in the script and it is up to each company to decide whether and how to do it (we are currently trying to do so right now for our own show). I understand why they removed it, but honestly given what was left in the show I didn’t get it.

    4. “…the script remained almost perfectly untouched; word for word…” You are incorrect to say that the script remained almost perfectly untouched word for word. I am fine with discussing opinions, but please don’t misstate facts (remember that I too have a copy of the script and I know exactly what you changed). I do NOT argue with minor changes or even minor cuts that don’t effect the show or its meaning. However, your company completely rewrote the ending of the show. Please show me the part in the script where Claude is brought back to life. Its fine if you don’t like the script, but that doesn’t give you (or your director) the right to change it. Again, my point was that if you don’t like the script, you shouldn’t be doing the show and rewriting on your own.

    5. “Our audiences love it, the critics (the real critics, not opinionated people) love it, the radio and TV stations love it, we love it, our directors love it and we’re happy.” I pointed out that HAIR always seems to be loved by everyone, regardless of what a company does to it. I have acknowledged that my previous theater company in 2002 did a HORRIBLE production that completely rewrote the show into the “movie” (which I objected to, but had limited ability to change at the time) and everyone loved it. That doesn’t make it right.

    6. “…as an artist, I have the artistic license to portray my character however I like…” I have no real disagreement with this statement (although obviously your director should have some say on the matter). However, that is a wholly inaccurate representation of what your email to me said. Your use of the term was in this sentence:“We all question your authority on knowing so much about how things are “supposed” to be and forgetting about our artistic license in putting such a show up and the work, research, discussion and collaboration that went into the choreography and meaning of the show and its musical numbers.” My comment was that your artistic license is limited, and certainly, at least in my opinion, stops at being able to rewrite the meaning of the show.

    No one has yet to directly answer my point about whether anyone would be able to get away with a production of West Side Story in which Tony didn’t die at the end. Is it not the same thing? Does “artistic license” empower a theater company to just rewrite theater as it chooses (again, Shakespeare and other public domain authors/plays aren’t the issue here, those are completely fair game)? I think not.

    7. “…imploring him to consider redacting his hateful blog regarding our production…” Since when does criticism of art become “hate”? Jeesh, this is a review, folks. If you don’t like my review, fine, say so, but how does that get characterized as “hateful”?  Anyone who knows me knows I am not hateful. Have we reached the point where if I don’t like something I have to shut up because saying so might offend someone? That too, is certainly not in the spirit of Hair, which chose to offend almost everyone. What disappoints me is that all of this brouhaha over my critique suggests that you really DON’T get it, that the need to distill the meaning of Hair by reducing it to something that is sunshiny and light and has a happy ending is sad.

    8. “With a director like Mr. Rosen who has nothing but negative things to say about other productions…” Wow, have you even read what I have written? I extolled the virtues of two other shows, the Sacramento show and the Bishop O’Dowd High School production. To say that all I have to say are negative things couldn’t be farther from the truth. To say that I expected more of a professional production (and it was you, Rana, who reminded me that you are a professional company and pay really good compensation for leads in your show which I can’t match) is true… I did expect more and I was disappointed after paying $35 a ticket at not getting it. Tickets at Sacramento were ½ the price and the show, quite honestly (in my opinion) was much better. Ditto for the Oakland high school production at Bishop O’Dowd. They did the song Sodomy (a Catholic High School!) and I applaud them for having the courage to do that.

    9. “He certainly is not a director that I or anyone I know would ever want to work with.” I am always saddened if someone, without even knowing me, says they wouldn’t work with me. But that alone won’t stop me from saying what I believe.

    This is much ado about little. I wrote a review, I didn’t love your show, I wish you could have just accepted that. Maybe you should have found someone to post a counter opinion. No problem, everyone is entitled on a blog. We did attend, and we paid for our tickets, and we had mixed feelings. Has that really become a crime? Sigh…

    With beads, flowers, freedom, happiness, and love,


  6. ranasings said:

    oh brother
    get over yourself Jon.

  7. ranasings said:

    oh brother
    get over yourself Jon.
    you obviously have too much time on your hands to write such lengthy, wordy, ridiculous blogs anyway.

  8. Dudley Brooks said:

    Hi. I’m the choreographer for Jon Rosen’s Stagelight Productions in San Jose. I’d like to comment on the issue of preserving/changing the script/score/staging/choreography.

    Imagine keeping the original staging and choreography competely intact, but changing (perhaps drastically) the script and score. That seems preposterous, but I submit that there is only one reason why it isn’t done: writing is thousands of years old and music notation is hundreds of years old, but the only two completely adequate methods for recording movement, Labanotation and Benesh Notation, were only invented in the 20th century, and they still are not widely used.

    If I understand copyright law correctly, while you *can* copyright choreography, you can’t copyright music and choreography *together*: even if a very famous choreographer commissions a composer to write a score for him, once the score is published, anyone with sufficient chutzpah is free to completely rechoreograph the score — he only needs copyright permission from the composer, not the choreographer.

    Can you tell that, as a dancer and choreographer, I have a bete noir about dance being considered the “lowest” of the art forms, with the fewest rights and privileges — not to mention the lowest salaries and weakest union? ;^)

    Here’s an interesting “outsider” perspective: I’m heavily involved with Balinese music and dance. In Bali the entire artistic repertoire is basically preserved orally. (Here only staging and choreography are.) My Balinese friends think it absurd that you can’t copyright a show in its entirety. For them, words, music, and dance are an inseparable whole. (Of course, in Bali dance is a highly respected art form, even used as a primary form of religious observance.)

    On the other hand, they think it absurd that you can copyright anything at all, for two reasons: (1) Every new work, even a very innovative one, borrows heavily from existing works — and doesn’t just borrow “ideas”, but borrows actual notes and actual steps. (2) More relevant to this discussion, the idea that even a classic should always be performed exactly the same way is seen both as boring and as insulting to the creativity of the performer. Every performing group is *expected* to make changes (usually slight, but sometimes major) to a piece when they perform it, not only to fit the exigencies of the particular performing situation but also to express the artistic preferences of the performers. They are very proud of “their” version of a classic. And that applies equally to words, music, staging, or dance.

    I wish it were that way here. ;^)

  9. Nina Dayton said:

    On a different thread I yesterday asked, as the moderator of this blog, that people express their differences of opinion without insulting each other. The relevant portion of the Blog FAQ states:

    “BEHAVIOR: It is to be expected that in discussions people will not always agree with each other. Discussion of differing opinions is encouraged on the blogs, and one is always free to state one’s position, and go into reasons and explanations for holding that opinion. However, it is expected that people will express their opinions in a way that does not insult the person with whom they are disagreeing. No personal insults will be tolerated on the blogs.”

    Rana, as I said yesterday – You have every right to disagree with Jon’s post, and I will defend to the death your right to express that differing opinion here. However, I must ask you to only write comments that discuss why you disagree with him (or anyone else) regarding your productions choices, and not descend into personal attacks and insults as you do above.

    We welcome rationally discussed differences of opinion here, such as when you talk about why you made the choices you made for your character, or why your company made some of the changes that they did. That can be very productive, and often the very best and most valuable discussions here can take place when people discuss varying viewpoints. writerdirector’s comment above is an example of someone who strongly disagreed with Jon Rosen’s points, and expressed those differing opinions without insulting anyone (Hey Haase – you mind my holding you up as a paragon of blog behavior!?) I strongly ask you to not tell people their opinions or postings are “ridiculous”, or to insult their professional or personal abilities.

    Thank you in advance for respecting this.

  10. AdenaD said:

    What a heated debate! As a cast member of Jon’s production and as a director of theater I have tons to say about the various topics tossed about in this discussion. I wrote a long, rambling entry to Jon’s original post over at his blog at, but instead of reposting that here I’ll respond to some of the specific comments left on this site.

    First and foremost, I wanted to respond to the comment about how Hair needs to be updated in order to be relevant. I think that couldn’t be further from the truth. As a 23 year old gal, my only connection to the 1960s is a vague understanding of the fashions of the time. I was born in 1983, so I guess I also missed most of the 80’s punk scene. To me, the 1960s feels more relevant than “punk.” In fact, I bet nowadays “punk” seems to us youngin’s how the 1960s seemed to people in the early 1980s.

    When rehearsing Hair and reading through the play, I feel like I’m in another version of today’s society. Sure, we don’t have the draft today, but we do have Bush. The 20-something rebels aren’t punks anymore. Well, some of them are. But it’s a mixed bag of people. I think lots of us relate more to the hippie’s than the punks. While we’re all perhaps more cynical than the liberals of the 1960s, there’s a lot of the content and at least feeling behind the content that is relevant today.

    To be honest, when I first started listening to the Hair soundtrack a few weeks before my audition for the show, I was a bit concerned about it being a dated piece. I just finished directing “Godspell,” which felt dated despite how it wasn’t about a specific time period. It’s more or less the style of the production that feels dated, the whole sans a linear plot sort of thing. But then I realized that it really works for Hair because it brings about the feeling of the time period (or so I imagine.) All the drugs, the protesting, the belief in “Peace now! Freedom now!” Hair is a trip, mostly on pot, which is a different trip than what the punks would be experiencing (as far as I know the drugs of choice for the punks had different effects).

    To back away from the specifics of Hair, I’d like to add that I think a director owes it to a playwright to do his or her best to stick to the original script, unless permission for change is obtained. However, I understand that in certain circumstances, content in a show is inappropriate, therefore things might have to be altered. It is up to the director, then, to be sure that these alterations do not change the heart of the show. Removing the nude scene, as Jon noted, doesn’t destroy Hair. But songs like Sodomy, as short as they are, are part of that “heart” of the play. Part of the freedom it’s all talking about is free love. And yea, you can get that without the words “fellatio” and “masturbation,” but just the very decision to remove these songs because they are “dirty” goes against what the show is attempting to say (my opinion, of course.) It seems to me the whole show is about how everyone is lost in this crazy drug-induced trip of free love and rebellion against their parents, their schooling, and traditional society, while Claude is stuck in the middle of all of it and in the end cannot be part of all that. He can’t burn his draft card. So, ultimately, if the production of Hair successfully can bring about the overall feeling that there’s this crazy thing that is the non-plot of the show, with songs talking about feelings and smells and experiences, and then within that a little piece of structure following the Claude character arch, the show can be a success.

    I didn’t get to see any of these productions that Jon wrote about. I understand why people feel that he is attacking their productions. He is a very strong-minded director and also believes in a very traditional version of Hair. He does have every right to his opinion, and I think everyone understands his opinion is one of many. He’s not a critic, though, he’s a director. He’s a director who has a clear vision of what Hair should be, and also is open to some interpretation of the show as long as it fits within that vision. While I didn’t make it to the productions, I imagine I’d probably agree with much of what Jon said just because of how I think most of the show needs to stay intact to work. Still, my opinion rests on my understanding of the show as a director and actor.

    When I took a criticism course back in college, my professor, who’s a critic with the Chicago Tribune, told us that when we review shows we should ask three questions — 1. What was the show trying to accomplish? 2. Did they accomplish it? And 3. Was it worth accomplishing/doing? It’s REALLY, um, easy to be hard, to review a production when you’re knee deep in understanding it for your own version with such passion. Still, I don’t think that anyone is attacking anyone here. It’s unfortunate that the others who loved these productions aren’t writing on here, because what really hurts is when there is one outside voice that writes with such authority (as a critic is expected to, it seems anyone who isn’t writing for a newspaper is perhaps given less freedom to speak with this kind of authoritative voice.) So perhaps what people are upset about here is not the opinion being said, but how it is being said, or written in this case.

    But y’all, Hair is a show about peace, love, freedom, happiness. It’s kind of ironic that there’s so much upset over a show that is about letting go of pre-defined constructions of right and wrong and instead living in the moment and believing in love. It gets kind of tricky since producing theater is all about royalties and copyrights and making money – which on one hand is great, it’s wonderful people can make a living from theater – and on the other hand, also goes against a lot of what the play stands for. So while it feels really awkward to consider making a drastic change to Music Man, part of what’s wonderful about Hair is how it’s a piece made of many, a collaborative collection of ideas and moves and personalities. So it seems like the show can go through some changes, decided on by the tribe, not the director, and that could work.

    I’m looking forward to seeing other productions of Hair once mine is through. I hope you’ll all come to see the San Jose production of Hair and post you own opinions up here of everything that you love and don’t like about the production. ☺

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