Letter to the Shoshonee Tribe

Many thanks to Jennifer Warnes for gracing our tribe with the “At One With” session following the show on Sunday, November 11, 2007. Though it was aimed at performers in general, and singers in particular, I found several of the techniques discussed to be valuable to non-performers, such as I, in my pursuits of writing, and even, engineering. It was a quite valuable experience.

In the course of the discussion, several issues were raised that indicated that some tribe members felt that they were having trouble connecting with elements of the show because they were not old enough to have any real-life experience with “hippies.” Though HAiR has some of the best music and lyrics of any musical I know, its book is driven by somewhat ambiguously drawn characters, and is, IMHO, quite weak. Additionally, several radical changes in staging were incorporated into our production that further obfuscate what, I feel, is the underlying meaning of the show. As probably the second eldest member of the tribe, I hope that I might be able to provide a little insight into what it meant to come of age during the period that HAiR re-creates.

Agnes, what is this strange Primate called Homo sapiens hippiecus? Are they still around or are they extinct?

If we queued up all of the youth of the 60’s and 70’s and placed them before a panel of judges charged with labeling each as either “hippie” or “straight,” the judges would be faced with an insurmountable problem. While the judges might be unanimous in their classification of some of the youth, there would be great disagreement among them concerning the vast majority of them. A relatively small number of youth followed LSD Pied Piper Timothy Leary and “turn(ed) on, tune(d) in, and drop(ped) out, but many more followed HAiR’s counter-suggestion: “Life is around you and in you | Answer for Timothy Leary dearie | Let the sunshine | Let the sunshine in.”

Nor were the youth of the day all of one mind regarding our war against Viet Nam. Though the fear of being caught up in the draft provided strong motivation for opposing the war, even that opinion was not shared by all of the youth. In fact, a small but significant number of youth supported the extremely right-wing Republican candidate for president, Barry Goldwater, who advocated dropping nuclear bombs on Viet Nam, and letting God sort things out in heaven. I find it most interesting that among his army of “Goldwater Girls” was a young Hillary Diane Rodam, who is now herself running for president! That fact helps explain why she alone, among all of the Democratic candidates for president, helped give the president pre-approval for a military attack against Iran.

But, I digress.

The “Hippie” that, IMHO, the spirit of HAiR celebrates depends not on your age, the clothes that you wear, the entertainment that you enjoy, the drugs that you ingest, your choice of, or freedom from, any religion, nor even your particular political beliefs. It comes from within your being, your very core. The “hippiedom” that I feel HAiR celebrates comes from your love for your fellow wo/man, your acceptance of those qualities that make each of you different as well as your celebration of those qualities that you share. Hippieness comes from your realization that you are only one of the living creatures on this planet, and that, in nurturing and protecting Mother Earth, you are nurturing and protecting yourself. They may, or may not, look or dress like “hippies” looked and dressed back then, but, as Michael Butler so aptly observed, there are still a lot of people like that around today.

Look at your fellow tribe members. Rejoice in how far you have come along the path to becoming a “Hippie,” and ponder what you can do to help continue along the path to “Hippiedom.” Remember that becoming a “Hippie” is a continuing process which really has no end.

So, the point of my little sermon is that you must find your inner hippie within yourselves rather than looking to us old folk for some magic key. I remember that, as a youth, I looked back nostalgically at the freedoms I thought my grandparents had enjoyed during the “Roaring Twenties.” But those images were just ghosts of the past that had been embellished over the years. That same nostalgic revisionism holds true today.

And, “frankly my dear(s), I don’t give a shit” whether you look like some prototypical “hippie” or whether you more resemble some alien creature from outer space. HAiR was written in the Beatnic/Hippie/Arts community of Greenwich Village, and it reportedly incorporates stories picked up from the youth in the area (as well as uncredited segments written by some of the actors {Abie Baby?}). But, what makes HAiR endure is not nostalgia for a bygone age, but that, like other classic works of art, it speaks to the universal truths of human existence. To me what is most important in any production is that there be love and acceptance within the tribe, and that this feeling be transmitted to, and envelop, the audience. Note: Others may not agree with me on this point!

Also, “remember this kids, and don’t forget it …”: HAVE FUN!!!

. . . . . . . . . . . .

The issue of conducting a so-called “Sensitivity Workshop” for our tribe was also brought up at the seminar. Michael Butler commented that Tom O’Horgan, the Director of HAiR on Broadway, was/is a great believer in them. For those of you who wonder what these are, the following link will call up an entry on Michael Butler’s HAiR Blog that I posted back on May 6, 2007: http://www.michaelbutler.com/blog/hair/?p=359. The post details some of the “Beginning-” and “Intermediate-Level” exercises that Hebe and I used in a workshop we named “The Indian Summer Festival of the Senses.” Incidentally, both the Consciousness Raising discussion session and the Indian Summer experiential workshop were attended mostly by friends and acquaintances from a local church. These people were all “average folks” with no connection to HAiR or any other theatrical production.

. . . . . . . . . . . . .

For those of you who are gluttons for more punishment, or who have an insatiable desire to find out what “made us tick” so many years ago, I have written up some highlights of what I think helped shape the times when HAiR was written, and compared them to today.

Despite our horrific war against Viet Nam, which was rapidly escalating into Laos and Cambodia, life in the era was, in many ways, much easier and more gratifying than life today. Here are a few examples:

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

THEN: We had come out of the 1950’s with a society that was quite affluent for

most Americans. Most households could survive on the income of a single wage earner, social services were expanding, and we were the greatest creditor nation on earth. Each American looked forward to a life that was better and longer than his/her parents.

TODAY: We are the greatest debtor nation on the planet, most families need the incomes of two wage earners and/or multiple jobs just to keep afloat, and what remains of the social “safety net” is full of holes and is being turned over to private, for-profit corporations. Wealth disparities are growing rapidly. The very rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer, and the number of people in the “middle class” is shrinking. I have heard that this is the first generation in America that can look forward to living poorer, and dying younger, than their parents.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

THEN: We were on the “Threshold of Space,” a “New Frontier.” In just ten years, we had gone from the staggering shock of the Soviet Union launching the first tiny artificial satellite, “Sputnik,” into orbit around the earth during the International Geophysical Year in 1957, to our sending a manned mission to fly the humans around our moon (Apollo 8, 21 December, 1968). These astronauts became the first humans to be able to look down from their capsule and view the never-before-seen “far side” of the moon. Shortly thereafter, we actually landed on, and explored, the lunar surface, and returned safely back to earth (Apollo 11, 16 July 1969)!

Of particular interest to HAiR tribes: The name of the third manned vehicle to land on the moon (called the “Lunar Exploration Module” or “LEM’) of the Apollo 13 mission (11 April, 1970) was named “Aquarius!” This was the famous LEM that was pressed into emergency service to help in the miraculous effort to save the lives of the astronauts when a massive explosion in the main rocket’s (“Service Module’s”) fuel cell made the normal safe return of the astronauts to earth impossible!

TODAY: The last remaining Saturn 5 booster rockets (those that sent the Apollo missions into space) have all but corroded into dust, and we have no rocket systems capable of taking man any farther than the “low earth orbits” where the International Space Station resides. This is not far above the limit of our atmosphere, and definitely very far below the orbit of our moon.

. . . . . . . . . . . .

THEN: The “Sexual Revolution” was in full swing!

The “Set-up”: Dr. Albert Kinsey, Wardell Pomeroy, and their associates published Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948) and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1952). These two studies not only brought the discussion of sexuality, both “vanilla” and exotic, into the public square, but they also exposed the fact that “promiscuous” sexual activity was much more common among men, and, much more shockingly, women, than was the commonly accepted belief. William Masters, M.D., and Virginia Johnson, PhD started studying the physiology of human sexual response in 1957, and, in 1964, they founded the “Reproductive Biology Research Foundation” (later to be re-named the “Masters and Johnson Institute). Their seminal work, Human Sexual Response, published in 1966, exploded the commonly believed myth that men and women had very different patterns of sexual response.

The “Kick-off”: The birth control pill, first released in 1960, and then refined to make it much safer in the following years, provided women with a highly effective tool to prevent pregnancy. The dreams of sexual freedom, and of women having sexual equality with men, which had been feminist dreams since before the US “War Between the States,” were now made reality. Exuberant confidence in newly developed antibiotics assured that any sexually-transmitted diseases could be quickly, and painlessly, cured.

Various types of “Growth Centers” sprang up, ranging from the purely sensual “Esalen Institute” in Big Sur to the free sexuality of “Plato’s Retreat” and “Sandstone.” Some facilities, such as the “Elysium Institute” occasionally straddled the fence, being predominantly sensuality oriented but occasionally sanctioning free sexuality when discreetly done. Unfortunately, only the “Esalen Institute” survives today, as “Elysium” fell victim to the Southern California land value explosion, and was plowed under for upscale housing several years ago.

In 1963, Jefferson Poland formed a group named the “Sexual Freedom League” in New York. He relocated it in 1966 to Northern California, and a chapter was even established as an official student organization of Sproul Hall at the University of California, Berkley. This group was named the “Campus Sexual Rights Forum” to satisfy the College administrators, and was known for hosting orgies. Other colleges first created co-ed dorms, then dorms with coeducational floors, and then finally allowed both sexes to room together. Robert H. Rimmer wrote The Harrad Experiment a novel about a fictional college, reportedly titled as a combination of HAR-vard and RAD-cliffe, in which the administrators actually required co-habitation of the students and strongly encouraged sexual activity among them.

Adding fuel to the fire: Books such as The Feminine Mystique (Betty Friedan, 1965), The Female Eunuch (Germaine Greer, 1970), and The Joy of Sex (Alex Comfort, 1972) laid the framework for a new, “liberated,” society.

Robert A. Heinline wrote Stranger in a Strange Land (1961), an extremely widely-read and influential Hugo Award winning Science Fiction classic that introduced the concept of a tribe of “Water Brothers” — an extended family that share unconditional love, acceptance, nurturing, and support among all the members. This Brotherhood is formally linked together by a water-sharing ritual, and the group keeps adding members until they pretty much take over the planet. Rado and Ragni undoubtedly had read this book, and I think that HAiR reflects much of the book’s spirit. I strongly suspect that HAiR’s Aquarian “water ritual” is based on the ritual of “sharing of water” that signifies becoming a “Water Brother.”


NOW: We got AIDS, the “perfect storm” disease that miraculously attacks predominantly those whom the moralistic “establishment” considers reprehensible: the sexually promiscuous, the I.V. drug user, and those afflicted with hemophilia — the disease associated with inbred populations.

Further, the message of the anti-sex feminist community proved so attractive to the media and our legislators that it overwhelmed that of the undoubtedly much larger group of pro-sex feminists. Unfortunately, IMHO, this gave “feminism” a bad name, and many who were feminist became afraid to use the label. Perhaps this was exactly what the “establishment” hoped for they endorsed the anti-sex feminist message.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

THEN: We were the first generation suckled on television. Since most of the government was brought up on radio, they didn’t understand the power of video pictures. Because of this, the government apparently felt that their pro-war propaganda, which was dutifully spouted by most of the mass media, would suffice, and they neglected to control the pictures coming back from the war. I found that I could get a pretty good idea of what really was going on in Viet Nam by simply watching television with the sound turned off!

NOW: Our government fully knows the power of images, and effectively controls what most Americans see either by excluding reporters and cameramen from war zones or “embedding them” with our troops. Our government has allowed a small handful of massive corporation, most with strong vested economic interests in having a perpetual state of war, buy up all of the mass media. These media giants are all too happy to report propaganda feeds from the government as “news.” The few dedicated and very brave journalists who refuse to be embedded, and who try rather to independently report what is going on, all too often find themselves the victims of “accidental” “friendly” fire.

. . . . . . . . . . . . .

THEN: The Civil Rights Movement was in full swing. The South was being officially de-segregated, and even people in the North were beginning to realize the extent to which racism had incorporated itself into their mindset. Though the murders of many members of the Black Power movement were successfully hushed up by the major media, the murder of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., who had the audacity to link together the Civil Rights, Anti-War, and Worker’s Rights/Anti-Poverty movements, could not be so easily ignored.

NOW: Despite the advances made in civil rights, our legislatures have enacted discriminatory laws with draconian penalties, especially in the area of recreational drug use. These laws insure that a large proportion of our population, overwhelmingly poor and disproportionately minority, is involved in the criminal justice system. Judges get re-elected based on how “tough” they are, and the prime beneficiary is the Criminal Justice System, itself, as well as the increasingly “privatized” facilities of the “Prison-Industrial Complex.”

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


Call it reminiscing about the past through rose-colored glasses, but I truly believe that we who were young back then lived in a far more hopeful world, and I commend those youth of today who strive to make our world a better place.


Blessed be with peace, love, freedom, and happiness!




This entry was posted on Monday, November 19th, 2007 at 4:12 AM and filed under Uncategorized. Follow comments here with the RSS 2.0 feed. Skip to the end and leave a response. Trackbacks are closed.

3 Responses to “Letter to the Shoshonee Tribe”

  1. Nina Dayton said:

    WOW John! What a generous post, and I thank you for taking the time and energy to share these thoughts with us.

    I agree with you that “hippiedom” comes from inside, but do feel that an accurate understanding of the hippies that wrote, acting in, and were depicted in HAIR originally is imperative to a powerful production of Hair. One of the things that gets in the way of many contemporary productions of Hair is, as the Tribe members you discuss expressed, the inability of young people today to have an understanding of many aspects of the way it felt to be young in the late sixties, to have imminent death in a war you didn’t support staring you in the face, and a country that disrespects you and won’t listen to your fears and concerns (most of which time has proven to have been extremely valid). I was just speaking to a Woof from an original company who carried a draft lottery #1 for his birth date into his time in the show, and it made the show that much more powerful for him – he was fighting to communicate the reality of his life to the audience. This wasn’t acting to him; it was reality. And that is something that contemporary young people doing Hair do not have. Michael Butler has stated that he produced Hair, in part, to try and open a dialogue between the generations and avert an imminent civil war. It is sometimes hard to remember in these times how intense the late sixties were. Many of the things that you point out as being different today than they were then are important factors, as you clearly feel, and one of the things I take into my consulting work is a body of knowledge about educating current productions not just about the history of the show, but the history of the times that it came out of and represents. We have entire lists of educational materials available. I only wish more companies took advantage of this, but the limited rehearsal time available to many companies prohibits this to some degree. But there is definitely a striking difference, IMHO, between companies that understand deeply the plight of the young person in 1968, and those that don’t. I will never forget talking with a college senior who was about to play Claude, and explaining to him that had he been alive in the times he was portraying he would probably have been in Vietnam a scant two months after his upcoming graduation, and could easily have been living in the final year of his life.

    Another thing in your post that I wanted to comment on is the subject of sensitivity exercises. Your earlier post that you link to is a post about, as you say, sensitivity exercises which you and Hebe had used in a workshop that you held. Sensitivity exercises, as Michael says, were extensively used by Tom O’Horgan in his productions (not only Hair). This was not at all uncommon at the time in experimental theater, and even as far back as the fifties you will find all the great acting schools and teachers (Strasberg, HB Studios, etc) using different forms of these. For people wanting to know more about them one can do a book search in any library for “theater games” and “sensitivity exercises” culling books from the 1960’s. However, the historian/archivist in me feels compelled to point out that although the first couple of exercises you describe in your post are similar to the type of exercises O’Horgan and others used, the testimony of those who participated as well as the archival footage we have in the Archives of his working with the Tribes, shows that there was a much lower level of sexuality in the exercises that he used than in the ones you describe, and I have never heard a report of nudity being used in them by him. My research shows them to have been much more focused on developing trust and on direct experience of the other person, and of one’s self, as a pure being.

    Lastly, I must take exception to your statement that the book of Hair is weak. A long standing interest for me has been the incredible difference that the staging of Hair has on the clarity of the book. In the original productions the storyline and characters were very clear to a large majority of those who saw Hair (not to everyone, as some reviews will attest!), but when I see some contemporary productions much of this is lost, and I have often wondered about the specifics of why this was so – the lines are basically the same, the songs are as well. Why should the story get lost? A few years ago I saw a production of the show that was directed by Hair’s original choreographer Julie Arenal, who used all of the original staging and choreography. It was striking that while, largely due to an extremely brief rehearsal period, some of the character development was weak (while others were wonderfully strong), the plot line was extremely strong and visible, and I have been working to try to isolate which parts of the staging make this so. (I have many theories, which I will spare you all here!) In such I would be interested in knowing, John and others, what changes in staging you felt obscured the mean in your production, as you say in your post – a statement which, BTW, I disagree with as I felt that Bo and the Shoshonee tribe did quite well in communicating HAIR’s message, although I did miss the cut songs.

    Love you all, and looking forward to hearing others thoughts on all this! Again, thanks John, for getting this started!

  2. Dudley Brooks said:

    Thanks, Jon! To enlarge on just one point that you mention: While watching some of the preparatory material for our production, specifically the video “Berkeley in the ’60s”, I realized that, despite having lived through it, I had forgotten not only how frequent and how huge the protests were but how violently the police reacted to them (such as the gassing by helicopter of the peaceful rally at Sproul Hall). And also how imbecile and lame (pardon the anachronism!) were the comments by public figures like UC President Clark Kerr and then-governor Ronald Reagan.

    WRT why the storyline of the show might not come through: The one factor that could be laid at the feet of the script is the lack of stage directions. Anyone who never saw an early production or who didn’t take advantage of all of Nina’s research materials and the recollections of original cast members could get many sections totally wrong. Just for one minor but outstanding example, from the script alone you’d never know there was a nude scene and you’d have no idea where it was supposed to go.

    — Dudley (choreographer, Muwekma / San Jose tribe)

  3. Michael Butler said:

    This is a very interesting article. Anyone who wishes to be in HAIR should read it. Also the comments. As you can read not all agree with John. For example I disagree with his comments about the book. I find the story very clear. As you all know I have deep respect for Bo’s direction. My notes almost never deal with direction but with clarity so the audience understands the lines. This version is unique in that almost everyone has at least a gem. Clarity is what propels the show and the actors credit for a great performance.
    As we continue on with this production keep in mind that you are presenting the bell-weather of a show which has had universal impact.
    Through your work you will keep those messages and the work of thousands before you alive.

Leave a Reply

*Required (Not published)