Nude, or not nude, that is the question

Hi Cybertribe!

This past weekend I had the distinct pleasure of attending a birthday party for our tribe’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. Woof’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 HAiR’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 Claude’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 country’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 isn’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 tribe’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 O’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 Visa’s and Work Permits, and, perhaps, failing to cross a few officials’ palms with silver, might have been a more significant cause of the show’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? Doesn’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 tribe’s reactions to Claude’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 military’s “basic training” is NOT to teach military skills as much as to destroy the recruit’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 didn’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!







This entry was posted on Monday, July 16th, 2007 at 9:44 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.

7 Responses to “Nude, or not nude, that is the question”

  1. bleurose said:

    John, you know I couldn’t resist commenting on this 😉

    Q1 – I don’t find it surprising that someone is familiar with the score. I agree that the nude scene often comes up, but the music comes up just about as often when I tell people I am associated with the show. Even more so, these days people also comment on the appropriateness of the show’s antiwar message. So I think many many people are familiar with Hair not solely because of the nude scene.

    I think that the nude scene provides a terrific dramatic moment in the show (having just opened our production this weekend, it certainly worked for us). However, as expected, most people come away at the end feeling that the message of the show, as communicated in Act Two is far more important. Michael B reitereated that for the audience at several of the talkbacks we had this weekend (thank you again, Michael!)

    Q2 – I can’t answer the question any more definitively than John Z can, but my feeling (from those I have talked to, including several who knew/know Gerry Ragni and James Rado) is that they wanted to leave the whole question of nudity in the show ambiguous and up to each director’s interpretation. Maybe they also wanted to leave open the option for more nudity (discussed in the next section). Again, its just unclear, and I guess only Jim Rado could now answer that question for us.

    Q3 – I too would love to do this. However, as noted, there is often resistence amongst the actors (my original plans called for this, but that was changed when it was clear that we would have some difficulty getting majority participation even in the “regular” nude scene).

    It is amazing that in 2007 we still have issues with actors being willing to do this but we do. Of course, this is one of the reasons that I think it is so important to do if possible. If I ever audition a group that is wholeheartedly in favor of doing multiple nude scenes, I will certainly consider this.

    Q4 – The answer to this is similar to Q3. If you want participation (which seems very important to me), you need to be sensitive to the actors’ needs as well. If they need dimmer light, then you really have to compromise, even if you’d prefer to be less modest and more honest.

    As we have discussed in other threads, one important distinction to make about productions is whether the production is a fully professional and required, and an amateur or community production where the nudity pretty much has to be fully voluntary and has to consider the issues of things like friends and family coming to see the show, or teachers being in the show (and having legal issues because they are teachers, etc.).

    Even on Broadway, the nudity was always voluntary (Michael confirmed that over the weekend for me) and not everyone participated. If you are honest and have integrity as a director, then you have to agree to this, and once you do that, you need to recognize that some people may change their mind, and you won’t get full participation. It is an exercise in compromise that must be understood.

    If you MANDATE the nudity, then I think you are acting counter to the principals of the original production of HAiR, and so you are caught in a dilemma. You can HOPE that everyone will participate, but you can’t force it, so you have to just try to build enough trust in the tribe so that most people will feel comfortable doing it.

    We had about 60% participation which I felt, given our tribe, was really terrific. Actually much better than I had dared to hope for. We did have several people in our tribe who I expected to do the scene who backed out, and several others who I expected would NEVER do it, who ended up doing it. And we still have 30 performances or so to go, so I expect these numbers will change at some point.

    By the way, as I had described before, we didn’t use a scrim, and instead simply had the tribe disrobe from their caftans worn during the Be-In. Thanks to the Sacramento tribe and Erik Daniels and Maggie Hollinbeck for loaning us many of their caftans and thanks to my lovely wife/producer/costumer Barbara for making the rest. The scene is very effective this way, although it is also very effective as originally done on Broadway, IMHO.



  2. sammysf said:

    I am a member of Muwekma Tribe of San Jose, and I am pleased at how my participation in the nude scene has evolved. Initially I had said I did not want to be part of it, during auditions. Then I changed my mind when it was becoming clear that I was being considered for a lead. Once cast as Berger, I did my homework and learned that it really is crucial that my character display an openness with regards to showing his body off.

    Honestly, I tend to be more modest and this always surprises folks. The scene which is actually most challenging for me is my opening monologue and finding the courage to undress before a captive audience. Wearing just a loincloth, I feel more exposed then at the end of Act One. I am also closer to folks, calling attention to only myself and really banking on the audience “getting” why the hell I’m running around like Tarzan. But I do admit I feel terribly shy about it- and want to get over it.

    As for Where Do I Go?, I really am pleasantly surprised that I have almost no reservation about disrobing. As Jonathan Johnson put it during his visit with us, the words in the song alone inspire one to stand boldly and naked before our audience. And as Jennifer Ho put it during our talkback, this is a demonstration that we are all one. If you kill me you kill yourself. Etc. I have never felt so compelled to show myself to the world, and yet, I do admit that each night I wait for the spotlight to turn off.

    I hope that my peers in the tribe find their own comfort level expanding and perhaps through the course of the show they will reconsider their decision to appear naked. All I can do is work on my own reservations and I like to think that if I display this in the right way others will find it a liberating experience as well.

  3. Mike Blaxill said:

    just for laughs, my favorite antedote re the nude scene is a quote from Shelley Plimpton in a 1968 Esquire article …

    SHELLEY PLIMPTON: I didn’t do it at first., but now i do it every performance. You must admit it was a big step. It took getting rid of a few hang-ups.

    Q: Like what?

    S.P.: Like taking your clothes off in front of an audience.

  4. JohnZ said:


    It has been called to my attention that Bertrand Castelli was the director of the controversial Acapulco production of HAiR, rather than Tom O’Horgan as I had erroneously stated. Sorry for the error!

    I was also informed that the show was closed by the direct order “of the president ‘out of respect for my friend, Richard Nixon.’” This is an interesting piece of background information that I did not see reported in any of the newspaper articles that I read.

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

  5. JohnZ said:

    Sammysf, I really enjoyed your insightful remarks. Your observation that Berger should be very free with showing off his body is right on — after all, he IS “the aluminum coxman!”

    Feeling “more exposed” when “running around [in the audience] like Tarzan” than when going fully naked in “Where Do I Go?” is very understandable. Frankly, you ARE more “exposed” in the former scene, and not just because of your proximity to the audience.

    In a solo nude scene, the audience “sees” the actor nude, while in a group nude scene, the audience tends to “see” the group (and, hopefully, the subtextual meaning that the actors wish to convey) rather than any individual. I believe that, when only a few actors remain clothed while most of the group goes naked, the audience’s attention can actually be diverted more to that dressed minority and away from the naked majority!

    I find it curious that many people (and the law) make such a significant distinction between appearing in apparel such as a bathing suit that covers very little, and appearing totally naked. On stage, this phenomenon can have the very curious effect (especially in short scenes) of the body of a skimpily-clad actor being subject to much more scrutiny by the audience than that of a fully naked one. I believe that this may be due to the fact that an audience, “shocked” by seeing nudity, tends to mentally “avert their eyes” (mind) and think more about the nudity as an abstract concept rather than “seeing” the actual naked performers. Personally, being somewhat overweight, I would feel much more at ease fully naked on stage than wearing bathing trunks!

    I join you in your hope that more of your tribe will decide to join in the nudity. Confronting, and then overcoming, one’s fear of public nudity can be an exhilarating “growth experience” that can instill a great sense of power! I find it quite sad to hear of people who pass up such opportunities, only to later express their regrets for not doing it.

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

  6. JohnZ said:

    Thanks Mike for reminding me of Shelley Plimpton’s exquisitely concise remark. I really enjoyed reading it again.

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

  7. JohnZ said:

    Congratulations to Jon Rosen and the Muwekma Tribe! I hear that you have a great production, and Hebe and I (and possibly my brother, Peter) are trying to arrange our schedules to be able to get up there to see it this coming weekend.


    I guess that I cannot resist responding to your comments anymore than you can resist responding to mine. So here goes.

    Q1 – I didn’t say that I was surprised that someone was familiar with the score or with HAiR’s anti-war message. What I said was that I was surprised and gratified when I found a person who was very familiar with the score, but did not know whether the nude scene was often performed. When I suggested to two actress/singer friends of mine that they audition for the Met/Shoshonee Tribe production, the first thing that they brought up was the nudity! (Incidentally, both told me that they had no problem doing it.)

    My only point was that, among the general non-acting, non-singing, public of 2007, I believe that HAiR is more widely known for its group nude scene than that for it is anti-war/pro diversity/celebration-of-freedom messages. I also believe that the number of these people who are familiar with the music (other than as background tunes for commercials) is even lower still.

    Q2 – I tend to agree with your belief that the authors “wanted to leave the whole question of nudity in the show ambiguous and up to each director’s interpretation.” What I find confusing, however, is that they apparently were not at all reticent about not only calling for nudity in the Aquarian Water Ritual scene, but even going so far as to provide a detailed description of how to perform it! Relying on how this scene is written in the official script, and considering that

    The paperback script (which was published AFTER HAiR was running on Broadway) describes a rather different nude scene than that which was being performed on the Broadway. Considering this, along with the fact that the “official” script makes no mention of the Broadway-style nude scene while it explicitly calls out nudity in a different place in the show, leads me to conclude that the authors might not have been exactly “in love” with how the nudity was staged on Broadway.

    I think that your conjecture that the authors may have wanted “to leave open the option for more nudity” is borne out by how they performed the show in Acapulco as well as by some of the “antics” in which they engaged in other productions.

    Q4 – What I was referring to are productions where they (reportedly) do a nude scene, but then render it almost, or even COMPLETELY, invisible to the audience. While a dimly-lit nude scene is problematic in that it sends the decidedly anti-HAiR message that nudity is shameful, what I was referring to is the even more egregious situation when the scene is lit in a fashion that totally obliterates it. Hebe and I attended the Simi Valley production FIVE TIMES — which testifies to how much we liked it. But they significantly damaged an otherwise perfect production by the use of rear “blinder” lights. We saw the show from various locations in the auditorium, and what was visible varied dramatically with the location of the seat. From our close-up seats house left and house right, we could vaguely see the backlit outlines of some of the tribe, and we got the impression that they were fully or partially naked. From the center of the house, we could see the outlines of only the two tribe members who were at the extreme left and extreme right of the scene. When we saw the show from the balcony (where the blinders were aimed) it was impossible to even see whether anyone was on stage! The tribe might have completely exited the stage for all that we could tell. As I have stated before, I would MUCH RATHER have the tribe remain fully dressed and be able to see them perform, than have them naked and invisible!

    I have given a lot of thought to your statement that a director can “hope” for participation in a nude scene, but not “mandate” it. Would we say that it is proper for a director to “hope” that an actor will deign to appear on stage and perform a scene as written, but that it would be improper for the director to “mandate” that the actor do it? Maybe so, if the scene is utterly dispensable, or the “nudity” is completely gratuitous. But, if a director believes that the use of nudity is important to a production, it should be considered “mandatory” so long as this fact is made very clear to the actors BEFORE they are cast! This rule should apply equally to “professional” and to “amateur” productions, and it is perfectly proper to use the actor’s choice of whether to participate or not as one of the casting criteria.

    When an actor embarks on a project not knowing that nudity is expected/desired in the role, there are three possible outcomes, and only one of them is good: 1) the actor may willingly choose to do the scene and everything flows smoothly, or 2) the actor chooses not to participate and thereby harms the show to a greater or lesser degree, or 3) the actor is “coerced” in some way to do the scene. This “coercion” MAY take the form of direct pressure from the director or the rest of the cast, but it doesn’t have to be that direct. Once an actor has been cast, and especially after he/she has “invested” a significant amount of time and effort into a show or has bonded with his/her fellow cast members, the actor can face substantial INTERNAL pressure to do a scene despite his/her reservations. Simply not wanting to “disappoint” a respected director by refusing to do a scene can lead to strong feelings of inadequacy in the actor. Nudity, arrived at under these conditions, cannot be considered “free” and “uncoerced.”

    I feel that it is a grave mistake for a director to fail to openly discuss with the actor all the requirements of a role (including nudity) BEFORE the role is cast. This failure may stem from embarrassment with discussing the topic, or the (quite valid) fear that bringing up nudity may limit their casting choices. Would anything less open and honest be in the spirit of HAiR?

    Finally, “professional” actors consider the feelings of their friends and family just as much as their “amateur” cousins. The fact that “professionals” may have to take roles that they consider undesirable in order to eat or pay the rent, while their “amateur” counterparts may enjoy more freedom to pick and choose roles that they really want to do, has little effect on how they or their family and friends may feel about the role.

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

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