Peter Jennings enters the Fairview High School auditorium Saturday night, a trippy hippie chick wearing bell bottoms, a ponytail andface paint will be there to hand him a daisy and a message of love. But if Jennings isn't careful, senior Ari Adler is likely to snatch it right off his lapel.
No flower for the power. ABC's senior anchor is an establishment dude.
"You media, you're part of the problem!" Adler yelled at a reporter much less established than Jennings as the cast of "Hair," otherwise known as "The Tribe," entered the auditorium in character for the musical's opening number Sunday.
Principal Dean "The Man" Palmer had received the same treatment, so why should Jennings be any different?
"I yelled at the principal because he told me how he had supported Vietnam," Adler said before the show. "So I took his flower away and said, "You don't deserve this.' "
Jennings will probably love getting roughed up a bit. The volatile nature of the quintessentially American 1968 tribal love-rock musical is one reason his staff singled out Fairview's production to be chronicled as one of six chapters in Jennings' 2002 book and six-hour miniseries with the working title "America." It is the follow-up to his 12-hour project last year titled "The Century."
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Where: Fairview High School, 1515 Greenbriar Blvd., Boulder
Jennings is coming to Boulder to see for himself the production he is affording an indelible little chapter in pop culture history. "I am looking forward to seeing the show Saturday and meeting the cast and crew," he said in a statement.
No pressure, kids, but when the tape finally rolls and the books are pressed, Fairview's production will be treated as one-sixth of what Jennings thinks needs to be said about America in the year 2002. That idea makes the tight-knit cast, which is so close they finish each other's sentences, momentarily speechless.
"I try not to think about the fact that . . ." Adler started, ". . . the whole world is watching," senior Dan Kohler finished.
Maybe not the whole world - probably only an estimated 12 million people.
A Los Angeles-based ABC crew has been taping since auditions in August, and by the closing performance Saturday it will have shot 60 hours of video for a 46-minute segment to air next September.
"This project is like doing a term paper on America," said ABC producer Craig Leake, whose three-person crew is finishing up its fourth two-week stay in Boulder. "We were trying to find six specific stories that were anchored in one place and would cover different areas of American life.
"We thought it would be interesting to do one of the hours on show business, and the American instinct and skill at saying, "Let's put on a show.' We thought about following a movie or television show, but it's all been done. Then we had an idea: Why not follow something much more basic and universal? Then we thought generations, and what has and hasn't changed in a 30-year timespan."
"Hair" is an antiwar musical about protest, the open expression of love and the evil of racial intolerance. ABC researched what schools had bought rights to perform "Hair" in the fall, and that led them to Fairview director Liz Boatman, a 53-year-old former trippy hippie chick - and proud of it.
"It was a period of my life that I really did enjoy, because I was very free," she said. "There were definitely some positive things about the hippie era. We were optimistic that we could change the world, and sadly, if you look at the way things are today, we failed."
Kohler found it ironic that some parents used their own power of protest to try to stop the production.
"Many parents were initially against it, but that totally made no sense to me, because they were us," said Kohler, who plays the male lead, Berger. "Either they were totally square in '68, or they've just become their parents and they've totally reverted to what they protested about."
Adler had no clue what he was getting into, so he rented "Hair," and watching it with his dad just made the coolness factor plummet. "I didn't really get it, because it was all just way over my head," he said. "Like, who's Timothy Leary? And then when my dad said, "Oh I love this song,' I just went, "uuugh!' "
Developing "Hair" has made the students much more cognizant of unfolding world events and has crystallized their political beliefs. But the show's message that "peace is so much better than war," Boatman said, was made even more significant by the events of Sept. 11. The terrorist attacks placed the production, and the ABC project, in an entirely new context.
Suddenly the children of the flower-power generation, like their parents 33 years before, discovered they were living in a world at war. And when a song about air pollution calls for the cast to don gas masks, how is anyone not supposed to think about anthrax?
"It's interesting how timeless the show is," said Kohler. "While it is blatantly set in 1968 and talks about events that were occurring then, it's so pertinent to what is going on now."
Adler has said "Hair" made him realize the necessary role of dissent in a democracy. "It's shown me that it's OK not to support the U.S., especially at a time like this," he said. "After the 11th, flags were everywhere. And when we started dropping bombs, the flags were still everywhere. I'm thinking, "No. That's not what I'm about. I don't like that. I don't think we're going about it in the right way.' . . . A lot of the youth around me were saying, "It is OK to kill people in Afghanistan right now,' and I am saying no. Doing "Hair' shows me that there are people who are supportive of not supporting."
Senior Kate Stratton has a friend who went home from school Sept. 11 and found his selective service registration card - the draft tracker - in his mailbox.
"It's been really close to home with this whole thing going on," she said. "It's on everyone's minds. This show is my way of saying, "I want peace.' Even though that's the message of the show, it's a message I totally agree with."
ABC also has been documenting the actors' interactions with their parents, and for Adler, "Hair' has opened communication with his dad.
"At first, I was going, well, how am I supposed to rebel against my dad? He was the one who was smoking dope and protesting," he said. But one night when I was thinking about what I could do to be more unpatriotic during one of the songs, he was saying, "Well, that might offend the audience because of this thing in Afghanistan.' And I said, "So?' And he said, "Well we need to support them.' And I said, "No. No, we don't.' "
The students and ABC crew have come to think of each other as family, and Leake is already melancholy about leaving town after Saturday.
"There has been so much bad news about kids that makes the front page," he said. "It is going to be particularly surprising to a lot of grownups how thoughtful these Fairview kids are. We knew they were smart and articulate, but since Sept. 11, it's so important to be reminded that the future rests with these kids. These are very good spokespeople for their generation."
Leake promises subjects such as Brittany Chambers, Jon Benet Ramsey, mall riots and Columbine will never be uttered in Jennings' report. And for that, Kohler is grateful.
"It's nice to see that the media is looking at different aspects of teenage culture than the usual bad things like drugs and alcohol," he said. "It's nice to know they are doing something about kids who are doing something productive."
Jennings has been scheduled to visit Fairview several times before, but ever-changing world events have repeatedly dashed hopes. He is still expected at Saturday's closing performance, and there will be an empty seat reserved for him. But the kids aren't getting their hopes up.
"It's exactly like "Waiting for Guffman,' " Kohler said with a laugh. "We'll believe it when we see it."
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