It wasn't a dress rehearsal, but most of the kids were costumed: Beneath the splintered ends of their long hair, they wore the freaked-out clothes and the opther paraphanalia of the youth cult. General misfits, together with a minority with Broadway stars in their eyes. Wee-Willie Woodstockers.
They may not have looked it, but they were the call-backs.
"Call-backs," for those who haven't trod the boards lately, is the theater's designationfor audirioners who a producer thinks are worth a second look. These call-backs were trying out at the National Theater here for roles in Hair, the theatrical phenomenon that is packing them into the Capital's principal theater just as it is doing around the world. They had survived three days of of preliminary auditions; this time they were singing and dancing for keeps - for roles in one of Hair's innumerable boisterous, communal companies.
They had responded to a Washington newspaper ad that read:
"For singer/dancer. Males and females, 18 to 25, with long hair. Previous stage experience not necessary. Bring music." The auditions were held by the Hair Company, producers of the many editions of the musical; they were conducted by Ted Rado, Hair's international artistic director, and brother to the show's co-author, James Rado.
"These are the real Hair people," he said, looking out over the assembled hopefuls.
For three days Mr. Rado and Michael Maurer, stage director, had watched some 750 kids do good and bad facsimilies of Aquarius, Where Do I Go?, and other Hair songs. Over 1,000 had shown up. More than 300 would have to come back the next week because the preliminary auditions hadn't gotten to them.
"We have to find people as quickly as we can," says Mr. Rado; even after cutting back in the United States to 4 companies from 10, Hair is everywhere. There are companies in Copenhagen, London (with two others touiring England), Norway, Germany (two), Israel, Paris, Sydney and Melbourne; another opens soon in Buenos Aries. The producers are also seeking permission to do Hair in Vietnam. "It's a hard job just supplying people to the companies," says Mr. Rado.
So it is. In three years Hair: The AMerican Tribal Love-Rock Musical has become a theater classic, has grossed over $43,000,000, and has been seen by 10,000,000 people in 5,000 performances.
Hair's success is due tothe vitality, freedom, and spontineity of the show and the "real Hair people" in it, actors who are more or less playing themselves. The very vitality of Hair demands that actors be in the physical condition of a front-line infantryman in order to meet the eight grueling performances a week. Considering that fact alone, the Hair Company estimates that the average longevity of an actor in the show is about seven months, generally no longer than a year.
"It sounds kind of cold," says Mr. Rado, "but the show is so physically difficult to do that after seven or eight months the actors just burn out. So they must be removed."
No Professional Experience
Who are the "real Hair people" ? Ninety-five per cent of them have no professional experience except for rocl groups or singing the gospel or the blues. So they must have natural experience. They came to Hair as undisciplined and freeform as the play itself.
Ervin Reid, a Washington stagehand who has seen many Broadway shows and their actors, says those in Hair seem straight from the musicals script. "Sometimjes they don;t show up." he says. "It's like wow, man, it's too nice a day in the park to be caught in a theater. Or when they're told to come to rehearsals they say 'There you go trying to make us like professional actors.' But they're getting professional actors' pay." (Starting salary is $174. Actors are paid by the "bit" and may get as $550 a week.)
Of course there are also those who see Hair as the perfect word on a resume when applying later for parts in other shows. The word, combined with their talent, has been magical for former Hair stars Melba Moore, Ronnie Dyson, Robin McNamara, Burt Summer, Shelley Plimpton, and Sally Eaton. But, says Mr. Rado, "the majority of them return to what they were doing before they came to the show."
Talk to some of them during the call back auditions here:
Peter Clark (stage name Peter Jeffries) first auditioned for Hair when he was 16; he was called back 10 times for further auditions. Now 19, he has tried out for Hair - unsuccessfully - "from New York to Los Angeles," which is not particularly unusual. Hair people seem to follow the show, and the Hair Company holds auditions biweekly; two girls who failed the auditions in Los Angeles later passed in Copenhagen. Mr. Clark, a wanderer, has done odd jobs and taken small parts in other shows awaiting his opportunity in Hair.
"I'm proud of it [Hair] because it's showing people like me," he says. "If you've never lived in communes, like me, or dropped acid [LSD], you can appreciate the show but you can't feel what those of us who have feel for it."
Marjorie Burns is a senior at Howard University here, majoring in drama. She had not seen Hair when she tried out for it. "I saw the auditions on a television news show," she recalled, "and they said they were looking for energy and life and a little bit of voice." She figured she had all three. "I plan to star," says Miss Burns, "plus it will dramatically increase my financial stability." What about the nude scene? 'I don;t care about that," she says. "We came into the world naked and we shall leave it naked. The money should make it worth it."
Never Saw The Play
Jim Loftus decided to audition "for kicks." He says: "I always wanted to know what an audition might be like, so I came down. Actually, I'm an aspiring young song writer who's trying to sell his songs." Mr. Loftus has no previous stage experience, has not seen Hair, and says he has no idea what the play is about. But he would like to be in it because "it might give me some more insight into what I want to do." How would his family feel should he be cast in Hair? "They're going to freak right out. First of all my father is a super hardhat. He's radical, the other way, to the other extreme. But you can't live for your parents.
And the call back auditions go on.
A black youth has just completed a song in a bellowing baritone. "May I see you dance?" Mr. Maurer asks. The youth begins one of the latest soul dances, and, and other auditioners wildly cheer. ("This is the undisciplined, noncompetitive actor who reacts on emotions," explaines Mr. Rado.) The auditioner's head is bobbing, his huge afro swaying to the beat. Then...uproar! An Afro-wig is on the stage floor; the auditioner is very bald. Mr. Maurer tells him to take a seat in the section reserved for the chosen.
Charles L. Beatty, another black wearing a long Afro-wig, was already chosen. He says he is ready to give up his Government job and head for New York tomorrow; he has just seen Hair the night before. "It's beautiful," he moans. "It messed up my mind. This is really people nowadays - the way life really is."
Extending the Cut-Off
Because so many people are still to be heard, the designated 4 p.m. cut-off is extended to 6 p.m. Meanwhile, some members of the Washington "tribe" wander in. Helen LeShuanne Lowe, for one. At 18 she has been in the show for eight months; it took her two months to join in the optional nude scene. What do her parents think of the scene? "They know I do it, and whenever they watch the show I don't do it. I guess you might call that respect," she says.
When auditions were over, there were 55 new Hair people in the company's stable. Mr. Rado stood in the theater's mezzanine looking them over.
It's hard work he told them. "It's being at the theater every night and it takes a lot of grind. I want your energy. I want your youth, I want your exuberance in the show."
Besides the Washington company, the Cleveland or the Bus 'n Truck company will get these people; some of the truly talented will go to New York. The New York show, Mr. Rado says, is beginning to drag; it needs some youth and vitality pumped into it. Miss Burns, among others, is told she may be called on to go there in two weeks. She'll have two or three weeks to learn the show, once there, before going on the stage.
Auditioned Four Times
For others, it may be a long wait before they find themselves in Hair. Mr. Rado gives them the pitch line: "Nine months from now, you might be in the show."
Ted Lange, another Washington tribe member, auditioned four times for the show last June. "I was broke," he says. "I didn't have a gig exceot for working for the Government making $50 a week." Then he was accepted for Hair.
"We'll call you Monday," he was told. He didn't hear from the Company until September, when they asked him if he'd like to join the Las Vegas show. "Yes." They told him they'd call him Monday. "Wait a minute, man," he said. "The last time you cats told me you'd call me Monday, I didn't hear from you for three months." He got the job.
Mr. Lange was already an actor. He had been in Shakespeare
plays, theater of the absurd, and the Los Angeles production of Big Time
Buck White. But Hair has changed him. "I've lost a lot of discipline
as an actor, but I've developed tenfold because of the freedom," he says.
AS an actor he used to do physical and vocal warm-ups before the show.
Now, he says, I do that on stage during the performance.