Wheat and Chaff in Washington's Hair
by Tom Zito
The Washington Post - April 7, 1971

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Susan Bitucce was slinking across the stage of the National Theatre yesterday afternoon.  And as she slinked she sang, "You gotta have a gimmick if you want to get ahead."

"Susan, Susan," interrupted Michael Mauer.  "That's true, but today all we're interested in is hearing your voice."

Susan was only one of about 175 young people who showed up yesterday to audition for Hair on the first of three days of tryouts.

More than 300 turned out in all, including the hanger-on.

Pretty girls and pretty boys, dressed in blue jeans, maxi-dresses and hot pants, calling in sick at jobs and cutting classes.

Ann Tobias had been a second-year opera student at the University of New Mexico at Albuquerque.

"I heard they were having tryouts here, so I figured it was a good time to leave school and come visit my mother (who lives here)."

Joann Abbadesso, dressed in baby blue velvet hot pants, prepared to perform "My Blanket and Me."

"My parents would die if they knew what I'm doing.  I cut all art classes at Dunbarton COllege to come here.  My father's a doctor in new Jersey, and I don't think he'd like the idea of his little girl appearing in Hair."

"My father's an electrician," added Marcy Gendell, a 19-year old George Washington University drama student.  "About a year ago he went to see the play and when the cast started ripping up the American flag he jumped on stage and took it away from them." (EDITORS NOTE: At no time in any production of Hair did they rip up an American flag.)

Although the people at the National Theatre were more like hippies and less like hardened professional actors than most audition crowds, there was nevertheless some similarity to the archetypal theater tryout.

Mauer sat in the center of the National with a 4-foot square board braced before him as a makeshift desk.  He chain-smoked cigarettes as the stream of would-be stars trekked across the stage.

The auditions were originally scheduled to be viewed by Ted Rado, brother of co-writer James Rado and artistic director for the Hair Confederacy.  But Rado flew to New York on Monday and said he'd be back for the finals on Friday.

"I have assistants to weed out the chaff from the wheat," he said.  "Mike Mauer, the production stage manager in Washington, will handle the preliminaries."

"Theoretically, we try to have the Hair cast come from the area that the show is playing in" said Mauer, "every city has particular characteristics and since this is a play that depends so much on what's happening now, we want as much of the local feeling to be present in the play as possible.

"In most places we've held auditions beforehand and then picked a cast.  But here, because of the time element, we never had a chance for the whole massive audition thing.  So now we're sort of catching up on our homework."

Mauer was interrupted by a cry of distress.

"Oh," screamed a girl, getting nearly everyone's attention, "could everyone look under their seats?  I've lost my master thesis."

"What was it on?" asked someone.


"Here in Washington," continued Mauer, "we built up a sort of super-Hair by borrowing actors from other Hair companies.  But now some of the people are leaving and we have to replace them.  And we think that Hair will run here between six months and a year, so we may lose as many as 20 people.

"Nobody in the present Washington company has had any professional acting experience other than Hair and we'd like to keep it that way, to avoid that kind of artificial, Broadway-stereotyped acting."

The auditions rolled along smoothly all afternoon and will continue at noon on Wednesday and Thursday.  And the only person in the area who seemed at all upset was Joe Romano, who runs the the Romano Barber Shop next to the theater.

"All those people are paying ten bucks to see that show," he said.  "And if they'd come to my shop they see one of the best hair shows in town - for a lot less money."

Copyright The Washington Post.

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