Pages from Michael Butler's Journal 

The Story of the San Francisco firings

Jolie Kanat, original member of the San Francisco Tribe wrote:

Here is the story of how the entire San Francisco cast of HAIR got "fired!" 

As I recall, it was either late 1969 or early 1970.  The Vietnam war was still raging. And at the same time we were performing every night, sending the message to literally millions of people, from every HAIR tribe in the country and world, that the war was a hideous violation of our deepest beliefs and and morals. 

(Actually as I think about this, the story takes on more interesting layers).

We were all screamingly young, as well as ardent in our beliefs about the message of the play. Many of us were not veteran professionals.  We had been chosen for not only our talent, but our freshness and energy as well  It was different than, say, performing in Bye Bye Birdie, where the underlying message was not necessarily on the front page of the newspapers daily.

During the first year of the very successful and remarkable (sold out, standing room only, talk-of-the-town) San Francisco run, a general business "moratorium" was called by political leaders of the anti-war movement.  All businesses were to close for a time in protest of the US bombings in Vietnam and Cambodia. It was not a small issue. Especially in the San Francisco area where the anti-war movement had a stronghold.

In our enthusiasm for this anti-war effort, the entire cast (or most of us) decided to stop working in the play for...I don't remember how long...a night?  A week?  We were sure the director, stage managers, writers (Mr. Rado and Mr. Ragni) and producer (Mr. Butler) would support us in our valiant effort to send the message to Washington.
Can you see where the layers come in here?
Looking back I can see clearly that: 1. We had an contractual obligation to the 1,400 people who had bought tickets each night, and 2. That by performing the message that was in the play, our effort against the war could be more powerful than not performing it for the moratorium!  Yet at the same time we wanted to send a message that we agreed with the anti-war movement in every way.  We were willing to lose money, willing to risk our jobs.

But...we didn't really think we were risking our jobs!!
I believe it was on a bus on the way to an anti-war rally with 300,000 people waiting at the Golden Gate polo field that the entire cast was told by our stage manager that we were all fired.

I still do not know what the point of view of management at that time, but having owned a business since then, I can imagine the feelings were very mixed. 

A show or two was cancelled.  Our paychecks were docked appropriately. However, we were re-hired shortly thereafter.  As I recall, the cast published a full page explanation in the San Francisco Chronicle for the missed shows.  

This story is a perfect example of how there are no absolutes in this life. For example, it would have been right to perform and it would have been right to join the moratorium. It was a time that is hard to describe to anyone who was not there, don't you agree?

I can only imagine the consternation we must have caused Michael and the people running the production.  But perhaps they had their own uncertainties to grapple with, too.

Jolie Kanat

Michael Butler replied:

Jolie's story is correct, I can embellish it a bit.

At the time we are writing about there were so many tribes of HAIR performing that the production company was freaking out. How could we keep these shows together artistically, emotionally and spiritually. In one smoke filled conference there was a thought of getting a 747 we could live in. It would have video monitors for each show. When we saw any problem
we could land at that city. You can see how nutty it was becoming. No production in history had ever had so many at the same time. The solution was to give each of us one tribe to be responsible for. Mine was San Francisco. I forget whether we drew or picked. I suspect there was some influence about choice. I was involved with two members of that tribe. Without warning we were told the tribe was not going to perform. They were going to support a peace movement. They were sure we (production) would approve. Our anti-war was (still is) well known. We said no. You cant do that. What about the audience? No warning! Arriving at a closed theatre. Thespian wrong, politically incorrect, a fine way to get people to support the anti-war movement.
Far greater way to get the message across was in the theatre. March would make us feel good but not our patrons. With warning it would be fine. We could give notice and not sell that night or refund in advance to prior purchasers. I was in a spot. So I fired the tribe. We canvassed the other tribes and organized to have them fly in. I was in NYC. Flew out taking Paul Jabara with me. When we all met in San Francisco it was a teary session. The tribe knew there had been a mistake. We made up and all, except the leaders, were brought back in. To be together I was asked to do the nude scene. It was a lovely and exhilarating  experience. We smoked a Peace Pipe the tribe gave me.

I still have that pipe and on special occasions it is used.

Peace and Love,

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