While no one was looking, Fairfield, Iowa has become a mecca for musicians and artists. Every variation of music and art that one can imagine is prospering in this growing township, and that includes musical theater. And of all the productions that have opened and closed in this creative community for as far back as anyone can remember, none has affected its population nor its neighboring cities as intensely as this new exploration of Hair.
Over the years, Randy West--a Stephen Sondheim protégé and executive and artistic director of Way Off Broadway--has overseen a series of successful productions by Iowa's only professional musical theater group. Currently, his take on the always controversial Hair--that includes nudity, an irreverent revue of socially-charged topics, and, of course, a strong anti-war voice--has opened to rave reviews, is being heralded as a Midwestern phenomenon, and is the most heartfelt take on the musical, possibly even including its original Broadway run.
The following is an interview with West during which he reveals what was behind this unique production of Hair, and he also takes us through the philosophy and origin of the sixties production, the history of that turbulent era, and reflections on the as yet unresolved issues covered in this classic rock musical. Additionally, choreographer Adam Cates plus the three principle actors--Ryan Gaffney, Darcie Champagne, and Evan Martin--share their thoughts on why Hair still is culturally relevant.
A Conversation With Director Randy West
Mike Ragogna: Randy, of all the musicals to pick from, why did you choose to direct Hair?
Randy West: A lot of reasons, actually. I think, part of was that it's in full revival in New York and it's wildly successful and it's playing to sold out houses. It won Best Revival at the last Tony's. There's a lot of buzz and talk about the New York show.
MR: Isn't that cast leaving?
RW: They just took the New York cast and sent them to London and recast the new show in New York, so I knew that they're gearing up the tour. It's going to do a national tour that is probably starting in six months maybe, probably not earlier than that because it takes a certain amount of time to get on the tour circuit. I knew that at least there was this window of opportunity to do it before it goes on tour because they have to pull the rights to protect the touring shows once they're out.
MR: So, you had to secure the rights to it. Who did you approach?
RW: I've had a really good experience with Tams-Whitmark which is the licensing company out of New York who licensed Snoopy!!, which was our prior workshop production last Fall. Larry Grossman, who is the composer of Snoopy!!, came out and worked with us.
RW: That's kind of an interesting story. Snoopy!! is the sequel to You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown. For the sequel, they brought in more real Broadway people, and Larry Grossmann and Hal Hackaday--who had done a lot of things on Broadway--were writing the score. When they started, it went to San Francisco and then to L.A. and London. Each time it would go someplace, there would be substantial rewriting and working on the piece. I think it went to Philadelphia and it was supposed to go from Philadelphia into New York. Right when they were in Philadelphia, the producer of Snoopy!! was also the producer of You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown. He had a partner in You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown and they signed an agreement that said that if there's a sequel they'd do it together. There'd been a breaking up of that partnership, and the one producer took it all the way through to Philadelphia before the first producer sued them over the contract which froze the show for almost two and half years.
By the time they finally got it settled out of court, all the momentum they had built to take it into New York had gone away. So, they kind of released it, to be licensed for production by theaters and schools and there was still enough good word of mouth to give the show a life. I mean, how exciting to have a sequel to You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown when it just becomes available! It never really got to New York. There was kind of these three different versions of it and what Larry wanted to do was take his favorite parts of all of those and revise the show.
MR: And naturally, Iowa's only professional musical theater group pounced on it.
RW: We were delighted, that was part of the Way Off Broadway vision.
MR: Performed, of course, at The Sondheim Center For The Performing Arts...in Fairfield, Iowa. Now that needs an explanation.
RW: I was requested by the Board of Directors for the Fairfield Arts and Convention Center to ask Stephen Sondheim for his name. Now, I know Steve Sondheim, but I also know he's a wildly introverted guy and a genius. He's the most talented man and probably the smartest man I've ever been in a room with. But he's kind of shy, and he doesn't care about foo-foo stuff. Well, I said "I'll ask, but don't get your hopes up."
When we finally had a conversation about it, basically, he wanted to know what was going to be done with the building. We said we were going to found a professional musical theater company that we hoped eventually would have some kind of a reasonable reputation in the Midwest, that we wanted to make a commitment to training the next generation of professional musical theater performers, and we wanted to support the development of New Musicals.
MR: How did that work out? Did you begin the process?
RW: What we ended up doing is founding a mentoring program which is actually very different from an academic program. There are many wonderful college, undergraduate, graduate, and PhD programs in performing, but I had a particularly positive experience, personally, by being mentored. I was mentored by Gary Krinke who's a great music theater director out in California.
MR: So, you applied what you learned from Krinke to the Way Off Broadway productions. Was he your main source for direction?
RW: I think I really learned most of what I know about how to direct from two sources. One would be Gary Krinke, having been mentored for seven years. He was a dear friend who I completely trusted, and wildly talented. He was willing to come in and mentor me and say, "You're cooking here, why don't you try this?" And he would give me wild things to do, I mean, like what's the shortest amount of time you could start a musical from beginning to end and get it open by Friday? All these challenges kept me building skills.
Probably, the other person that I learned to direct from would be from my father who was a baseball coach. My dad was a very successful coach, and I played in high school and college. I actually played under my father for awhile.
MR: Sometimes, it can be a nightmare playing on a team that's coached by your dad.
RW: There are some athletic coaches that put so much pressure on that you're practically out there saying, "Please, God, don't let him hit it to me." But my dad always kept the fun in the game. You always wanted the ball to come to you. I tried to keep that in the way I direct, I don't want to make actors so nervous that they can't enjoy it. I want them to go out there, be out there, and want to be in front of people.
MR: What's your directing style like?
RW: During the rehearsal process, we constantly explore. I think that when you're with a certain type of director--and I've been directed by a lot of them--the kind that if you make a mistake, you're humiliated in front of everybody there. The result is you only work in your comfort zone. You only work what you know, and most people's comfort zone is pretty tight. I tell actors, "If you have an instinct in the middle of what you're doing, even if it's something we haven't talked about, feel free, show it to me." It might not be ultimately appropriate for the show, but you should never ignore an instinct. Maybe it just needs a little adjustment, so I could say, "What are you feeling?" And we can come up with a way to adapt it so it will work. But I never want to have an actor feel like they have to suppress things during the rehearsal process.
MR: It's a very collaborative approach, it seems that everybody's happy in the end.
RW: I'm absolutely the first person to say that many of my best ideas are not my own. I think that by working in a collaborative experience that allows creative fervor, you really enjoy the rehearsal process. Of course, I spent a big chunk of my life directing television and that's one of the biggest frustrations with that medium is that the money is much better than theater.
MR: Advertising dollars versus local sponsorship.
RW: That's a personal frustration. The rehearsal process for television is so expensive, so compressed, that if you're going to be a director that makes his living in television, you have to have that bag of tricks that allows you get from A-Z in the least possible steps, in the absolute fastest possible way.
MR: I think that's something most people don't realize. In television, the director really relies on the actor to fill in a lot of the blanks.
RW: Absolutely. I mean, the director will give you all the structure in terms of saying, "Start on this point and you need to get on this line, you cross to here, and you need to stop on this point." They'll give you the technique, but in terms of, the discovery process, which is what happens in theater, it doesn't exist much in television. The actors just have to understand.
MR: I don't think most people get that either. I think it's assumed it's all about the genius of the director. From your perspective, why is your version of Hair now the talk of the Midwest?
RW: Let's go back to your first question, I think that will set this up more clearly. Here's what happened: Hair was in New York, it was going to be in London, going to tour. As I mentioned, I had a relationship with Tams-Whitmark, so I went back to them and said, "Is there any chance that we could do this before it begins to tour?" They looked at it and said, "Well if you can do it now, as opposed to later, we'll make an allowance for you." So, now I knew we could do it.
But the choice was also tied into something else. I've got a 13-year-old boy and a 17-year-old boy. We spend a lot of time just talking about life. The whole post-Bush, going into Obama period, the whole national guard being sent out of the country to fight a foreign war...my wife Margaret and I think we're pretty open parents and these are topics we cover with our kids.
MR: Why do you think Hair is significant once again?
RW: When I began exploring Hair, trying to figure out why is this musical such a hit, I started doing the research. Well, Hair started being just about the Vietnam war, but it ran from '68 to '74. As the country moved forward, they added extra material, like on ecology, and they added women's rights. The pill was invented in 1968, '69. So, women started to have a personal choice that they didn't necessarily have before then. More women were going into the workplace as opposed to just making the choice between housewife and a career. The whole civil rights thing was boiling over. All these elements were going into Hair. When I began to look at that and I said to myself, "Yeah, we've made some strides, but I'm not sure where we really are now compared to then with all of those issues."
The other thing that I found while I was researching was that the folks who did Hair from '68 to '74 truly believed that if they could get it out there in front of enough people, it would change the world. They truly believed it could change the world. And then as you read their autobiographies they say, "You know it's a shame that that ended up being naïve because it would have been wonderful if we were right."
MR: What did they identify as the problems?
RW: As they grew older, they realized that as long as political and social and financial concerns outweigh emotional or intellectual concerns, that people that are trying to help the world be better with their hearts are probably going to lose to the people who are making the world be whatever it is for their bank accounts. What a hard thing for the Hair people to learn.
MR: With Hair, from my perspective, you've turned something that could have been trite and all about dancing and vignettes into a very soul-exploring experience, maybe even taking the original writers' mission that much further. I heard people comment firsthand that they were beyond moved during some parts, and as you said, since you gave so much leeway to your actors, I think their personal connections to the themes and each other have conveyed waaaay more than the script. Seriously, bravo, this is a real work of art.
RW: As I started, I looked at things that Margaret and I are dealing with, you know, with our sons, and I'll tell you that if there was a draft right now--and I support Obama completely--it's not that I don't, I think he's done great things for the country. But if that were to happen, I would, as a parent, be even more invested than I am now if I thought there was a decent chance that my 17-year-old would be drafted when he was 18. I think that's kind of the biggest shift between Hair then and now. If there was a draft, I think you would see many more parents and kids being much more aggressively involved with things than they are now. Sure, they're being socially involved, but it's not on the same aggressive level; I mean they're not going up to soldiers and sticking flowers in their guns. They're doing it in a different way, we're in a different period.
MR: But your cast seems thoroughly versed in the issues, and just how important that period was for this country.
RW: Yeah, the exciting thing for me was that it ended up not just being me. When we got together as this group--and I had this whole group of really wildly talented 20-year-olds for the most part--we started educating them. I showed them DVDs, I brought them things to look at. We talked about things. They all had a rough understanding of the Vietnam war, of civil rights. But they were shocked to find out that the Kennedys had to send a federal marshal and push George Wallace out physically from in front of a college to allow two African American students to go in...that the federal government pushed the head of a state out of the way.
MR: It seems that during that era, people held tightly to their ideals a lot easier when the life and death scenario was happening to them and their friends--Vietnam, Kent State, etc. All the superfluous junk and superficial distractions go away, and important values rise to the surface out of necessity. I think you're right on, if there were a draft during the Bush years, you would have seen a totally different reaction to what went on.
RW: When I was interviewing people in Mississippi for a documentary--and this was five years ago--it was about civil rights. Almost, totally, the white people said that there were no racial issues any longer in Mississippi and the Klu Klux Klan was gone. And the black people said there many unresolved racial issues and the Klu Klux Klan are just wearing white shirts and ties. I think what we helped these 20-year-olds come to realize that Hair brought up a level of attention on all these issues, and I think that they would tell you we moved in some ways forward, but almost none of the issues are gone. It's as reasonable a fear and a concern today as it was back then.
MR: You kept the nude scene, of course, since the musical is in itself a symbol of rebellion. It's interesting that such a counter-culture piece--complete with great big rock numbers--became a huge Broadway musical, equally entertaining both young people and the establishment.
RW: People thought rock and roll was the devil's music. In the sixties, at a time when the whole hippie thing was going on, it was one of the first times that people would use whatever they needed to open their brain. Music became tied tighter to the culture in a certain way, different than it ever had. Before then, music was about dancing and having this energetic thing.
Certainly, there was this protest music that was specifically engaged issues, and the culture was letting music take a place it had never been before that wasn't necessarily about dancing or whatever. It was opening your brain, however you wanted to do it.
MR: And the music of America's youth was a polar opposite of its parents.
RW: I don't think we have the same issues with the generation gap now that we did then. I mean, truly, truly the thought was that anybody that was over thirty couldn't be trusted. What was that? There was Wild In The Street, where basically they were getting rid of everybody that was over thirty. The president turned from 31 to 32 during the time of the movie. Nobody could trust him.
That's certainly reflected in the "establishment" roles in Hair, whether or not it's principals or parents or whatever. They just don't get it. They're just disconnected from what these kids are all about.
MR: These days, kids are listening to their parents' Led Zeppelin records.
RW: I think that while certainly there's some of that that's still going on today, I don't feel that it's completely broken in the way that it was. Hair-era's kids thought nobody got 'em.
MR: Still, there were some "older" folks who were well-respected.
RW: There were certain iconic people that cut through all that. Many adored Bobby Kennedy. Martin Luther King, I think. But, in general, the establishment was made up of people who ran businesses, it was your parents. There was a lot of press and a lot of focus put on what was termed "the generation gap." I think now, certainly, there are younger people that think there are adults that don't get them. But I don't think it's as crystallized as it was then, where literally it was us-ems and them-ems and I don't see that now.
MR: Your cast is from all over the country.
RW: Memphis, Rhode Island, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Chicago, Florida, Los Angeles, New York, a couple of people from New York. Yeah, it's pretty all over.
MR: And local.
RW: There's a local contingent, what I call local-regional, which means that they're local enough to drive in or are from Fairfield proper.
MR: So it looks like Hair has become a phenomenon in the area, hugely talked about in many spots in the Midwest. How do you contain something like that once it takes on a life of its own?
RW: Well, you know, I do a lot of musical theater that is just for fun. I think that's important to keep in the mix of what you do. For instance, when we do Annie, it's just a really fun piece, that's a family piece. Everyone knows kind of what they're going to see when they come in. Hopefully, you meet or exceed that expectation, but you haven't taught them much. It's just a fun piece. We're also doing Big River that has things that it's going to say about racism. South Pacific was way ahead of its time, we're doing that too.
MR: Wasn't there something controversial about South Pacific at the time?
RW: Actually, people don't necessarily know this, but the only Pulitzer prize Rodgers and Hammerstein won was for South Pacific. It wasn't for Oklahoma, or The King and I or anything else. It was because it dealt with racism. That song "You've Got To Be Carefully Taught" that's in the show? Well, the producers and Rodgers and Hammerstein had money in the show, but there were other producers too who asked them to cut that number before they opened on Broadway. Both Rodgers and Hammerstein said we'll close the show before we'll cut that one song, and that was the one that was on the nose about racism. So I think that musical theater can teach certain things.
MR: In the development of Hair, what was your interaction with choreographer Adam Cates like?
RW: I think Adam and I spent, oh, about four months before we started with me making lists of about characters--what characters said and what were major themes that ran throughout. We had to create from scratch. I'm really happy with how that's come together. We came in with a plan, and then as we began working with the tribe, they became so connected to the material that it truly was collaborative.
MR: Again, allowing your actors to contribute to the final vision.
RW: Yes. For example, I had this idea that I was very tied to for the end of the show being an iconic image which involved a cross. But the cast asked, "Is this all about Jesus?" and I said, "No it's martyrdom, it's about somebody who's kind of a semi-prophet who becomes martyred more than that it's about the fact that we're martyring our children in a war."
We talked as a cast and they finally said, "Well it would work better if you took the iconic image of the cross, put Claude on it, and drape an American flag on him because then it's more clear he's being martyred for the country." I said, "Oh my goodness, I wish I would have thought of that."
MR: To me, with that ending, it certainly opens the door to interpretation.
RW: When that moment hits, it does blend different images, so it's not just one. That's about the best thing you can do in a show, have everybody involved and contributing. Even the band is coming in each night, working little new things they want to add, and by the way, that the band is really hot. Everybody loves the band in this.
MR: You've used the older actors in the show very differently than the original. How did that come about?
RW: They had a listing in the script that said "oldsters." I didn't know what that meant, although I knew that it meant older people. So, I wondered why these "oldsters" were singing in the beginning of Act Two. It turns out that where I was using older "sages" to do the establishment dialogue, they originally had people jumping in and out of the cast to do that rather than having a set of "older" people. That's certainly very viable, but I decided it would be nicer to have an older group of people. Claude's spirit was always a spirit because Claude was dead, but the other older characters were originally the young characters grown up. It was about their remembrances of what had happened, and then as we began working that out, eventually, it evolved into them being "sages" and then being dead.
MR: Your reworked Spiritual Claude character now seems to be observing his old life and, at the same time, helping young Claude get through what's going to occur.
RW: The funny thing is that I'd love to think that people are taking away as much as they can of that, but many people at least get enough of it that it's an exciting, creative, mystical component to them and they really like it.
MR: Yeah, you could read whatever you want into it. I imagine you and everyone in your incredible cast will be having one helluva postpartum depression because this Hair is so personal and emotional.
RW: It will be very hard. I enjoy every musical that I do, and of course, at the end, I'm gearing up for whatever is the next musical. Still, every time I watch it, I'm bawling like a baby at the end of this musical. See, as a father, when our son Willie had his First Communion, he was so serious, so connected. I was that father that couldn't take pictures because I was crying over my son being so connected spiritually to what he was doing. I watch this show and it's not just about the emotional moments. These kids are so good, they're so fearless. Anything we ask them to do, they're 140% there, not just100%. When they have their moments that aren't necessarily emotional moments, they're so good, they're so spot-on that you would think I was their parent and there I am bawling away.
Because I'm in the audience, though I'm supposed to be a professional theater director, I'm so heartened by this and I'm just so proud of them that I react as if I was more than a mentor and more of a relative. That's special.
MR: Your cast thoroughly loves you, including a certain anonymous person whose life you apparently changed.
RW: There's a connection with certain people. Every single one of the people in this cast has said, "I will come back. I will come back anytime. If I wasn't booked now, I would just stay." It's that kind of word of mouth that allows us to get this kind of talent. I won't say who, but there was one cast member who had never done a musical before in his life. He sang professionally and he'd done a lot of clubs and some recording, but he had a sound and a look that I wanted.
When they were doing Hair in New York, they would go out in the parks and find people who looked like hippies and ask them if they could sing and they were going off the vibe of the person almost as much as they were going off of whether or not the person had a good resume or a good head shot. So, I decided we should not ignore that. Here we are in this professional theater company that has people that have been working hard for years to build skills and become competitive in a very competitive business, and I think that this "newbie" talent brings a certain energy to this show that we wouldn't have if we didn't have him. I think the show also goes for that kind of rawness that works.
MR: What's the future for WOB?
RW: Well, we're doing our summer intern program again which is the basis of our education program. We have about eighty, ninety college kids from all over the United States that are applying to spend the summer here. We're going to take about thirty total. We put them up, and there are two statuses: The really, really, really good ones we actually pay and put up and get them food from Everybody's Whole Food Market, and the other ones we don't pay, but we do give them an Everybody's card and housing. Three of the interns that were special status--which means unpaid last year--have reapplied, and they are paid interns this year because they got so good last summer that I'm happy to hire them this summer. It gives them a chance, if they're still building skills, to come in and learn and reapply in the future. The summer intern program is actually only in its third summer, and there's huge word of mouth all over the United States resulting in college kids wanting to come here. We couldn't be more excited about that. You have to invest in talent to be a professional theater company.
A Conversation With Choreographer Adam Cates
MR: Adam, what is your theatrical history?
Adam Cates: This year, I celebrate my 25th anniversary in dance, the art form that has come to shape my life and drive my passion. After earning a degree in theater from the University of Utah, I lived in NYC, a city that inspires me to no end, and have been dancing professionally for 15 years.
I began my training in the field of choreography by serving as dance captain on many productions, and assisting some incredible and absolutely genius artists including Patti Colombo, Peggy Hickey, and the legendary Tommy Tune. I'm so inspired and thankful for their sheer generosity with me. I met Randy West when WOB's NY casting director, Michael Cassera, introduced me as a potential choreographer for WOB's premiere production of A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum starring Richard Kind in 2008. Randy and I saw eye-to-eye immediately.
Hair is the seventh show I have choreographed for WOB. Randy is, by far, one of the most generous and collaborative directors I could have ever hoped to meet. He has provided me a safe and nurturing place to grow as an artist. I don't know many young choreographers who are given opportunities like this. I am truly blessed to be a part of WOB as an emerging Midwest theater, and to have Randy in my life.
MR: What's your history with Hair?
AC: I had this score memorized by age 11. I remember singing all the lyrics to the song "Sodomy" while riding in the car with my dad one day. He turned to me and asked what the song was. I said, "Its from Hair." He asked if I knew what the words (which include fellatio, cunnilingus, and other colorful phrases) meant. I said, "No, I just like this song." "Ok...I guess you can sing it then, but please just not in public." Even though I clearly did not understand the show, from a child's perspective, I knew that this music spoke to my soul. When I saw the movie as a young teenager, I immediately became enthralled with Twyla Tharp's organic choreography. She even had police horses dancing in Central Park during "Aquarius." Seriously??? Amazing! This is my first time working on a production of Hair, but I have been waiting patiently for the last 22 years! I guess I've had plenty of prep time...
MR: What was it like working with your cast?
AC: I walked into my first rehearsal seeing several faces of people I had worked with previously and many faces I was meeting for the first time. With only two weeks of rehearsal, I had to get to know their strengths quickly. I knew I wanted to find the show "with" the cast. I had many road maps/mile markers planned, but no pavement. Randy and I both were determined that we were all going to build this road together. For Hair to work, the Tribe must have ownership over the performance. They must be free to explore, improvise, and choose what they want to do every night.
As a choreographer with usually very specific visions and the organization of a Virgo rising sign (but the passion of a true Scorpio), this was more than a little scary! As an artist and a control freak, I like to have a lot of control over the final product. With the tribe, my first choreography class became a dance class in improvisation--every person in the tribe (dancers and non dancers alike) had to participate. What I discovered is a group of people beyond ego who attempted every exercise with passion, freedom, and openness. They went for it. They trusted me. From that day on, I trusted them too.
There was never a day I haven't trusted them. I respect them so much and feel that they mutually respect me. As a choreographer, I have never let my guard down as much as I have with this cast. They know more about me than some members of my own family! I feel bonded to each and every person. This experience absolutely changed me as an artist. I have always approached new casts with kindness and patience; I don't know that I have ever been able to approach a room full of performers I barely knew with so much LOVE. The results that I see in my work (our work!) on stage have been overwhelming.
This cast truly owns the material. They care about every moment. They live in the moment every time. They made me laugh at new things with each run and made me cry at the end every time. I am moved, proud, inspired and entertained with each performance as is the audience. I have heard from others in the business that working on a production of Hair can be life changing. I never realized the depths to which that would be true. I look forward to taking what I learned and applying it to my life and work. And I want to work with every one of these fabulous human beings as often as I possibly can! I'm already back in NYC sitting in a tech rehearsal for something else and I can't help but think about my tribe and miss them.
MR: And from what I understand, they miss you very much too. So, what does Hair mean to you?
AC: If you think that the problems confronted in the 1960s have gone away and that everything is just fine and perfect now, I hate to have to inform you, but you are delusional and an idiot. An epiphany happened in the U.S. during the '60s movements, but an entire generation forgot to answer the call they discovered. Was that harsh? Of course, there are the exceptions, but as a child born in the '70s, I was still raised in a country riddled with blatant racism, homophobia, fear, and pollution that continues to send our young men and women off to be killed for causes not fully explained (or with false explanations--weapons of mass destruction much?).
Hair confronted all of these issues forty years ago. And yet watching this show is like looking in a mirror. Don't get me wrong, I love the USA. I love this country. I feel such pride in the accomplishments we have made. I am able to make my living as an artist because I was born here! That is a gift. But we can do better. We can ALWAYS do better. We MUST do better. We owe it to our children and our neighbors' children to leave behind a better world than we inherited.
A Conversation With Actor Ryan Gaffney (Hair's "Claude")
MR: Ryan, what's your background in musical theater? What were your favorite roles?
Ryan Gaffney: I'd always had more of a background in music in general than in theater. As a child, my parents supported my love of music early on, and my first public performance was at the age of three singing "Kumbaya."
My foray into the theater world was a direct result of my search for my opportunities to sing for an audience. Beginning with community theater productions in my youth and continuing with high school musicals, I developed a strong connection to the art form that even I didn't fully recognize immediately. Upon graduating from high school, I meandered through college as a vocal performance major, and didn't reconnect with theater until after I had quit my formal schooling in music.
Since then, I've been on quite a ride traveling around the country, performing in shows, working and learning with some of the most talented people I've been privileged to meet. Some of my favorite roles have been Lefou (Beauty And The Beast), which was my first role after school and cemented my love for the stage; Man 3 (Happy Hour) for the opportunity to work with the show's creator, George Furth. And finally, Claude (Hair) which has been one of the most demanding and fulfilling performance experiences of my short career.
MR: You're pretty much the centerpiece of Hair, and you pull it off with such authority. But with a cast this fantastic, it's really not fair to single out one talent over another. What was it like working with them, Randy, and Adam?
RG: From Day One, I was impressed with the vocal talent of this cast. I've been blessed with the opportunity to work with a lot of amazing people, but this cast from A-Z is by far the most gifted group of singers I've worked with. More impressive, though, than the collected talent of the tribe is the level to which every last one of us gets along. It's difficult to put over 20 people in a room and expect them to like each other as much as we do. And we like everyone so much that we choose to spend what little free time we have with each other for the most part. It's truly the most united cast I've ever seen.
I've known Randy since he guest-directed and choreographed a show I was a part of with the Old Creamery Theatre Company. Randy is as warm and generous person to work for as you can find. And it's easy to find a comfort zone of sorts with him as a director. He cares deeply about theater as an art form, and makes decisions that he believes will better the show regardless of others' opinions.
Adam is almost as much of a director as he is choreographer. His technical ability as a dancer and choreographer shine brilliantly when he has the best of dancers to work with, but it's what he does with the "movers" of the musical theater world that truly makes him wonderful. He's got an amazing ability to choreograph in such a way that the non-dancers can keep up, but the dance element of the show never lacks. One of the most impressive moments I've seen in my extensive work with Adam is when he came into rehearsals for "Joseph..." with character study information for each and every one of the brothers that make up the core of the dancers. It's never enough for Adam to have a technically proficient show, he demands that every move is motivated by the story as it relates to each and every dancer on stage. This is a philosophy shared by Randy, and one of the reasons I think they work so spectacularly together.
MR: What does Hair mean to you?
RG: To me, Hair is a celebratory wake-up call for the masses. Though written well before most of the tribe was born, I believe, without a doubt, that it hits a very real and current nerve for all of us. There is a general understanding among my generation of the social/political landscape of the late '60s and early '70s, but I think the show's impact for our cast was felt more through the realization that most, if not all, of the issues brought to light in the show are still worthy of our attention. There is the obvious parallel of being involved in an unpopular war with strong and valid opinions on both sides of the issue. Even beyond that, though, the themes of civil rights, womens' rights, sexual freedom, and ecology are present in today's society to such an extent that it's easy for us to feel the longing within these "hippies" to change the world in so many ways for the better.
A Conversation With Actor Darcie Champagne (Hair's "Sheila")
MR: Darcie, what's your background in musical theater?
Darcie Champagne: I earned a BFA in Musical Theater from Emerson College in Boston, and a MFA in acting from the Actors Studio Drama School in New York. I grew up dancing, and had a friend ask me to audition with her for a local Equity show as a kid. We were both cast as children in Jesus Christ Superstar, so I sort of stumbled into music theater, but immediately fell in love with performing in this new way on stage. I now mostly find myself on stage in non-musical plays, but have so enjoyed coming back to this genre for Hair.
MR: As Sheila, you bring a lot of emotional depth to your character. You can really tell that you're dedicated to straight-up theater. So, what was it like working with the cast, Randy, and Adam?
DC: Everyone involved in this project has been incredibly supportive, and it is such a pleasure to work in their company. I had worked with Adam Cates previously, and that's how I heard about the play. I would work with Adam any day of the week; it's rare to find someone who is so good at what they do and care so much, and that is Adam. He is a true inspiration. Randy and everyone at WOB are so dedicated and are really doing something important by bringing this caliber of professional theater to Iowa.
MR: What does Hair mean to you?
"Let The Sun Shine In"--it was a way to say "wake up" back in the time of Hair's inception. Hair was a way to say what was wrong in our society during the time of a very controversial war, and though the war we find ourselves in as Americans now may be a bit different, the situation is similar. Hair is a play about freedom and love, it is liberating, and it is an experience, yes, but it was a movement. It has that kind of power, to be a movement.
This play is not just a bunch of hippies with a purpose frozen in time. It is about the youth of America speaking out against a war, racial injustice, sexual repression, and trying to deconstruct labels. In that, Hair is still incredibly relevant and needed, there is a real place for enlightenment and "waking up." The human condition is always relevant, peace and the striving for peace will always be relevant. There is a lot in the narrative of the show that was relevant then, but is still relevant now, if not more so. It was a lot more difficult to produce then--the nudity, the content, the alleged desecration of the flag, the threats on the writers, actors, and even the fire that killed four of the cast's family members on the first tour--these are not the challenges of today, but this is how intense the content is. It is life or death; it is the human condition.
Now it is our turn to get it right. That first generation paved a lot of the way, but we have further to go, and, hopefully, Obama is right, yes we can, that is what Hair is about. It is about the big change that is possible, and, hopefully, we can continue that work and make it even more possible. Let the sun shine in.
A Conversation With Actor Evan Martin (Hair's "Berger")
MR: Evan, what's your background in musical theater?
Evan Martin: I actually grew up doing one form of musical theater or another, from school plays to musicals at my church. It wasn't until High School that I really found a love and passion for this work, though. I went on to Ashland University and earned a Bachelor's Degree in Theater and Vocal Performance, and a mere two months after graduation I moved to New York to pursue my career! My favorite roles thus far have been Flick in Violet, The Leading Player in Pippin, and Berger in Hair!
MR: Watching your "Berger" can be exhausting, you add so much energy to the role. What was it like working with the cast, Randy, and Adam?
EM: The "Tribe" of this show is everything that I could have hoped for and more. It is not often that an actor is blessed to work with so many people that you click with as much as all of us have clicked during this production. Working on Hair has been a collaborative effort on all parts, and each and every person has been supportive which makes this process a dream! This is not my first time working with both Randy and Adam, but it has, by far, been my favorite experience under their direction. As I mentioned before, this is such a collaboration that it was wonderful to have a chance to create this piece of theater WITH them. I think it was a growing experience for us all!
MR: What does Hair mean to you?
EM: It is not often that an actor gets to do a show that affects them personally, professionally, and is able to move an audience at the very same time. So many of the issues that affected the youth of the 1960s have not been addressed properly or at all. We HAVE to do something! We HAVE to say something! And this is such a beautiful opportunity for me as an actor, a young African-American male, and person to come face-to-face with my emotions regarding these issues, and to share my passion for change! My favorite--and in my opinion one of the most beautiful parts of the show--is when the Tribe rushes to the front of the stage and implores the audience as both their characters and themselves to "Let The Sun Shine In..." Equality is not an option! Peace is possible! I truly believe those things and so does this show and the amazing Tribe and production staff I get to work with.
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