Diane Paulus and the hippies from HAIR

by Simon de Carvalho '14

Far from being merely a silly musical about a bunch of hippies, Hair has a message, and figuring out this message precisely is crucial to our production of Hair, which goes up April 26-29 in the Loeb Ex (directed by Katherine Price ’14, and produced by David Manella ’14 and me).

Our team was lucky enough to have a private discussion session last month with Diane Paulus, artistic director of American Repertory Theater and director of the Tony Award winning 2009 Broadway revival of Hair. During the talk, Paulus spoke about her experience directing Hair, the lessons it taught her and about figuring out just exactly what it is that "matters."

We came into the meeting with a variety of perspectives: Some of us had never seen a production of Hair, some had, and one had seen it 11 times. Some were our cast members and others were production team members. The common thread was clear, however: All of us wanted to learn as much as possible about the show that will be, to varying degrees, our lives for the remainder of this semester.

And Paulus was more than willing to teach us.

She told us stories about the certain—shall we say—bonding activities her cast partook in to get into the mindset of the hippies ofHair. She explained all she knew about the actors in the original show—how many of them lived in real life the struggles portrayed in the show. And we discussed some of the lyrical abstractions of the show, with Paulus excitedly pointing out references to period brands of detergent (Rinso), counterculture heroes (Timothy Leary), and oft-repeated catchphrases ("turn on, tune in, drop out") that find themselves inserted into the lyrics of Hair.

All of these details are vitally important, she said, because "through the specific we reach the universal."

It is our dream, I think, for this show to have some sort of bigger, universal message. As Paulus repeatedly pointed out, Hair is not merely a period piece—its lasting beauty is in its details, its people. One of the most poignant images she left us with was the importance in the hippie culture of eye contact. You could tell a hippie by looking him in the eye. You could feel the shared struggle.

And it was an immense struggle. The hippies, Paulus said, adored the American flag. They hung it, they wore it, they idolized it. The opposition of the war in Vietnam was thus an opposition that came at the cost of being viewed as "unpatriotic" even though they loved their country unconditionally.

It is important to do justice to the magnitude of this struggle because it is this struggle that truly matters in Hair.

"How do you make this real?" Paulus asked us near the end of the discussion.

Her advice was simple but seemed dead on. Hair is a show about people who gave all of themselves to a movement in which they truly believed. So we must pay respect by similarly immersing ourselves. "The more you bring your whole self to this show," Paulus said, "the more real it will be."

And if we make it real, then we’ll truly be talking about what matters.

[Caption: Diane Paulus PHOTO: Jacob Belcher/APAP]