An interview with HAIR director Cameron Menzies, who hopes that the audience will be re-awakened
Earlier this week, I had the delightful opportunity to ask Cameron Mckenzie, the director of HAIR, which is currently touring Australia and will land in the Gold Coast today, a few questions about his direction and interpretation of the work.
INTERVIEWER: When Hair first made its debut, it was deemed as revolutionary and unlike anyone had ever seen in theatre. Numerous individuals even went as far as saying that they felt it was an 'awakening', that it allowed them an awakening to not only the hippie subculture and the world around them. Would you, as the director, agree with this statement? How do you think your production offers an 'awakening'?
CAMERON: I would definitely agree with this statement. I think our production offers an awakening on a number of levels and in part sometimes a re-awakening. For audiences who are coming to Hair for the first time and know that they are looking at a piece that is now 50 years old, they will become aware of far we still have to go in order to make real change and will discover how relevant and contemporary some of the lyrics (sadly) still are. For those coming back to Hair either having seen previous productions or just loving the piece will be awakened to the real potency of the piece. There is a lot of "love in be in" moments in Hair but these are very cleverly juxtaposed with very cutting and confronting moments and this I believe in our production serves to jolt us into thinking. I have purposely presented blank placards in the protest moments to ask the audience to write their own... it almost doesn't matter what you are fighting for... but stand up and be counted, awaken your passion and start to actively participate.
INTERVIEWER: Heralded as quite a controversial musical, as in my opinion most of the best musicals are, did you have any fears or concerns in bringing it to the stage in Australia, where we are typically quite reserved and censored by the media?
CAMERON: Going into my research before starting preparations to rehearse Hair, I had hoped that it was still controversial and as relevant as I thought it was and that it hadn't slipped into being a museum piece. Happily and sadly, I discovered that the controversy inside and around Hair, while different from 1969 is still very real and present. Presenting this work in 2019 has required some refocusing of the piece, but in the process of creating this new production, I can't say I was fearful of bringing it to the stage. It was actually more of an honour and responsibility to those shoulders we stand on in making sure we ignited this piece in the right way and to confront that reserved status quo.
INTERVIEWER: How do you think the musical reflects on the hippie subculture today? Are there elements and references you've added into the work that resonate more to the contemporary audience? And if not, why?
CAMERON: It was interesting looking into the hippie subculture and what it looks like from a 2019 perspective. I have set this production very much in 1967, as I believe that specific time is important to the youth that we find on stage. They are just post WWII and the war still very present in the minds of these youth's parents, the "cleanliness" of the 1950's has happened and this generation is looking for answers and for some kind of sense Even though the fact might be different, in 2019 I think that a lot of generations are looking for some kind of compassion and common sense. Which is not so dissimilar to the tribe we find on stage.. The hippie subculture has also been commercialised, romanticised and become a fancy dress party theme... so going back to its origins and looking at its roots was very important for me to find how a more pure form and authentic presentation could be made. I do feel the need for the younger generations to break away from what the previous generation has done is universal, so that resonates across the decades.
INTERVIEWER: You have quite a star-studded cast with Paulini and Hugh Sheridan, what was it like working with such big names in the Australian performing arts industry?
CAMERON: It's been such a joy working with the entire tribe on Hair. Working with stars such as Hugh, Paulini and Prinnie Stevens has been a total joy. They, like the rest of the tribe, bring every part of themselves to these roles and have made this process a wonderful experience. In fact, during the rehearsal process Prinnie and I worked out that we went to the same High School a couple of years apart and that our mothers and siblings also know each other... It's been great to connect with them and work with them as the director of this new production.
INTERVIEWER: Whenever I see a piece of theatre, I like to be entertained but I also like to leave the theatre with the show still replaying in my head; dissecting what I've seen and what it may have taught me about the world around me. Would you define your production of Hair as thought provoking and entertaining? Or is it one or the other?
CAMERON: There is a wonderful quote which I was given by my teacher and mentor Hayes Gordon that goes something like... (I paraphrase a little)
'When the audience walks into the theatre, you want to send them out a little more civilised than when they came in.'
I like this idea very much as it does allow you to entertain and also to provoke. I believe that both are possible and hope that I have achieved this with my production of Hair. Seeing and hearing the audience reactions to the production with lots of laughter, audible sobbing and gasps of shock and horror as well fills me with hope that I have at least come close