Guest Blog: Director Jonathan O'Boyle On HAIR At The Vaults
The values and anxieties of the characters in Hair still resonate 50 years after the original production opened Off-Broadway in 1967. Women's equality, LGBTQ rights, ethnic diversity, Black Lives Matter, environmental issues, and perhaps one of the biggest issues that once again is pressing down on us: the threat of nuclear war and the striving for global peace.
It makes me feel sad that all the issues people were shouting about back in the Summer of Love are still unresolved, and remain part of our social DNA.
Hair is still part of our social conscience. It defined the modern rock musical and influenced countless composers throughout the Seventies and Eighties. Yet the musical feels as fresh and as relevant as I'm sure it did back in the Sixties.
One of the many challenges when approaching mounting a new production of an iconic show is originality. Our creative team spent many hours looking at how our version could breathe life into a show that has been staged hundreds, if not thousands of times around the world.
We decided to strip the show back, and immerse the audience in the experience - making the audience become part of the tribe. The audience would be on three sides and would very much feel as if they were on stage with the actors.
Having started life at the Hope Mill Theatre in Manchester, we very much responded to the challenges of staging the show with the audience on three sides, a cast of 14 and a reduced band of five players. We had to get creative and imaginative.
The one element we always came back to was the music. There are over 40 songs in Hair, many now famous having been recorded by various artists over the past five decades, and every song has a clear meaning and place in the show. The music transcends time and rarely fails to move and insight the audience.
Working on the show, it felt to me like this was a parable for the State of a Nation - not just America, but many others too, including the UK. The main theme being: how we treat and respect each other.
The designer, Maeve Black, and I wanted to create a space where the characters could come alive, feel free to explore, as well as creating an exciting, textured world for the audience. We had to bring the outside inside.
We looked at the great festivals of the Summer of Love, the iconic protests of the Sixties, hippies in parks and towns across America, and we came up with what felt like the perfect balance between an outdoor space recreated inside a theatre. A mini festival if you like.
Hair is a marathon for any performer, not least having to sing the material - akin to a two-hour rock concert in its length and breadth. In our production, the actors never leave the stage for the duration of the show and the audience are fully immersed in that experience.
Our actors have had to build stamina, not only vocally but with their concentration. It's also an emotional rollercoaster for the cast who perform in most of the show and experience every emotion under the sun.
I hope we've managed to encapsulate the essence of the show and reinvented it for a new audience. I'm always amazed at the ability of music written 50 years ago having the ability to move. The music in Hair does just that, its message still loud and clear in 2017.
Photo credit: Claire Bilyard