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Hair Today

Director Diane Paulus discusses the Public's revival of Hair in Central Park, singing "Sodomy" at age nine, and where naked cast members hide their microphones. logo
Diane Paulus
(© Dario Acosta)
"It's like a Be-In love fest every day," says director Diane Paulus about rehearsals for the Public Theater's revival of Hair, which runs July 22- August 31 at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park with a cast led by Jonathan Groff and Will Swenson. Paulus previously directed the beloved rock musical -- featuring book and lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado, with music by Galt MacDermot -- in a concert presentation at the Delacorte last September as sort of a trial run. "It really taught us the power of the show for an audience today," says Paulus, who recently spoke with TheaterMania about the musical, which debuted at the Public way back in 1967.

THEATERMANIA: What was your first exposure to Hair?
DIANE PAULUS: I think, like many in my generation, it was the album. I knew all the songs by heart. I was a nine-year-old kid singing "Sodomy," having no idea what the words meant. And then the movie came out in 1979, and I saw that. But what it was theatrically, and what that experience was in a live theater, I never had. However, I fantasized about what it must have been like after reading the liner notes in the album, and hearing the fabled stories of the actors crawling on the audience seats.

TM: What version of the script are you using?
DP: When the Public called me about the job, they gave me a Xerox of a paperback version of the original Public Theater script. Then someone gave me the Broadway script. And guess what? They're completely different. I've joked with James Rado, one of the book writers, that it's like the many folios of Hair! There are versions out there that were made since it went to Broadway in 1968, and new lines that were added over the years. So what I did was to look at everything, and I've been working really closely with Jim to craft a version of the book for our production. It's kind of like getting back to the essence of it, streamlining the show, and finding the version that tells the story that I think is going to touch our audience today most powerfully.

TM: The script contains representations and references to race that seem very volatile, particularly for contemporary audiences. Can you comment on this aspect?
DP: There's stuff -- especially the song that Hud sings, "Colored Spade," or when the black girls are singing about white boys and the white girls are singing about black boys who "fill me up" -- that we don't like to talk about it in our PC time. But the show is unafraid to go right to the heart of some of these issues and explode them open. What makes it powerful is that the cast has all these voices in it, all these colors. And it's not done in tongue-in-cheek theater style, which is the way I feel sometimes that theater deals with race in non-PC ways. It's much more empowering, I find, and it's clever.

Jonathan Groff and company in Hair
(© Joan Marcus)
TM: Do you have a favorite song from the show?
DP: The song that most moves me is "Walking in Space." 1968 was a year of so much violence for the culture, with all these assassinations, and protests, and trauma that the country went through. But at the end of the year, man was on the moon. And all of that is present in the song, mixed in with what people were thinking of with altered consciousness and LSD, this idea that you could expand your consciousness. "Our eyes are open. Our eyes are open wide. How dare they try to end this beauty?" You're like tripping, but also in touch with this kind of heightened awareness of what's going on in the world and wishing for beauty. That song gets to me. I think it's incredible.

TM: What do you like best about performing outdoors?
DP: Feeling the air, looking up at the sky, and seeing the moon. There are lines in the show saying, "Look at the moon, look at the moon." And the moon is there. And when Sheila sings, "Good Morning Starshine," she sings, "You twinkle above us, we twinkle below." She's talking about the stars. To me, Hair is all about the earth, it's about realness, it's about wanting to get out of the faux thing of theater. So I love the idea that we can actually stand and feel the air and have the wind touching our skins and have that contact with the audience. We're all here in the dark, in the park, coming together to have this event happen between us.

TM: Obviously, the actors have to be amplified during the show. But when they're naked at the end of Act One, where do they hide their microphones?
DP: Oh my goodness. Secret! Secret! (laughs) They have to keep some of the mics on, because if they literally took them off, we would lose the vocal energy at the end of the first act, which is when the famous moment happens. So, they remain on in all sorts of visible and invisible ways. We've been looking at pictures of Be-Ins where people got naked, and they'd be fully naked, but often have a headband on or a bandanna or scarf wrapped around their waist. So there is creative dressing and placement of mic packs.

TM: You're working with some really terrific actors. What qualities were you looking for when you were casting?
DP: People who could open their hearts and convince me that the material meant something to them. It's not about performing it, it's not about illustrating it; it's about connecting to it. I was also looking for a certain kind of energy from the performers. It's tough, because in the theater and especially in certain kinds of Broadway performing, you can get very polished. This is not a criticism of actors; it's what it takes! But something like that can get hard-wired into people, so, I was either looking for people who could shake that, or frankly people who hadn't been hard-wired yet. I wanted people who weren't Broadway performers pretending to be hippies, but just people.

TM: Do you have a favorite moment in the production?
DP: What was so beautiful last year is that we got a whole bunch of alumni from the original cast of Hair to come on the stage at the end of the show, and there was this incredible moment where people could get on the stage and dance. That was a big part of Hair during its time. I thought I would get every possible reason why that was not possible to do this year. But guess what? We'll be doing it! So, the audience will have a chance to dance at the end of the show and join the cast on the stage.

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