Much more than flower crowns, bell-bottom jeans, and tie-dye, Hart House Theatre presents Hair, a story set in the 60’s about advocating for individual freedom, questioning governmental authority, and spreading love. Directed and choreographed by Julie Tomaino, the rock musical celebrates its 50th anniversary during a time of both similar and newfound social unrest. The Medium sat down with actors Marisa Dashney, Christian Hodge, and Andrew Perry to discuss the recurring relevance of the counterculture movement and what we can learn from it.
Hair chronicles a tribe of freedom-loving hippies who are confronted by the realities of an oppressive government when one of their own, Claude, is drafted into the Vietnam War. The central plot follows his struggle between persisting with the revolution by protesting the war or abiding the law and pleasing his parents by enlisting. “The most terrifying thing for our cast to acknowledge was the pain that comes with losing people you love to something you don’t believe in and something you’re fighting against,” Dashney says. Perry continues, “especially the way the show is set up, the tribe is almost like one character—it’s like losing a limb. I play Berger. There’s not really a leader but if there were to be a leader or poster boy of the groovy revolution, it would probably be him. He’s totally against everything that’s going on in Vietnam, and he encourages all the men, including Claude, to dodge the draft and continue living the protest life in New York.”
The title of the show and iconic motif of the 60’s is clarified in the opening act via a musical number. Dashney explains, “Everyone’s just talking about how big their hair is and why hippies love their hair so much. We’ve discovered that they just wanted to get to the root of human nature and our humanity. And that is in our hair.”
A significant theme of the musical is resistance to authority, which relates in more ways than one to our political landscape today. Skepticism and civil disobedience operate as pillars of our democracy, and their importance is clearly demonstrated in Hair. “I strongly believe that any time period in history has always had an undercurrent of revolutionary radical movements. I think that because of social media, we’ve been able to share it more and understand its prevalence, whereas back then, you could easily ignore it. Now, it’s becoming more mainstream to be skeptical,” Dashney says. “It’s not hard to really jump in and understand what these people care about and why because we care about the exact same things right now. And so I don’t feel there’s a huge difference between me and my character—I really support everything she believes in. There’s no real disconnect because theatre and artists should be the ones to fight for humanity.”
Although none of the cast lived through the 60’s and the Vietnam war, they’re each pulling from personal experience and research to portray these rebellious characters and serious topics. Hodge turned to his parents for insight on what it must be like to realize a loved one is leaving for war. He says, “I have one family member who did go to Vietnam and we know nothing about it because he will never talk about what he saw over there. That’s what I learned, really nothing and everything,” which truly spoke volumes. In regard to discerning the counterculture and wartime, Perry shared many “conversations with my parents—they were both huge hippies. And what I’ve seen in pop culture and cinema, that was my only knowledge of the Vietnam War until this show. The beautiful part of theatre is it totally immerses the actors in that world. It’s been a journey learning about how much we the people didn’t know what was actually going on and how many lives were taken so unnecessarily.”
After rehearsing for months and pushing themselves to embodying characters of a different decade, the actors agree that the show has revitalized their conception of just how much the world needs love. Dashney says, “Sheila demands a lot of confidence and is teaching me a lot about liberation and taking ownership, and demanding love and respect.”
Hair runs at Hart House Theatre from January 18 to February 2.