February 25, 2020
Crawling bodies. Hallucinogenic fantasies. The “n” word being sung to a stop-clap-spiritual. All were elements that grabbed attention at the Feb. 14 rehearsal of “Hair,” a cumulative production from students in a UCCS theater class.
“Hair,” not to be confused with “Hairspray,” centers around a Bohemian community in the East Village of New York City resisting the draft during the early years of the Vietnam War.
The plot centers on a young man wrestling with the decision to burn his draft card or not.
“The rest of the two hours are beautiful poetry,” said Kevin Landis, the director of “Hair” and director of the theatre and dance program at UCCS. Poetry about drug use, racial inequality, the sexual revolution, political oppression and the ever-mysterious Age of Aquarius. The story is based on real events the two writers, Gerome Ragni and James Rado, experienced during the ‘60s.
“Hair” is a part of history and does more than showcase it.
“It was the first major rock musical created,” said Landis. “Three of the songs were literally chart-topping hits on the radio in the ‘60s and ‘70s. That doesn’t happen anymore. We don’t appreciate how much of a cultural titled shift this piece of art was.”
Landis’ motivation for choosing “Hair” had less to do with portraying the past and more to do with invoking the present.
“They’re taking a stand against something that they think is wrong, through love and compassion,” said Landis. “Whatever your political stripes are, we’re living in a time that is fairly fraught and fairly anxious and — I fear — filled with cynicism that verges on hatred.”
Landis said that we need to think about love and compassion and how we occupy this planet, by showing audiences how young people in this play fight against racial and sexual intolerance.
The UCCS production involves 22 student actors from the “World of the Play” course. “Hair” is the show that serves as a capstone for their year’s work. “Hair” will be the only musical for the next three to four years, and students get free admission.
“[‘Hair’] is wonderful UCCS student talents belting some of the greatest songs ever written for American music,” said Landis. “UCCS students get in for free, so why not go?”
The show is set up in a way to bring the audience into that world. The stage is surrounded by the audience on three sides and actors come onto the stage from the crowd. The play is designed to immerse the audience in the action, an invitation to participate in today’s events and those from the ‘60s.
Landis has a personal connection to “Hair.” His other job is at the Public Theater, which is where “Hair” debuted. Landis does research at the theater. Through his job, Landis has learned the history and nuance of the show.
“I know a lot of ins and outs of the original production and why things happen as they do,” said Landis. Like all set constructions, the set for “Hair” was built at the Cybersecurity building about one mile south of the Ent Center on North Nevada Avenue. This process will change after the show completes when the Ent Center’s new scene shop opens at the end of March.
Whole sets are built in the Cybersecurity building, disassembled, trucked to the Ent Center and then reassembled inside. The new scene shop will make the process all the easier, transporting sets a hundred feet rather than a mile. The building will include a technical theater classroom where students will learn about set design and construction.
“Hair” opens March 12 and runs through March 22. Tickets are purchased through the UCCSPresents website or at the Ent Center’s box office between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.