The 50th anniversary of “Hair” brings hippies, tie-dye, and political protest to Winthrop

In 1967, the summer of love and the hippie cultural movement captivated the United States, and 50 years later the impact of these cultural dropouts can still be seen in television, fashion, music, and theater.

One remnant of the 1960’s is the musical “Hair”, first performed in October of 1967, which offers a snapshot of the lives of a “tribe” of hippies as they navigate drug culture, the Vietnam war, and their own personal relationships.

“Hair” was brought to life at Winthrop by director Stephen Gundersheim who wanted the musical to be as thought provoking as it was fun.

Gundersheim explicitly stated his desire to move beyond mindless entertainment with a director’s note, writing “Today, 50 years later, I am excited to have invited Winthrop’s young actors of today to embody these roles, given their personal life experiences, their backgrounds, and the current political climate. These young people brought their sensibility, their passion for what matters most to them and life experiences that include such tragic knowledge of 9/11, Columbine, Virginia Tech, The Charlottesville Virginia event, and such horrors as this week’s’ murders in Las Vegas. Our purpose is to make us all think, like the first version did – to make us stop and evaluate what we believe, what we stand for and what actions we will take, and what we are willing to support or do to make change happen.” 

The musical posed an unspoken question to the audience: how far have we come in the last 50 years? Many of the characters in the production face issues that still affect the youth of today; the question of duty to country versus self preservation, identity, love, sexuality, and insecurities about the future. The musical is powerful in its implied parallels, but Gundersheim made the comparison stronger though his use of space design and props.

The sides of Johnson Theatre were decorated in protest signs reading “Black Lives Matter,” “Peace Now,” “Love is Love,” and “Make Love Not War.” This combination of protest slogans from the 1960’s and from the 2010’s very plainly asked the audience to consider the progress made and why activists are still fighting the same fights five decades later.

Freshman Erin Creed enjoyed the production, saying “it was preformed very well and you could tell that the actors were very much in character. It was funny, yet still serious, and you could understand the underlying political themes. They did particularly well showing the effects of the drafting done during the Vietnam war, without it being right in your face. It would be

something that I would go see again if given the chance.”

Gundersheim also slightly altered the opening of the production by adding in two characters walking on stage with two lit tiki torches. This powerful visual message, placed just before the burning of draft cards and possibly the most famous song of the musical, “Age of Aquarius”, directly responds to the recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Psychology major Erin Streetman commented, “I thought Hair was great! The actors took a complicated musical and performed it in a way that allowed viewers to understand the underlying themes and still clearly grasp the social commentary that is ever-present. The performances were amazing: the singing, the coordination between dancers, and the passion that so clearly showed in what they were doing. The societal opinions were clear and made strong statements about race relations, love, war, etc. and the problems and stereotypes that society faces with each.”

Brittany Winans, a member of the cast, said that “Hair” was a thrilling show to be a part of.

“Although there are some differences like our new legalization of gay marriage and a lack of Vietnam War, there are many similarities in America’s social climate today,” Winans said, “the message of promoting peace and love is a great take away from the show and saying it in today’s society seems more important than ever”.

The next performance produced by the Department of Theatre and Dance will be “Steel Magnolias”, which runs Wednesday, Nov. 1 through Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017 at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 5 at 2:00 p.m.

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