HAIR: Thoughts by W. Michael Harris

ISKCON and the Hippies - Favorite HAIR Memories - Understanding HAIR

At age 16, W. Michael Harris became a member of the original Broadway cast. He was one of the singers on "What a Piece of Work is Man" and understudied the role of "Woof." Since then, Michael has worked to stage several HAIR revivals, some in Seattle (where he currently resides). He is the founder of The Pilgrim Center for the Arts. The following stories were originally posted by Michael to the HAIR Mailing List.

ISKCON and the Hippies

"Because the members of ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness, and that's how they spelled it) were very visibly fixtures of the scene in the mid-to-late 1960s. Particularly at large public gatherings like Be-Ins. I lived right across the street from the lower East Side temple, whose members were well known to most of us who spent time on the streets of New York then. Depending on your frame (state) of mind, it was easy to join in their mesmerizing chant or join their joyful dance. Also, they served food, which made them quite a hit at these gatherings! Their sweets were called "Simply Wonderfuls", and their incense filled the air. More than any other group, the ISKCON devotees brought a sense of the Hindu East to the hippies, and were considered spiritual family by all.

I'm sure this is why the authors of HAIR honored them with the Be-In theme."

Favorite HAIR Memories

"A favorite HAIR memory is the time Janis Joplin brought her band, Big Brother and the Holding Company. They sat in the first two rows in front of the stage and we bantered back and forth with them. Afterwards Janis came backstage and held court with us in Gerry Ragni's dressing room. I just remember sitting quietly at her feet, listening to the conversations.

Another favorite memory is from the night before the show opened on Broadway. Steve Curry and Steve Gamet and Shelly Plimpton conspired to evade the night watchman and spend the night in the Biltmore Theater in order to hold a holy vigil. I found out about it at the last minute, and they let me in on their circle of conspiracy. So we hid underneath the stage until all was quiet, and the people with the flashlights had locked up the place. The we danced around like Indians, intoxicated with the success of our deception (and with other various substances probably), and proceeded to light incense, fire up the lighing and sound systems, and conducted sacramental spontaneous performance art to purify the theater.

We chanted, prayed, hooted and hollered, sat in meditation, told jokes and spooky stories. This went on all night. At the crack of dawn we hear the cleaning lady come in. When she wasn't looking we snuck out and went home, satisfied that we had pleased the gods and confident they would smile on our opening night.


Understanding HAIR

"Sixteen is not too young to love HAIR. I was 16 when I was cast in the original Broadway show. (I sang What A Piece of Work Is Man with Ronnie Dyson, and understudied the part of Woof).

The thing to understand about HAIR (the show) is that, first and foremost, it is a celebration of the human condition. The youth movement of the 1960's had several very different dimensions. The protest against the Vietnam War was one - the civil rights movement was another. You also had the hippies, black power and rock n' roll, among others. HAIR tried to deal with them all in the form of a non-linear HAPPENING.

When theater companies try to approach HAIR like HELLO DOLLY, they fail to capture the essential spirit of HAIR, which is joyous celebration. At the same time, HAIR tried to poke fun at aspects of society which were outdated or which kept people of different colors, religions, sexual orientation, etc. from really communicating with each other. Also, HAIR sought to sound a note of alarm about war in general and the Vietnam conflict in particular. Mix this all with a healthy pinch of Native American spirituality, and VOILA! You have the musical HAIR.

Milos Forman, director of the movie version, tried (successfully I think) to make a "through-line" (plot) around Claude and his apprehensions about going to fight in Vietnam. The play also makes Claude the centerpiece. In the play, he decides to go to Vietnam, although his friends do their best to change his mind. In the movie, Berger sacrifices himself and goes in his place. Both have meaning within their respective contexts. What makes the play different from the movie, is the director's approach to the material, and his treatment of Claude's story. Otherwise they touch on the same themes."

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Last Modified: January 14, 2000
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