Minnesota State University, Mankato’s Theater Department returned to the stage after a two-week break with the American tribal love-rock musical, “Hair.”
The show, originally set during the “hippie” movement of the 1960’s, attacks many social issues still faced today, including women’s rights, LGBT+ rights, militarism, Black Lives Matter, and marijuana legalization.
“During these times of both political and medical uncertainty, the world needs more hope and love,” says director David Loudermilk. “This production of ‘Hair’ includes this message, as the characters are trying to find love and acceptance.”
As audience members trickled in before the start of the show, cast members were seated on stage with blankets, guitars and signs as if at a protest. Some actors began chants to have the audience members participate, including “Black Lives Matter,” “L-G-B-T, we demand equality!” and “My body, my choice!”
MNSU freshman Faith Peterson said the experience made her tear up.
And audience member and MNSU student Mikayla Waskul said, “One thing I kept seeing was that the same fights going on decades ago are still going on today, and we see so many parallels we can relate to.”
The show officially began with a small demonstration on police brutality, specifically highlighting the death of George Floyd through reenactment. It then moved very quickly into the next scene, being a common theme throughout the musical: the story is told mostly through song, with little dialogue and smooth transitions from one song to the next.
At the end of Act I, right before intermission, the cast performed the song “Where Do I Go?” and many actors briefly got nude. This scene has been controversial since the musical originally came out, but is also seen as an integral part of the show. Nudity was a large part of hippie culture, and in the song in which it occurs, they are baring themselves to the world, both emotionally and physically.
Before the second act began, the cast spoke to the audience about police brutality. They held a minute of silence with hands over their mouths to honor victims of police brutality and for Indigenous peoples. Many of the audience members participated in this act, producing a moment of unity.
“The overall mood with the preshow and the fact that it existed gave me a lot of hope, as I am a theater major and it tends to be very polarized,” MNSU student Andy Johnson said. “Either you do contemporary or you do traditional, and this show demonstrated, I don’t have to do one thing for the rest of my life. Instead, I can express my opinions through my future work.”
As for rehearsals and performances regarding COVID-19 restrictions, Loudermilk said, “The production and rehearsal process has been incredibly wonderful and difficult both at the same time.”
Loudermilk also noted, “When you can’t see your fellow classmates and other people you’re used to seeing all the time, it starts to take a toll both mentally and physically,” as these artists are used to sharing their work with each other and an audience.
The department has made adaptations, with all actors wearing clear masks and social distancing whenever possible.
“This has posed problems for a musical because of singing with masks, and with the themes of this show because so much of it is about connection, physical touch and sharing love,” Loudermilk said. “But we as the creative team have had to think outside the box and find other ways around the obstacles presented on stage.”
“Hair” runs Oct. 14-18 and Oct. 21-25.