MFA Candidate Ari Rodriguez Directs Hair

March 20, 2017

Current student, Ari Rodriguez directs Hair this March at The Connelly Theater for his directing thesis. The pioneering rock-musical, with a book and lyrics by James Rado and Gerome Ragni and music by Galt MacDermot, made its debut in 1967 at the Public Theater. The original production—rift with profanities, drug-references, nudity, and flowers—tells the story of a group of anti-war hippies living in New York. Hit songs from the show include “Aquarius,” “Good Morning Starshine,” and “Let the Sunshine In.”
“With the sweet and subtle lyrics of Gerome Ragni and James Rado, the show is the first Broadway musical in some time to have the authentic voice of today rather than the day before yesterday,” wrote Clive Barnes for the New York Times in 1968.  “But as long as Thoreau is part of America’s heritage, others will respond to this musical that marches to a different drummer.”
Rodriguez first got the idea to direct Hair in a rather unconventional way. “I love it,” the director confessed. “But I’m also embarrassed by my love of it. I was sort of the arch-enemy of the American musical and canonical American theater experiences, so my soft-spot for this musical always made me nervous.”
Rather than ignore his emotional connection to the play, Rodriguez decided to investigate it. He delved through a wealth of research surrounding the 1960s counterculture in America, as well as multiple drafts of the script, while at the same time trying to identify why it was that he felt embarrassed by his connection to the show. Ultimately, he landed on how the relationship between the audience and the play’s characters has changed over time.
“This middle-class audience was supposed to reject [the characters of Hair] at first, and the process of the play is supposed to be coming to teach this audience that there’s a lot to love about this group,” he said. “My problem was that I saw the opposite happening. From the moment the characters come out people go ‘Oh, I love them! I miss them! The hippies!’”
For his thesis production, Rodriguez seeks to reframe the relationship between the audience and the characters. In an unprecedented move, he’s chosen to cast actors who lived through the 1960s in America as Hair’s iconic tribe, rather than performers in their twenties. Rodriguez spent months leading up to the play interviewing Americans about their experiences during the 60s, seeking out performers who connected to the material and who were game to take on the sexually daring roles of Hair. (However, the Connelly Theater where Rodriguez’ Hair will be performed does not permit nudity on stage, and so the iconic nude scene at the end of Act 1 will be staged somewhat differently.)
“I’ve had so much fun working on this intergenerational project. I feel like I could spend the next few years working on projects like this,” said Rodriguez, reflecting on what he’s taken away from his thesis so far. “I feel there’s a mirroring of the protest moment in the late 60s and the protest moment we’re going through now, which also feels like it’s much more cross-generational. At the Women’s March you saw people of all ages, and so this production of Hair is speaking to the revival of American protest and a revival of protest that is cross-generational and intergenerational.”
Tickets for Hair are free with any CUID, $15 for General Admission, and $5 for Seniors; they can be purchased here. Performances are at the Connelly Theatre, 220 East 4th Street, at 8 pm on March 29-31 and at 3 pm and 8 pm on April 1.