The show that set me free.
Hair was very much the show of its time: of the sixties, war and protest, release and liberation, attitudinal changes, drugs and sexual freedom and rock 'n' roll, of 'beads, flowers, freedom, happiness'.
Recent revivals of the musical remind me that for the cast members of the original production it was essentially a way of life, nowadays it is just another Broadway Musical. In the sixties an audience considered itself courageous just being there, Kings Cross was not quite the place it is today, audiences were anxious about having to wander through it to locate the Metro Theatre and Hair. Was it safe, they wondered? American soldiers on R and R from Vietnam were all over the place, and probably on drugs.
Many of these visiting Yanks saw the show and made their way up onto the stage at the end for 'Let the Sunshine In', joining with the cast for some fairly uninhibited singing and dancing. Those guys were frequently 'out of it', and for some of them, Berger's lines, 'I'm gonna go to India, float around. They'll never get me. I'm gonna stay high forever' represented the dream as reality. 'I wanna go to India with you,' a Yank levelled at me one night, hanging around my neck, his eyes wide and wild.
For all the rumours of free love and abandoned behaviour among the Hair cast, even we were shocked the night another obviously 'out of it' bloke came up to dance with us, freely and imaginatively, to the driving rhythm of our band; he was noticeably creative. As if performing a striptease, piece by piece he removed articles of his clothing; by the time the belt came off and the fly was undone and the trousers had dropped, the more conservative of The Tribe became alarmed and visibly affronted. Which led me to wonder how completely we were living our roles; plainly some of us were still as proper as we'd ever been; so much for sex and drugs and nude scenes.
I'd come from what was basically the other side of the paddock to land my role in Hair: appearing in a Gilbert Sullivan Opera in a theatre restaurant across town while the Rado/ Ragni/ MacDermot Tribal Love Rock Musical was turning Sydney on it's ear left me feeling more than merely isolated. My sister Helen had made it into the original cast and through her I'd kept up with the pre-production gossip, reports of the rehearsal period and an indication of the sort of theatre piece director Jim Sharman was fashioning; secretly I think I'd wanted it to be a catastrophe of some kind, it was after all a new kind of theatre, it was anti-establishment and seemed to be flying in the face of commercial theatre as it had existed up until that moment.
Apart from anything else the cast pretty well consisted of young kids who could sing a bit or play a guitar but were entirely without stage experience. It seemed to me they were a bunch of grubby hippies straight off the streets. It didn't bode well, certainly not for the legitimate theatre that was my stamping ground.
I was wrong of course, thank God. Hair was an entirely liberating experience, as much for the audience as it was for the performer. Once I saw it I knew that was where I wanted to belong, that there had to a place for me on that stage; I had to get into it, some way somehow. I'd wanted to change the usual parameters of the actor's life in Australia anyway, certainly as they affected my own career, to venture beyond possibilities as they'd presently existed. It really was a case of time and tide in alignment. Over the two and a half years I was a member of the cast I was able to launch my individual stage style, to consolidate the artistic resources that were to carry me forward and put me at the forefront of Australian show biz.
Without the experience I doubt I'd have become the assertive performer I am today, or proved to myself once and for all that horizons in the theatre are limitless. The show set me free; I'd followed all the usual paths in this country and as far as I could imagine was about to tread them all again. Then Hair came along; suddenly everything changed, I found myself. The show saved me, no doubt.
Photo: Reg Livermore and Margaret Goldie