La MaMa’s Influence on Hair

La MaMa’s Influence on Hair

“We were doing all these exercises that became the epitome of that performance style of Hair,” Marie-Claire Charba said. “Tom shifted Broadway into all this physicality, and we were precursors to that. Like Hamilton, we did that with Tom Paine. When I saw Hamilton, I thought, ‘Oh my God, that was like Tom Paine,’ which was done—what, fifty years ago? Same thing. Tom O’Horgan took a historical play and moved it into mixed media.” The busy director was simultaneously working on Tom Paine at La MaMa while running the first rehearsal workshops for Hair in early 1968. “There was a lot of crossing of inspirational ideas with those two plays,” La MaMa playwright Paul Foster said, recalling one moment in Tom Paine that was absorbed into Hair. Foster had a scene in which the people of France were starving in order to feed the Termite Queen, who attacked the hungry mob and began eating the clothes off their back. “No, don’t stop, just keep going,” O’Horgan said during a rehearsal, so the performers kept tearing off their clothes until they were naked. “These were young kids and they didn’t have any qualms about getting naked,” Foster recalled. “It was a powerful moment in the show, and it rose out of a need to say something visually.” Two weeks later, Hair featured a similar nude scene when it debuted at the Biltmore Theatre on April 29, 1968.

From Chapter 20 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore


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