NVU Produces Musical Hair Production on Johnson Campus

Northern Vermont University’s Performance, Arts, and Technology Program Presents the Musical Hair

The Performance, Arts, and Technology program based at Northern Vermont University’s Johnson Campus is set to celebrate the awakening of the power in youth with its spring mainstage musical performance of Hair, running Thursday, April 21 through Sunday, April 24.

“At its heart, it’s a musical about young people struggling to make their world better. It’s a different world today than in 1967 and a lot has changed, but the struggles are still very relevant,” said Co-director and NVU Faculty Laura Roald.

This show, about rebellion and Civil Rights and women’s rights and freedom of all kinds with the backdrop of the draft and the Vietnam War, was a groundbreaking musical in 1967, with a racially diverse ensemble and awesome music, said Co-director Isaac Eddy. “Doing this show now, we can honor the ways in which it was revolutionary 54 years ago, but we can also look at it from the lens of 2022, and what we haven’t yet achieved.”

The second production of the Polaris Performance Company, a collective for Performance, Arts, and Technology program-directed works, Hair was originally planned as the spring 2020 musical that was halted by COVID-19. A lot has changed in the two years that have passed, said Roald. The #MeToo movement along with attacks on BIPOC and LGBTQ+ rights have bubbled up, much as the issues of the 1960s converged and bubbled up, she said.

To recreate this story in 2022 within a predominantly white and socially aware student body required the development of a racially diverse ensemble and an unpacking of the time this story was set in.

To diversify, the directors looked beyond the PAT program to include BIPOC NVU students outside of the PAT program and to reach out to the larger Vermont community.

To unpack this time and this story written by white men, a dramaturg was enlisted for this show — a role held by NVU alum Brittney Malik ‘20, who is also performing in the show. “A dramaturg’s role is to provide context for the show: the 60s, what was happening, where this show came from, how it evolved,” said Malik. “All of the events and historical movements occurred at the same time and were boiling. How they combine and intersect is a key part of this show.”

For instance, the roles of people of color in the original musical were challenging at first read for BIPOC members of the ensemble, Malik said. “While there were Black characters in the original show, the way they were represented were as caricatures,” she said. “You could tell the roles were written by white people.”

Instances of domestic violence, language, references to drug use, and sexually charged moments all come up in this show, which led the co-directors to include an intimacy choreographer to work with the actors on how to handle challenging scenes.

“I applaud the community members and ensemble for being willing to stay with this story and to be uncomfortable,” said Malik.

At its heart, Hair is a celebration. “We’re revisiting a time of vital social action and fantastic, groovy music and celebrating the freedoms worth fighting for,” Roald said — “to love who you want, to live your life the way you design it, to fight the battles that matter to you as a young person.”

Tickets available at tickets.catamountarts.org.