Rachel Gifford’s love of the 1960s began in high school.
“I got really (I mean really, really) into the Beatles when I was a sophomore in high school and it just spiraled from there. The fashion, the music, the films, the socio-political issues—I was obsessed with it all,” said Gifford ’18, a theatre arts major from Travelers Rest. “If only my 15-year-old self could see me now.”
Gifford was one of about 40 Furman students and seven faculty members from Theatre Arts and Music who participated in the Theatre Arts Department’s sold-out production of Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical this month at the Theatre Playhouse. The show, directed by Theatre Arts Professor Maegan McNerney Azar, featured book and lyrics by James Rado and Gerome Ragni, and music by Galt MacDermot.
A musical that tested theatre as a means for spurring social change, Hair sent Broadway reeling in the late 1960s and influenced a generation of composers and lyricists that followed. Furman audiences enjoyed songs like “Let the Sunshine In,” “Age of Aquarius,” “Good Morning Starshine” and others that became anthems of the peace movement.
The department’s staging of the production reflected the play’s energy down to the last detail, including a live, six-member band, flowery artwork by Lauren Girouard ’17 and a real merry-go-round for hippies to enjoy on stage.
Drake Shadwell ’18, a Theatre Arts and Business Administration major from Dalzell, S.C., spent many hours working with Theatre Arts Professor Margaret Caterisano to create about 20 masks for the show, including one entirely beaded by hand.
Daniel Hoilett ’15 took a break from his day job as a second grade teacher at Brushy Creek Elementary School to return to Furman and play the role of Hud. He first appeared in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee as a freshman at Furman and jumped at the chance to work with Azar again.
“Hud’s approach to the whole movement is what I love the most about him because he lives his life through his heart first,” Hoilett said of his character. “I have always loved this show because no matter how many times you see it or who you watch it with, you come out of the production thinking something new.”
In directing the show, Azar drew correlations between events and circumstances of the 1960s with those of today.
“I was first drawn to this show because I remember what it was like to be in college, searching for my identity away from my parents, and that is exactly where these characters are in their lives,” said Azar. “But around them is the Vietnam War, the draft, Black Panthers, the KKK, access to birth control, and a wider lens for world-wide religions, so I was struck by what it would be like to come into your own voice in an era when everything about society is being examined with new perspective.
“And then I began thinking about what our college students face today – terrorism, immigration, marriage equality, healthcare reform, Title IX, drone strikes, YikYak, bullying, and Ferguson – and I realized that this, too, could be a time of paralyzing consciousness,” Azar said. “But at the end of the day, and at the heart of this show, no one is alone in the midst of all these decisions and choices. We are all in this together, and that can be a very comforting feeling if we all agree to civility as we navigate through the world.”
Sal Donzella ’18 of Greenville took his dynamic role as Berger extremely seriously, doing major research on the 1960s long before the play’s run began. “I looked into everything about the time,” he said. “I reached the Vietnam War, the counter culture, the hippies, the music, the fashion, the drug culture, integration and Martin Luther King… I hope people could look past all of the hippie clothes and groovy music and realize the message that we conveyed in the musical is still applicable today.”
Jocelyn Boulware ’17, who opened the song “The Age of Aquarius” as Ronny, described the show as a reminder to “converse better, live fully and walk together.”
Patrick Fretwell ’19 of Columbia played the role of Claude and Courtney Dorn ’18 of Lyman played Sheila. Other members of the tribe included Robert Fuson of Simpsonville ’15, Erin Barnett ’16 of Marietta, Ga., Lizzie Dockery ’16 of Dallas, Texas, Dayanari Umana ’18 of Spartanburg, Clark Spillane ;18 of Mount Pleasant, Clare Ruble ’17 of Simpsonville, Ellie Caterisano ’17 of Travelers Rest, Ashton Nicewonger ’17 of Pelion, S.C., Kenzie Wynne ’17 of Simpsonville, Dakota Adams ’17 of Wellford, Derek Leonard ’19 of Greer and Matt Reeve ’17 of Martinez, Ga.
Carolyn Carrier-McClimon directed music, Dr. Grant Knox served as vocal coach, Alan Bryson was technical director, Will Lowry was set and lighting designer and Margaret Caterisano designed costumes.
Upcoming shows include God of Carnage in November, Neil Simon’s Rumors in February and Arcadia in April. All shows are part of Furman’s Cultural Life Program. For ticket information and reservations, call the Theatre Box Office at (864) 294-2125.