Monday, December 7, 2015

Flower Child -- Not

Syreeta Banks in "Hair"

I am a child of the ‘60s.  And when I say this, I literally mean that I was a child then.  I was born in 1961, so I came of age in the Reagan era.  Youth then (myself certainly included) bore little resemblance to the free-loving flower children who took it upon themselves to protest the Vietnam War and other social injustices.  

I vividly remember researching sit-ins and protests from the 1960s for a paper I wrote in college. It was very eye-opening. It sounded exciting and energizing to fight for a cause, and I wished I had grown up just a few years earlier. (Of course, there might have been a bit of romanticizing going on.)

Fast forward to 2015 and Venice Theatre’s production of “Hair: An American Tribal Rock Musical.” I was thrilled to see the show, not only because it evoked those memories, but because it was directed by the amazing Ben Vereen.  

Ben Vereen at aaCT WorldFest
People who know me may recall that I had the opportunity to interview Mr. Vereen last year when he appeared at Venice Theatre at the American Association of Community Theater's WorldFest. Talking with him was a true pleasure.  He was just so zen and cool. 

During the Festival, Mr. Vereen taught a master class to five young actors with a theater full of people looking on. I was amazed at how transformative his quiet words were to the actors.  If just a few words could have such an impact, what would community actors be able to achieve after working with him for an extended period? 

Vera Samuels in "Hair" 
We arrived at the theater early and took our seats. The actors were hanging out with the audience, and several took advantage of an open seat by Dorrit to talk to her (and, quite literally, get in her face).  By the time the first notes were sung, I was definitely in the mood for what I expected to be an upbeat show.  

While the performance gets high marks for a community theater production, I found myself depressed by the end of the show about how much anger these young people felt. (To add insult to injury, “Let the Sunshine In” is a real bummer of a song in context.) Everyone I mentioned this to who lived through those days had the same response. “Yeah, “ they said. “It was a very angry time.”  

Maybe I grew up at the right time after all. 

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