Teach-in discusses legacy of musical Hair and 1968

Nicole Ziege

Described as the “pro-drugs, pro-love, pro-sex, anti-establishment” musical, Hair opened at WKU on Nov. 9. At a teach-in event for WKU’s Project 1968, the show’s director Michelle Dvoskin, associate professor of theater history and literature, and dramaturg Nick Struck, senior performing arts major, spoke to a small crowd of seven WKU students and employees about the legacy of the show.

Project 1968 was a project that combined presentations and photos about life during 1968 to highlight the importance of that year in American history and compare it to American life in 2018. The first teach-in for the project took place on Oct. 23, and focused on a photo and audio demonstration about the year.

“Teach-ins were informal gatherings for teachers and students to talk about a range of issues,” said journalism professor Mac McKerral, who was the coordinator for the event.

The musical Hair opened on Broadway in 1968 and received controversy for its themes of anti-war, racism, sexuality, free love and gender expression. There were protests against the show’s tour in Cleveland and the show’s controversy in Boston resulted in a Supreme Court case about whether the show violated Massachusetts’ obscenity laws. The Supreme Court upheld the run of the show with a 4-4 vote, according to the New York Times.

Dvoskin asked the attendees of the teach-in to answer several questions based on their personal thoughts, including whether they supported protesting entertainment they found offensive, the practice of protest in general, allowing nudity in entertainment and the practice of protesting the American flag.

When the group discussed how the show dealt with gender expression and protesting, Struck said hair was significant to the show because it was a form of protest, especially for men.

“Long hair was a form of liberation and freedom, while short hair sort of represented conformity,” Struck said. “Growing their hair out was a form of protest.”

Dvoskin said the show’s legacy in the theatrical world included its use of more immersive and experimental theater techniques that came into the mainstream when the show opened on Broadway.

Dvoskin said one of the largest aspects of the show’s legacy was how it embodied the year 1968.

“The show is 1968,” Dvoskin said. “It was written to be the moment in which it was written. There is only a handful of musicals that 100 percent embody their present time, and Hair is definitely one of them.”

Reporter Nicole Ziege can be reached at 270-745-6011 and [email protected]. Follow Nicole Ziege on Twitter at @NicoleZiege.