Tribal fever: Preparing for a production of ‘Hair’

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For 21st Century Media
Scattered on the stage of Playcrafters of Skippack on a summer evening, the cast of “Hair” awaited their director’s remarks and revisions for the song “Sodomy.”
“This whole song is about sex,” director Kevin Binder reminded Scott McMaster, who plays Woof, a member of a tribe of hippies that is a prominent force in the musical (which is set in the Vietnam-era).
Along with racy lyrics and themes (including sex, racism, and drug use), the musical also sparks controversy with the scene that closes the first act, which features cast members stripping off their clothing.
According to Binder, to stay aligned with Playcrafters’ policies against full-frontal nudity, the actors and actresses will remain in their undergarments, except for main character Claude (portrayed by Stephen Barszowski Jr.), who will be shown nude from the back only.
But with these racy themes and a 20-person cast ranging from teens to adults, it could be wondered how the actors and actresses are able to lose all inhibitions and put on such a production.
“Most people call [actors and actresses in a production] a ‘cast,’ but we tried to go for that tribe mentality,” said assistant director and co-producer Justin Bwint. “[We were going for] inclusivity, and a family-like structure.”

"Hair" cast members are seen at Playcrafters of Skippack. Photo by Kevin Binder

“Hair” cast members are seen at Playcrafters of Skippack. Photo by Kevin Binder

As the first act came to an end during practice and the cast had a break, the members stayed conglomerated together, with some remaining in each other’s laps. The need for personal space was almost completely erased.
“I feel like there is no room for judgment in this cast,” said Kuhoo Verma, who plays Dionne. “We all realize that very similarly with our characters, we all have different background stories and we accept that wholeheartedly about each other, which makes me feel very secure.”
By leading the cast members to develop a close, tribe-like bond before rehearsals even began, Binder and Bwint were able to ensure the successful portrayal of the characters in the musical.
“I wanted the tribe to be close, but I never imagined what was going to happen with this tribe.” said Binder.
From the very beginning, Binder and Bwint were looking for actors and actresses who would be willing to push past their comfort zones and bond with each other.
“A lot of times you will have actors who don’t want to explore, and this show requires you to explore your own inhibitions,” said Binder. “We all have a wall that we are afraid to pass, and for HAIR, you have to be able to pass that wall, or it won’t work.”
Along with having the potential cast members read a monologue and sing during auditions, Binder and Bwint also had the actors and actresses play a game in which they paired up, hugged one another, and shared a personal message with each other.
“The point was to see who wasn’t afraid to touch,” said Binder.
After the cast was chosen, Binder and Bwint decided to use the beginning practices to grow the bond between the cast members.
Binder had the cast chose their own tribe name, “Foxes in Soxs,” which is dedicated to the book Binder gave the cast to help them work on their enunciation.
Binder and Bwint also presented each cast member with a welcome package with information about the sixties and different art from the time.
During the beginning practices, Binder and Bwint lead the cast members in bonding exercises and games to strengthen their bond with one another.
One such exercise involved the cast members going from one partner to another and looking into each other’s eyes.
“[They were] to imagine the joy that this person has felt in their life, but then the next person was to imagine the sorrow that they felt and the next person was how they could help them,” said Binder. “By looking at each other, they were able to connect and at the end of it, when they went into a group hug, I had to call a break otherwise it would still be going on today.”
The cast became so close that, according to Binder, when Barszowski first had to strip off his clothes during practice, the rest of the cast did so as well to make him feel supported.
Barszowski feels as though “Hair” is different from every production he has ever done before in that the cast has “created” the production from their own bond.
“We’ve all spent so much time bringing our own talents and different thoughts and ourselves together, that we’ve really bonded through that and we’ve created a family here,” said Barszowski. “I’ve never felt this close to my cast members.”
Verma believes that this bond will be able to teach the audience something about love and acceptance.
“It may open the eyes of the audience members to see that life is about doing what makes you happy and what makes other people happy as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone.” said Verma.
According to Binder, the bond between the cast will be easily visible to the audience during the show.
“You can feel the love between every single person on that stage,” said Binder. “I don’t see how anyone could miss that.”
To see this bond for yourself, tickets can be purchased online through etix.com.

WHAT: “Hair”
WHERE: Playcrafters of Skippack, 2011 Store Road, Skippack.
WHEN: The show will run on July 17, 18, 19, 25, 26, 31 and Aug. 1 and 2 at 8 p.m. The matinee will take place on July 27 at 3 p.m.
TICKETS: Check etix.com.
INFO.: Call (610) 584-4005 or check www.playcrafters.org.
CONNECT: On Twitter: @PlaycrafterSkip

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