Click the play button to see photographer Brad Luttrell's audio slide show about SummerFest's Hair. Click here to see a larger version, and here to read about director Mike Thomas' return to the Arboretum.
The announcement that Hair would be one of the SummerFest shows this year provoked a question: Will people be getting naked on The Arboretum stage?
In many productions, the first act of Hair ends with the men burning their draft cards and the cast stripping down as they sing Where Do I Go? Many fans of the show think the nude scene is crucial for Hair, an iconic rock musical that grew out of the 1960s counterculture.
But director Mike Thomas says that nowhere in the script is the nudity mandated. Festival directors took that into consideration when they decided that there will be no nude scene in The Arboretum when Hair runs July 23 to 27.
The optional nude scene, however, is hardly the only R-rated element in Hair, and those other parts are non-negotiable. Thomas says Hair’s creators and rights administrators “want the script to be done as it’s supposed to be done.” So audiences who come out to The Arboretum will hear a colorful array of profanity, sexually suggestive material, including the song Sodomy, blunt discussion of race issues and an extensive portrayal of drug use.
“Caution,” Thomas says. “Is it sexually suggestive? Yes. Does it have adult language and content? Yes. I wouldn’t bring children. Beware.”
So why is SummerFest, which has theater-education programs for elementary and high schoolers and has tried to position itself as a family event, presenting a show that even the director says is not suitable for all ages?
“For our purposes, artistically, that is what it was and what it still is,” Trish Clark, executive director of the Kentucky Classical Theatre Conservatory, says of the decision to present Hair. “Why hide that fact from our children? It’s not like the children don’t know. They’re hearing, seeing and witnessing all of that.”
The producers have noted in advertising that Hair has adult content.
Joe Artz, president of the SummerFest and conservatory board, says, “They see it on the Internet. They see it on MTV. They see it at school. These are issues that kids can probably embrace and wrap their minds around more than adults.”
SummerFest producing director Joe Ferrell challenges the notion of what “family-oriented theater” is in the early 21st century.
“No. 1, those choices need to be made by the parents,” Ferrell says. “But No. 2, by the time these kids are capable of getting in the computer and looking at the world, by the time they’re 10 to 12, somewhere in there, they’re knowing a lot of stuff.
“Parents I talk to are very aware of this,” Ferrell says. “The real issue, for the most part, is one of choice. If I have responsibility for my kids, then I get to choose what it is they see. Therefore, I help make a determination of what’s important in their lives, and it probably is what was important in my life as I was coming along.”
It is not as if SummerFest has been entirely G-rated in its two years. The festival-opening production of Romeo and Juliet, last summer, accentuated every double entendre in Shakespeare’s text, and this year’s festival opened with Cleopatra constantly wrapping her legs around Antony. And although it’s a high school mainstay, Lord of the Flies, which closes Sunday, portrays cruelty on a disturbing level, including several boys being murdered by other boys.
With its language and imagery, Hair might just be more overt than some other adult material that parents would take their kids to without a second thought.
Then again, Hair is usually presented in venues that are not necessarily as family-oriented as SummerFest. The last time the musical was in Lexington, it was presented by University of Kentucky Theatre in 1993. The show did so well — selling out nine of 10 performances — that it was revived the next year. And yes, it did have the group nude scene.
But UK Theatre has presented shows that make Hair look tame, including last year’s production of Christopher Durang’s Betty’s Summer Vacation. People who frequent that theater know they sometimes need to proceed with caution.
In content, Hair is a departure for SummerFest and its predecessor, the Lexington Shakespeare Festival. Many festival-goers will revel in seeing the earthy show in the open-air venue of The Arboretum on warm summer nights. Others will have to ask themselves whether it is appropriate for them and their children.