Jacob writes a lot about theatre and stuff, so here it is.


FINAL CURTAIN: My Thoughts On Closing Night of 'Hair' at OhLook PAC

I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to work on two shows that changed the landscape and abilities of musical theatre: Rent and, now, Hair. Both made significant impacts when they premiered and have continued to thrive in productions on and off-Broadway in the form of revivals and in theatres around the country.

One of these theatres was OhLook Performing Arts Center in Grapevine, Texas, where we close our production of Hair today. The last time I had known Hair was done in this area was at Booker T. Washington High School in Dallas and 15 years ago when, coincidentally, Theatre Wesleyan (my alma mater) produced it, directed by my advisor/mentor/professor Jeanne Everton. I was curious that another theatre in the area was finally doing Hair and really jumped at the chance to audition. I was familiar with the score and the recent 2009 revival but had never seen the show or even the film adaptation up until recently. The tuneful and provocative score was enough for me to consider working on this show and auditioning, if not try to see during the run.

Upon doing Rent, and Nevermore at Runway Theatre just down the street from OhLook, I had challenged myself to go and audition for shows I felt would challenge me and get me more out of my comfort zone. Rent certainly did that upon my graduation, then after that I worked on Young Frankenstein which allowed me to return to my comfort area of doing musical comedies and playing characters, and Nevermore was completely different from both and gave me the ability to stretch and expose sides of myself no one had seen before, while singing more "theatre rock" with our Panic! At The Disco-infused score.

"Woof" has been a very interesting character to play in all aspects. A conflicted Catholic who is warming up to sexuality (and other things) and rejecting the mainstream culture of parents; a rejection of sexual repression, synthetic "truth" and new-told-lies and allowing freedom of all bonds that tied them down or was changing the world in a drastic way. The body was considered a "gift" and should not be covered up or hidden. My costuming included an opened fur vest, torn jeans, some elaborate and loud jewelry, and a wavy brown wig... this "Woof" showed some skin!

The name of this show, Hair, is an allusion to the hippies' "freak flag" and became a symbol of rebellion and new possibilities... a rejection of discrimination and restrictive gender roles, and equality between all men and women. Of course, it was apropos that my own medium-length hair was not sufficient enough to give way for such characterization written for "Woof". And plenty of skin to show, allowing for more freedom of the body not restrictive by uncomfortable clothing. It seriously did help when it came down to choreography and figuring out Woof's loose and fluid movements, much like his physical (and probably sexual) sensuality.

Hair has been a great experience and allowed me to stretch my performance abilities in more ways than one. Similarly, when I did Rent, this show was going to require a lot more research into the true events that inspired this piece of theatre. Documentaries, books (my favorites during this process were Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll, and Musicals and Hair: The Story of a Show That Defined a Generation, and more allowed me to delve into this era and the "Hippie" culture and explore the liberties the playwrights took - breaking the traditional musical mold - to have their show reflect the world around them in a new and invigorating way.

Upon my being cast in the show and starting that research process, my Wesleyan advisor allowed me to borrow her script/show bible from when she directed Hair at Theatre Wesleyan.  In the front of her book, she included an essay on her experience and process of putting the show together.  The last sentence of the essay really stood out to me and I took it to heart as I began doing the research and exploring the physicality and character of "Woof". She wrote, "we found the 60s within ourselves and flourished in an atmosphere of freedom, peace, and love."

Now on to the sad part... saying goodbye to that atmosphere, made possible by an extremely talented group of people. I have had a great time with this cast and crew, especially our "wee posse". Let me explain: at the callback audition, a few of us were waiting in the lobby for the dance callback and I started talking with four talented and friendly folks: Tiana Alexander, Madilyn Grace, Cassidy Kaye, and Skylar Hemenway.  Since that callback, we have bonded, laughed, and danced our way to today's closing performance. Going into the audition, I knew nobody there (a lot of them were regular OhLook students, some who have done over 25 shows with them) and when us five started talking, we just clicked and have had such fun with each other, cracking jokes, getting each other through some rough patches, and encouraging each other to do better. It warmed me up to be that way with the rest of the cast and made all the difference for this show that is dependent on such a strong ensemble. I am looking forward to seeing what is next for everyone and hopefully, I get to have another opportunity to work with some of them in the future.

Our fearless leader Jill Lord wore many hats during this production and assembled a great team including Ken Bell, our choreographer, Hannah Blalock Choat, our costumer, and Taylor Wallis, who kindly stepped in when Jill would be out to take the reigns for a couple of shows. Jill's dedication to OhLook is inspiring and as much as she does for this theatre, she hardly ever breaks a sweat. It's that kind of determination and love for their craft that really makes theatre thrive. And to put it towards helping students find that, too, is all the more inspiring and hopeful. I want to thank Jill for taking a chance on me, allowing me to make my OhLook debut (and hopefully not my last time there!), and giving me the freedom to explore which becomes a very important part of working on Hair, in any capacity.

That sentence continues to stick out to me as I get ready for this last matinee of Hair: "60s within myself"... I think I found it... and I look forward to the prospects of allowing that sort of freedom, peace, and love to be a part of other productions I work on and my New York journey coming up (so keep an eye out on this blog and my Facebook for more updates!). I will miss everyone involved with bringing this show to life and the audiences of friends and family who let the sun shine in during this time where we've had so much heartbreak and tragedy in the world. This is what the power of the theatre is all about: telling a story - a significant one at that - and impacting an audience to go out there and feel something. Anything. But hopefully, that lesson is "make love not war". The dawning of the Age of Aquarius shall live on.

Jacob Rivera-Sanchez