‘Hair’ addresses timeless issues

Alex Nowak

Alex Nowak

By Courtney Pischke

When Adam Cobb watches his cast singing and dancing without their clothes on next weekend, he hopes the audience will focus on more than the nudity.

“Our goal isn’t to offend people,” said Cobb, producer of the Illini Union Board’s fall musical, Hair. “The point is to raise awareness about people’s differences – we want to get people talking about important issues.”

Such issues addressed in the musical, including racism, homosexuality and discrimination, have created a controversy among local organizations.

“A lot of religious groups have voiced their opinions about the nudity,” said Adam Pasen, the musical’s director. “But it’s not meant to be sexual; it’s more of a spiritual enlightenment.”

Aside from the nudity, much of the controversy about the performance involves the heated debate over the war in Iraq. The basic plot of the musical revolves around a group of free-spirited Americans protesting the Vietnam War in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Cobb feels Hair’s portrayal of naked war protesters accurately reflects the parallel between the college students of the Vietnam decade and today’s students who constantly face the conflict in Iraq.

“If anyone is offended by Hair, they’re probably taking it the wrong way,” Pasen said. “This is a criticism of discrimination, not an encouragement of it.”

This is Pasen’s first time directing a musical at the University, but he could not be more eager to shock the audience and leave a lasting impression on students.

“This is more than entertainment. It’s social criticism in the form of art,” Pasen said. “We wanted to put on a show that really sparked an audience reaction.”

Freshman in LAS Jon Speagle said he plans to use his role to emphasize the play’s message, even if it requires parading on stage in his birthday suit. After appearing in several high school and children’s plays, Speagle did not expect to sing a solo – in the nude – during his first semester here.

“Both of my parents were big into the performing arts so they know the importance of playing the part,” said Speagle, who plays the leading role of Claude in the musical. “They know it would take away from the play if we weren’t all naked.”

From Nov. 5 to 7, the cast of Hair will take the stage in Follinger Auditorium and attempt to raise a new awareness of discrimination in today’s society. Cobb said the decision to have the performance the weekend after Election Day is a coincidence. They chose the dates because it was Dad’s Weekend, when they think they will be able to sell more tickets.

“These are the types of issues that affect an entire community, regardless of who’s running the country,” Cobb said. “Watching Hair won’t change the way you vote, but it will hopefully change the way you look at an important issue.”

Both Cobb and Pasen agreed that the decision to perform Hair during Dad’s Weekend also had to do with the fact that students’ parents lived during the Vietnam War and could relate to the issues addressed in the musical.

Tickets for Hair are currently on sale at the Illini Union Ticket Central box office. The Nov. 5 and 6 shows will be at 7:30 p.m. and the Nov. 7 show will be at 2 p.m.