You won’t be able to get tickets to this reprieve of HAIR, the 1960s rock musical, as it is sold out. It’s time though to keep your attention on The Actors Training Center Repertory Company and what they do next to teach through art.
From the first notes of the song “Aquarius” we are transported into the counter culture and tumultuous times of the 60’s. We, the audience, as the young performers, learn or re-learn what that time was like. For some of us it’s difficult to remember that a song about biracial dating was once so controversial—especially when our President is the son of such a relationship. We are reminded of that controversy and also of how the draft or how to avoid it took over lives ---or took them.
But what Wilmette’s Actors Training Center Repertory Company teaches us most is that the value of teaching via art is priceless.
Consider what Angela Alise (Office Manager for Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater and one of the ATC Repertory Company’s guest artists) whose sterling voice is the one that sings the first notes of Aquarius, has to say about her experience.
“What I saw was that students come from this process of making an ensemble production with more of an open mind to experience people from all different walks of life. In fact we started the project by doing a lot of tribal rituals from Native American traditions and we even named our tribe.
“Janet Louer (Artistic Director of ATC Repertory) knew the two gentlemen who wrote HAIR and she wanted us to get the full experience of the times understanding the mindset of peace and love.
“I learned so much even though I knew the musical before. I learned about being vulnerable and more free -lowing. I already knew about the Vietnam War, but I hadn’t understood how the Black Panther Party, civil rights and new thinking on religion were also a part of the 60’s”.
Drury Lane alumna Alise’s creativity is indeed very much on display, as was that of her dozens of fellow ensemble members. One moment Alise sings Aquarius, then she is Abraham Lincoln, then she is singing about how sexy White Boys are in the song, “Black Boys/White Boys”.
However, it is the rhythmic pulsing of ALL 20+ ensemble members to the rock rhythms of the musical that we remember most. We were also treated to thoughtful video collages of 60’s imagery both during and after the performance.
This was not on par with a professional Chicago production. That said, the energy of the fresh-faced performers helped distract us from the centenarian Wilmette Theater designed for movies and the sound system not quite up to the talents of the team.
If you hadn’t had a conversation about the 60’s in a while, you certainly did after watching HAIR that evening. ATC’s HAIR delivered what theater always should--- a challenge to our thinking and a reminder of larger issues at work in our world.
This is not going to be the last time ATC educates performers and audience alike. Reportedly the Actors Training Center Repertory Company’s mission is to provide an educational integration of cultural, historical and social issues through live theater. The organization provides classes from kindergarten level through 12th grade, as well as adult classes.
This is an important organization to watch.
Wilmette’s Actors Training Center Repertory Company /Wilmette Theatre
1122 Central Ave., Wilmette
Angela Alise photo credit: Brian McConkey
Photo credit: Linda MacLennan