As “Hair” came to a close this past weekend, the cast has had some time to decompress. Cast member Maje Adams, a junior theatre arts major, took some time out of his weekend of relaxation to chat with me about the politics of “Hair,” the reality of being a black actor and an epidemic of ripping jeans.
Ally Boulas (AB): Would you be able to tell me what “Hair” was about?
Maje Adams (MA): I could, even though it doesn’t have very much of a plot [Laughs]. The plot centers around Claude Hooper Bukowski, who is kind of like a messianic figure for this group, but he’s torn between pressure from his family to do something with his life by submitting to his draft and going to war, and knowing that he and all of his friends believe in peace. So that’s the general thing: it’s a presentation of protest culture, drug culture, the Summer of Love and conflict within Americans around the Vietnam War. It’s incredibly prescient for us today — even though it’s centered on the Vietnam War, there were a lot of vignettes that had to do with protest culture in general, so it’s very applicable to today.
AB: It can tie in to the Parkland protests and youth movements that are happening now.
MA: Right, the need for young people to come out and say, “Wait a minute, the government is maybe not serving my best interests, we need to rise up and we the people can say something about it, regardless of what authority figures have to say about us and the way we think.”
AB: So, tell me a little bit about your character.
MA: I played Hud Johnson. Hud is—I say [this] both in an investigative and loving way—not really a character. Hud is more of an archetype. There [are] a number of characters where the script doesn’t really give them much to do. The nature of who they are has to come from the way it’s performed. For me, it’s an interesting thing because Hud was the first black character I’ve ever played. The first explicitly black character I’ve played, ever. And so the way that I fashioned Hud is that he’s sort of a wannabe Black Panther. A kid living and seeing on TV the rise of the Black Panthers in Oakland and believing that he’s on the wrong coast, you know? So he’s very angry, he’s got a whole lot of righteous indignation about his circumstance. But his part to play in the entire narrative is that he, as a black man in the ‘60s, knows the struggle.
Nobody wants to go to war, but Hud accepts that it is just a different kind of danger. He could be killed any day just for being a black man living in America. The danger that is being faced for white men in the play is still real and still valid but it’s new, and for Hud it’s not like he didn’t already live with this existential danger every day at home. And it’s not like if he can escape the draft everything is going to be okay for him, whereas with other characters it might be. It made the dynamics between Hud and the other characters unique in that way, and it was enjoyable getting to craft that sort of thing.
We all got very into the heads of our characters in the show. Because they’re described as a tribe, we kind of acted like it. We didn’t even really call ourselves a cast, we called ourselves a tribe all the time. We spent a lot of time hanging out outside of rehearsals and working on our characters together and getting in their heads together. Almost like a living process.
AB: I’ve heard that the rehearsal process was pretty demanding. Can you explain a little bit about what went into creating a show like this?
MA: It was definitely a tall order because we only had five weeks of rehearsal to put on the show. And five weeks is a short amount of time for any show, but especially a show of this magnitude — a 24-person cast, with this huge set and all these projections. For everyone, actors and non-actors, this was a huge undertaking. The fact that it was successful was not guaranteed in any sense. And we just get to look back at it and be like, “Hell yeah, this worked.” We really lived in it. Not just in the show but in each other the entire time. My apartment became kind of a spot where a good number of [cast members] would hang out, decompress or talk about anything and everything.
We had tons of fun, but we also put each other’s feet to the fire. We weren’t afraid to ask each other, “Hey, what did you think of this?” Whereas a lot of people would view notes [on how to improve your performance] from fellow cast members as a derogatory thing, it never got to the point where it felt disrespectful, cutting or competitive. We all wanted to see each other as the best version of ourselves [that] we possibly could, and as a performer it’s really refreshing to never feel like the people that you are coming together to create a show with have any ulterior motives.
AB: As an actor, I know that there can be a lot of funny things that go on behind the curtain or backstage that the audience wouldn’t be privy to. Can you tell me one? Without embarrassing anyone.
MA: A little light embarrassment never killed anybody [Laughs]. So the Hair cast was called a week before [spring semester] classes [began] to start on early rehearsals. We had a number of folks split their jeans in the middle of rehearsals, it happened a bunch of times during that first week. And a part of me was like this is hilarious — like, someone splitting their pants is funny, right? It was Brendan McLaren who split his pants first, who was playing Berger, and it was extra funny to us because we all knew that he was going to have to take off his pants and have the half-nude scene right at the beginning of the show. But then Brian [Reyas], our Claude, ripped his pants right after that and it became crazy, like everyone was splitting their jeans. But it was a really funny joke during that first week of rehearsals and then no one really thought of it after that.
But then, at our matinee performance for the donors [on March 2], in the middle of the second act, Lena Conlon, who played Sheila, split her jeans and it all came full circle. We were all like “Wow, the pants-ripping curse is back!” And she handled it super well, but it was funny. We all just had a really good laugh about it because it brought back something from so much earlier. But that’s only the tip of the fun iceberg for us as a cast, we had a lot of incredible moments.
AB: So on a more individual level, how does Hud compare to other roles that you’ve played at LMU?
MA: He ties back a bit to a role I played my freshman year in a Del Rey Players show, Assassins, which was about people who throughout history have attempted or succeeded in assassinating presidents. I played Leon Czolgosz, the man who assassinated William McKinley. I felt a similar sense working on both characters [and] the mortal political urgency of their situations — Czolgosz was less justified because he took it to this extreme of killing a president. He felt a sense of being trapped by his government and his society, and that’s something to empathize with deeply.
But for me, the reality of playing Hud hit me a lot harder as a black man. It was my first time not only playing a black character but also a black character that was incredibly, unapologetically black and very politically black. It wasn’t so much like, here I am getting into the mindset of a role, it was here I am, taking genuine fears that I have in my everyday, and putting them into a character — speaking to my truth.