Renegade Arts Company presents Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical. Photo by Jim Buckshon.
Renegade Arts Company presents Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical. Photo by Jim Buckshon.

We’re pretty sure it is no mere coincidence that a production of the musical Hair is about to open in Vancouver, offering theatre-goers a taste of the Summer of Love just as our West Coast summer is about to begin.

Produced by Vancouver’s Renegade Arts Company, Hair marks the company’s first foray into producing theatre. Well known among Vancouver’s music community, having seen such acts as Hedley, Avril Lavigne, and Spirit of the West walk through its doors over its 33-year history, Renegade also happens to be the custodians of the extensive prop collection from the now defunct Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company.

“It’s too difficult to figure out just how many productions we have supported since taking over the Playhouse’s prop collection,” says Jim Buckshon, president of Renegade Arts Company and the producer of Hair.

But even while the Playhouse props, some of its costumes, and the rehearsal and performance space they offer in their 2nd Avenue facility have been a big part of Renegade’s contribution to Vancouver’s theatre scene, they have resisted the urge to produce their own shows. Instead, Buckshon and his team have used the time as an opportunity to learn.

“We originally decided to become associate producers to learn the ropes, working with companies like Fighting Chance Productions and Pipedream Theatre, among others,” says Buckshon.  “Everything is here now, from the props, the sets, rehearsal space, and the theatre and we decided it was time to put on our own show.”

The choice of Hair as Renegade’s inaugural show comes about for a number of reasons, the first of which is Buckshon’s love for musical theatre.

“I’ve been going to see theatre since I was ten years old, since seeing a production of Les Miserables,” he says. “I came from a musical background and when I was taken to see a musical I marveled at how all the parts of a musical came together – the set, costumes, props, choreography.”

Remembering a 1972 production of Hair in Vancouver, Buckshon took it, and a number of other possible musicals, to his young team.

“We run like a democracy so we put it up for a vote,” explains Buckshon who says Rent was one of the other shows in the running. “Many of our staff are university and high school age and they gravitated to the show, finding the hippy movement, the stylism of the show, and the darker content all under a really positive theme appealing.”

Last seen on a Vancouver stage in 2010, when perhaps ironically it was part of the Fighting Chance Productions season that year, Hair tells the story of a “tribe” of hippies living in New York City and fighting against the Vietnam War draft.

Perhaps best known for songs like “Let the Sun Shine In” and “Aquarius”, it also continues to court controversy since it first opened off-Broadway in 1967, with its nude scene.

“When the actors applied for the show we asked them if they were okay with being fully nude, partially nude, or not at all,” says Buckshon.  “We have a very large cast of 24 and about one-third of them were okay with it. We’re not telling anyone that they have to do it, but I sat in on a rehearsal on Sunday and they went for it.”

While Hair is Renegade’s first foray into theatre, Buckshon says that it won’t be their last. “We want to be a preeminent theatre company in Vancouver and eventually go to larger venues, eventually ending up on the Queen Elizabeth Theatre stage. It’s what we’ve done with music over the past 33 years and I don’t see why we can’t bring theatre in to the big leagues as well.”

Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical plays The Shop Theatre (125 East 2nd Ave, Vancouver) from June 16 to July 2. Tickets are available online through Brown Paper Tickets.