“We don’t just have rehearsal and do a play,” Williams said.
For instance, in order to more fully grasp some of the issues that drove a generation to cast aside the traditions of their conservative parents and recreate themselves so dramatically, the Newburyport students immersed themselves in “Hair” culture.
They traveled to the Woodstock Museum in Saugerties, N.Y., and took in the collection of 1960s music and memorabilia on permanent display there. They participated in a workshop on "Hair" with a musical theater professor. And they spent two days in retreat, absorbing the experience of communal living by working in the retreat center’s kitchen and participating in yoga sessions and onsite spiritual pursuits.
Back at home, Williams said the cast tackled interdisciplinary projects that involved seeking guidance from the high school’s sociology and psychology students on the complex, emotional issues facing their characters. They interviewed six Vietnam War veterans for a documentary shown to the entire school on Veterans Day. Williams said the veterans were surprisingly candid about their war experiences, which made for emotional viewing.
“We had people say it was the best assembly they’d ever gone to,” Williams said.
In addition, the cast viewed Tom Brokaw’s "1968," a two-hour documentary centered on the lives of people who lived through the turbulent, chaotic period.
And they worked extensively with the Improbable Players, a troupe of recovering addicts out of Boston, on the best ways to embody characters that at various times throughout the play are sampling a vast assortment of psychedelic drugs.
The troupe taught the young performers to focus on the energy of an impaired person rather than looking for stereotypical direction on what someone might look like if they were "high.“
“We wanted to explore the physical and emotional presence of someone who is under the influence of drugs in a sensitive way,” Zaleski said.