The Age of Aquarius

Richard Camp ’69
Illustration by Tim Bower

Illustration by Tim Bower

In the swinging ’60s, Rollins College was not swinging with the same gusto as other parts of the country. I was a senior theater major, looking for a thesis project and running out of time, when the mind-blowing irreverence and in-your-face nude scene of Hair lit my fire on Broadway in 1967. It was the highlight of several shows I saw in the Big Apple with Dr. Robert Juergens, head of the theater department, and a group of fellow students.

Hair would be my thesis project, I told Juergens, whom we affectionately called DJ. I would produce, direct, and star in the show at the Annie Russell, a theater so steeped in tradition that it was connected to Knowles Memorial Chapel by a walkway and garden.

DJ’s response: “No!”

But I wouldn’t let up. He argued he could never persuade the Dean of the College or the community to go along with this outrageousness. Winter Park residents enjoyed the grace and comfort of a world unshaken by dramatic change. And a nude scene at the Annie Russell? Never. Even New Yorkers had been shocked at first. But eventually DJ relented, evoking my solemn promise that the actors would perform with all their clothes on.

Opening night, and a standing-room-only crowd filled the 421-seat theater. Raucous, tender, pounding, revolutionary songs about peace, love, and protest exploded onto the stage, along with lyrics about sex that I’m sure had never before been uttered in that magnificent setting. But not one person stormed out in a huff.

At the end of Act One, I was downstage center singing “Where Do I Go?” with the entire cast lined up behind me. This was the infamous place in the New York production where the cast faced the audience in shameless full frontal glory. And my microphone went dead.

I kept singing, adrenaline surging through every capillary. I tossed the mike aside, frustrated, then tore off my shirt and threw it into the audience, shouting the song’s words. The cast sang with me, projecting the music to the rafters.

Completely besotted with the moment, I unbuttoned my jeans and tore them off, standing there in my Skivvies. The audience gasped. DJ glared from offstage.

I was so caught up in the spirit of free love and flower power, it never occurred to me that I was doing a striptease on the venerable Annie Russell stage.

The song progressed, “Where do I go, follow my heartbeat…”

My heartbeat was racing, pounding. Where would I go? All the way? But I had a promise to keep. Unless…

Where do I go, follow my hand…”

I had only seconds to make a decision. I was high on music, adrenaline, peace, love, freedom, soul, and boomshakalaka rock ’n’ roll. One gesture was all it would take. I followed my hand to the elastic band of my BVDs.

An hour later, after my character had died and the audience joined the cast in singing “Let the Sunshine In,” I ran back onstage (fully clothed now) to join the crowd and revel in the tremendous energy emanating from the theater. No one could stop singing, not the cast, not the audience. Annie Russell was singing in her ghostly chair. Everyone shared the exhilaration of what the ’60s promised but never lived up to.

Later I found DJ in the lobby, his smile as wide as Lake Virginia. He gave me an enthusiastic hug. I was thrilled that he had been caught up in the excitement, although in retrospect he most likely embraced me because I had NOT taken off my underwear, leaving intact his reputation and our bond of trust.

As for my thesis, I got an A.

Richard Camp ’69 writes for the stage and TV. His plays have been performed at Circle in the Square (“Diamonds,” directed by Harold Prince), The Vortex Theatre, the McCarter Theatre at Princeton, the Odyssey Theatre, and Playwrights Kitchen Ensemble. He has also been nominated for three Emmys, won an Emmy for Outstanding Individual Writing for “Hot Hero Sandwich,” and received a Writers Guild Citation for his work on the CBS daytime drama “Capitol.”