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The “Hair and Chair Company”

A Los Angeles based theatre company, A Noise Within, back in the ’90s (and perhaps even today) referred to themselves as a “hair and chair company.” The company was constantly in repertory, so they didn’t expend a lot of effort in the production value. Often they put up plays with nothing more than nondescript furniture populating the stage, and instead of period-specific costumes, actors performed in contemporary attire with “crazy hair” suggestive of the period they were playing in. In short, the “hair and chair” nature of the company was referring to their emphasis on the story rather than spectacle of their productions.

The informant, herself a Los Angeles based theatre artist and professor, had learned the phrase during her first commissioned job with the company. The phrase, she said wasn’t written in any manual, but was  simply learned. She figured it out “just by hanging around.” “The thing about these phrases though, I think,” she said, “is that they exist because of a phenomenon they’re speaking to. I don’t think the company would have come up with their little motto if other theatre companies all prioritized story over production value. No, I think they came up with the label to separate themselves from the companies that emphasize the spectacle.” What the informant is speaking to, of course, is what some may refer to as the shadow meaning of mottos and proverbs.

Following the informant’s own analysis further is that this type of lore not only distinguishes one groups identity from another but also establishes a pride in that identity. If we were to follow that identity is established in binaries, this case would certainly be an illustration of this type of identification: those who emphasize story vs those who emphasize production value.

As for the informant, it would seem that she must constantly acquire lore such as this one being that as a freelance director/choreographer/actor, she is frequently thrown into a new collection of people with their own established codified vernacular. In other words, she is constantly in a liminal space having to transition from one community into the next. Granted each of these communities are all composed of similar freelance theatrical artists, but each theater most likely develops their lore unique to how they distinguish themselves as being unique. More research into what lore might exist to depict the freelance nature of the work may prove fruitful.

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