Message from the Dean – February 11, 2019

First some good news:

Swimsuit, the fourth full-length studio album from the Oklahoma-based band Colourmusic, was released last week. The band features ACM@UCO faculty members Ryan Hendrix and Nicholas Ley. Ryan is a full-time lecturer and Nicholas is program director for Contemporary Music Business at ACM and a member of the Flaming Lips. Colourmusic performs March 15 in Stillwater and March 17 in Austin during South by Southwest. Rock on!

Now a story:

“You must learn to crawl before you can walk” is a ubiquitous truism, with common variants in a dozen languages. I never crawled. There are photographs of me cruising furniture when I was four months old. I was walking at seven months. This caused parental concern. Conventional wisdom during Dr. Spock’s, “Baby and Child Care” generation indicated that missing the “crawl” developmental milestone predicted negative consequences spanning the gamut from motor planning awkwardness to social ineptitude. Having attained those first steps in upright mobility, coaxing me back down to hands and knees proved impossible. My mom and dad were parenting rookies barely out of their teens, reliant on prevailing sentiments. However, they reluctantly sublimated their fears, accepted my precocious ambulation and hoped for the best as I took small steps and toddled crookedly toward the future.

Although I cannot recall my initial strides, other first steps do exist in memory. Fifty years ago, I was seven years old, and watched in fascination as the first human stepped onto the moon. Because they did not own a television, my Aunt Dorla, Uncle Ernie and three of my cousins squeezed in around our small black and white as grainy, polarized images flickered through space from Tranquility Base. Neil Armstrong’s statement, “That was one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind” earned an enduring place of honor in the lexicon of human speech.

Over the course of the next 41 months, America sent a total of 12 men to leave footprints on the moon’s surface. Space vehicles, rockets, rovers and lunar landers became childhood obsessions. The complex geometric planes of the lunar module, with its insect-like “face” enthralled me. I studied photographs, and carefully created hundreds of drawings featuring touchdown and liftoff, with lunar rovers speeding across the moon’s rock-strewn grey surface. The Apollo program acted as an imagination accelerant during my grade school years. No achievement seemed beyond the eventual ability of science to produce. Sheltered in my stolid, rural, Midwestern, parochial cocoon, I remained only vaguely aware that the escalation and calamitous end of the Vietnam War coincided almost exactly with the Apollo missions. The hippie counter-culture, Kent State massacre, protests, riots and assassinations, barely registered as ephemeral flickers in my insulated, pre-teen consciousness.

2019 is the 50th anniversary of the first lunar landing. 2018 was the 50th anniversary of “Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical,” which artfully and controversially exposed America to the Love Generation. In 1972, the same year America rocketed their final man to the moon, a national touring production of “Hair” finished six performances in Tulsa. Tulsan religious and political leaders fought to prevent the show from appearing at all, voicing disappointment in city officials “who voted to allow the lewd, immoral and unpatriotic play, ‘Hair,’ to be presented in Tulsa.” A local evangelist proclaimed that audiences are made up of “dope addicts and perverts” who would travel from 500 miles away to see it, bringing an unwholesome element into the town.

The City Council allowed the production by a vote of 3-2. The slim majority eventually conceded the point made by City Attorney Waldo Bales who advised the commission that “public officials may not exercise the prerogative of censorship by picking and choosing the philosophical or ideological content of programs using public auditoriums.” During the final performance in Tulsa, four Ku Klux Klansmen rushed the stage at the end of act one, chasing down and grabbing nude performers in an effort to execute a citizen’s arrest of the entire cast. The Klansmen were eventually hustled off the stage by security, and the troupe completed the performance to a standing ovation from a crowd described as a marvelous cross-section of Tulsa citizenry, including its most prominent inhabitants. No one was arrested.

On Wednesday night, Sandy and I sat with a splendid cross-section of OKC Metro residents in Mitchell Hall as CFAD’s Musical Theatre Division teamed with CityRep to produce a stunningly lit, choreographed, staged and performed revival of this now, half-century-old play. It amazes me that the 50th anniversaries of “Hair” and Apollo 11 occur only months apart. With decades of hindsight, this play offers an opportunity to view the youthful energy of the “Tribe” with fresh eyes as they stumble toward hope and empowerment in what often seems like a hopeless and unfair world. The haze of nostalgia might blind us to the analogous challenges our student cast will encounter in 2019. Like the youth of the 60’s, current undergraduates experience feelings of disenfranchisement and powerlessness mingled with anticipation. The pressures of “adulting,” with low wages, uncertain job markets, high healthcare costs and the shifting sands of social conventions are rocket fuel for anxieties in our current clan of students. Still, they dance.

The baby-boomer, flower children that “Hair” used as source material now enjoy the power and resources to drive culture toward positive change. How are we responding? As a member of the establishment, seeing “Hair” in 2019 affords me an opportunity to reflect on the successes and failures of our nation over the preceding 50 years. There is wisdom in pondering both the promise of the first steps on the moon, and the angry footfalls of protest marchers in the summer of 1969. I hope we are guided by the map of history, and purposefully select a journey of empathy, hope and gratitude. We have the power to “let the sunshine in”. Whether we crawl or walk, as educators and administrators, we inherit the awesome responsibility to choose not only the direction of our own steps, but to guide the first steps of our students as they choose the paths of their lives and careers. We stand at the crossroads of small steps and giant leaps. Let’s help our students leap.