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“Fuck the Curtain”: An Oral History of Off-Broadway

“Fuck the Curtain”: An Oral History of Off-Broadway

Celebrating 30 Years of Off-Broadway
Might 21, 1985

On Might 20, the Obies have fun their 30th birthday. This particular supplement, with alternatives from 30 years of the Voice and reminiscences by most of the major figures of the American theater, is devoted to the artists of Off- and Off-Off-Broadway.

GENE FRANKEL: I used to be sitting at a café on the Champs Elysées on August 3, 1959. Opposite me was Stefan Brecht, the only controller of the American rights to his father’s plays. “I am fascinated about mounting an Off­-Broadway manufacturing of Mom Braveness,” I advised him.

“Not out there.”

“What about Chalk Circle or Good Lady?”

“Not out there.”

“What about Puntila? Zero Mostel and Edward G. Robinson are both all in favour of enjoying the lead.” (I lied.)

“Okay.” I lit up like a Roman candle.

“I require $10,000 prematurely royalties.” I deflated like a ruptured internal tube.

“Stefan, this is Off-Broadway, not Broadway.”

“You already know, Eugene, my father is just not the only play­wright on the planet,” he replied. “Have you ever learn Genet? I just occur to have the English translation of his new play Les Nègres with me. The translator is a good friend of mine. Read it and inform me what you assume.”

I read my consolation prize in a single sitting that night time, and was immediately, immensely conscious of Genet’s the­atrical genius. From the first second, the hypnotic impact of the dionysian revels evoked by Genet stole the breath, stilled the guts, and fevered the mind. What was written as an assault on French colonialism would have even stronger impression in New York, reverberating off the 300-year-old guilt consciousness of liberal white America.

Extremely, St. Mark’s Playhouse was the only Off­-Broadway theater at the moment appropriate for the produc­tion scheme I devised — it had the height for a two-level set, and the raked seating necessary to recommend the am­phitheater of a Greek area. And most essential of all: no proscenium, no curtain, no separation of viewers and actor. Excited by my gifted forged of “unknowns,” which included Cicely Tyson, James Earl Jones, Maya Angelou, Roscoe Lee Browne, Godfrey Cambridge, Lou Gossett, and Charles Gordone, and in addition by the ingen­iously designed set and extraordinary costumes and masks by Patricia Zipprodt, I invited Genet to the ultimate weeks of rehearsal. However the State Department refused to grant this genius playwright a visa, because of his cri­minal report and sexual proclivities.

So I asked Bernard Frechtman, his translator, to sub­stitute. Seeing our rehearsal Frechtman was entranced — he had nothing but reward for the actors and the confrontational, improvisational, razor’s edge strategy I used to be taking. “Genet might be happy, he can be pleased,” Frechtman stored saying.

Then, three days away from previews, in the midst of a run-through, nearing the shut of the first act, at the peak of a voodoo-frenzy, out of the blue Frechtman let loose a scream. “The curtain. You’ve forgotten the curtain.” “Bernie, loosen up. There isn’t any curtain.” “But Genet requested for a curtain. In his text, plainly, in black and white.” “Bernie, the structure of this theater, the working assemble of this production, the shortage of wings, the thrust stage, all converse towards having a curtain. So be affordable, sit down, and shut up.” “I need to telephone Genet immediately.”

The subsequent morning he handed me a telegram: Mon­sieur Frankel. S’il vous plait. Je souhaite que le rideau soit en conformité avec mon texte. Bernie happily translated: “As my text requires, please use a curtain.” I immediately composed a letter, outlining in detail all of the explanation why a curtain was unnecessary, undesirable, and unwanted. The reply was fast enough: Je voudrais avoir le rideau. (I would like the curtain.) This time I com­posed a good longer, even more philosophical in-depth analysis, explaining why a curtain on this specific theater, in this specific production, was pointless, undesirable, and unwanted. Once more the reply was swift and terse: Je demande le rideau. Assured by Frechtman that if thwarted, Genet would go to any length to de­nounce me and the manufacturing, I gave in. I cabled to Genet that since he insisted, I might comply. However as we have been already over finances, might we’ve got the writer’s permission to take the price of the curtain out of his anticipated royalties? This time Genet’s reply was swif­check of all: Je me fous du rideau — or, “Fuck the curtain.”

ELLEN STEWART: We began in 1963 in the basement at 321 East ninth Road, which was owned by a Mr. Slywotsky from the Ukraine. The opposite tenants have been enraged to be dwelling above a “nigger,” in order that they tried to get Slywotsky to drive me out by vandalizing their very own flats and sending him the repair bills. I keep in mind someone smashing their own bathtub with a hammer. At some point a really distinguished wanting mild­man got here with a summons for my arrest. The neighbors had reported me for prostitution, saying I had enter­tained 15 white males in six hours. The truth is that lots of my associates happened to be white males, they usually have been dropping by to assist me repair up the basement. We defined to the officer that we have been building a theater. He was sympathetic as a result of he had labored in vaude­ville, and informed us all we needed to do was serve coffee and say we have been a restaurant and we might be legit. My nickname at the time was Mama; we have been going to use that identify, however somebody thought it wasn’t fancy sufficient, so we turned La Mama.

Once we moved to 82 Second Avenue we have been ha­rassed by the Building Department and others. One night time I returned to seek out your complete back wall of the building had been torn down. I knew they’d give us a espresso home license if the constructing had been a restau­rant earlier than us. It had been the Zen Tua House, but the metropolis had no report of it as a result of the tea home was a entrance for a communist printing press, and someone high up in city government had destroyed the data. I managed to get the tea home’s tax report, so we survived again, however had made some enemies.

Then in 1965 we acquired our first quotation from the Voice, along with Giuseppe [Joe Cino]. Earlier than that we had been like orphans; the Obie made us reliable. It was particularly an enormous thrill because our work wasn’t so scorching in these days, in comparison with now no less than.

I wouldn’t do it in another way if I have been beginning out now. Because the starting La Mama has been dedicated to doing as many plays as potential, and we nonetheless do about 40 each season. My largest pleasure is to know individuals are work­ing. I don’t go to rehearsals. I’m not even really that eager on seeing performances. I simply love the thrill of everyone operating around putting plays together, the look on their faces once they depart a very good rehearsal.

STEVEN BEN ISRAEL: I’d been working in the Village as a jazz drummer. Round 1958 I used to be hanging out and no­ticed these little theaters arising all over the place. I went to a profit for the Basic Strike for Peace, and met Julian Beck and Judith Malina. At some point I was in a cab that stalled on 14th Road, observed their theater, received out and went up to see them. They invited me to stay and see The Connection. I walked out saying that’s what I might do with my life. They have been opening Brecht’s Man Is Man and hired me to play Sunday performances for Joe Chaikin. At that time we have been the only rep theater in New York.

Then got here The Brig. Newsweek referred to as it “devastat­ing,” and The Occasions stated if it was true there must be a congressional investigation. Then the IRS moved in to close the theater for again taxes. They sealed off the entrance, so we had the audience climb up ladders into the second-floor window. We have been arrested after the efficiency; they locked us up within the cage we used as a set for the play.

JULIAN BECK and JUDITH MALINA: The Off-Broadway movement was born of the impulse to create a coun­ter-theater that may convey glow, wings, and inventive cohesion to an artwork which had turn out to be the prisoner and plaything of the center class. The powers of the estab­lishment threaten to take possession of each software and discovery of the movement, so there’s a need to start out once more, to reinvest the theater with danger and daring, to declare that a theater without ethical consciousness is just crème caramel in a world of nuclear insanity.

DOUGLAS TURNER WARD: It had all the time been apparent that Broadway was not the place to say something critical concerning the expertise of blacks. We had no selection but to carve out our personal area. Off-Broadway for us was not a lot an alternate however the one actual risk.

The one manufacturing I might most wish to reside by means of again is the Negro Ensemble Firm’s first, the Track of the Lusitanian Bogey, a play about Portuguese colo­nialism in Mozambique and Angola. It was created be­fore we had a reputation to stay as much as, so we might concen­trate on the work for its personal sake. There isn’t a production I notably regret. Wrestle in theater is the norm.

JERRY TALLMER: The Voice and the Off-Broadway movement began virtually concurrently, however it was Julie Bovasso’s performance in The Maids that basically obtained my juices stirring. Some time during that first yr, a bunch of us have been sitting across the workplace and asked, why shouldn’t there be some type of awards for Off­Broadway, to single it out from Broadway, to stick it in the establishment’s eye? The identify truly got here from Harvey Jacobs, a novelist who was working in the adver­tising department. We despatched a discover to the Occasions, and Sam Zolotow, the eminent theater reporter, referred to as to ask what the Voice was — as a matter of reality, he didn’t even know the place Greenwich Village was.

The only massive battle we ever had was over Beckett’s Completely satisfied Days in 1962. The judges that yr have been Walter Kerr, Edward Albee, and myself, and Kerr adamantly refused to vote for it. He was a nice guy, but very stubborn, and insisted on Frank Gilroy’s Who’ll Save the Plowboy? Finally we divided the prize. Kerr stipu­lated he’d only accept the compromise if we announced that he was abstaining. So the only abstention in the historical past of the Obies has been Walter Kerr on Samuel Beckett.

SPALDING GRAY: When Liz LeCompte and I first saw Dionysus in ’69 on the Performing Storage, we sat on the very best platform. I used to be afraid a type of bare zombies would make me do something or the whole lot I assumed I didn’t need to do. Sometime after that, after I cooled down a bit, I despatched Richard Schechner my image and resume. It was a studio shot taken whereas I used to be working at the Alley Theatre. I had a beard and my palms have been dramatically clasped in a kind of beatific biblical prayer position. There was special-effects smoke floating within the background and the whole thing seemed like a publicity shot for King David.

When the performer who was enjoying Malcolm in the Group’s environmental production of Makbeth gave 4 days’ discover (the only healthy various to killing Richard), I used to be referred to as in. Richard requested me if I assumed I might do the position in 4 days. “Positive. No drawback,” I stated. In any case, I’d completed 5 years of summer time inventory and was gracefully unaware that the group had taken two years to develop Makbeth.

Once I arrived at the Performing Storage for my first rehearsal, I was stunned to seek out only Joan MacIntosh and Richard Schechner. The rest of the group had re­fused to return in. The love affair had gone sour. So Joan performed her position and Richard carried out all the others. He was a really dangerous actor and notably dangerous as the messenger that brings the information of the murder of all Macduff’s “pretty ones.” But dangerous as his appearing was, wanting again on it now, I feel which may have been the suitable idea for the production: Richard and Joan enjoying all the roles.

At the time, Richard was scorching into his principle of ac­tuals. No mimesis and no props please. We have been to not fake we have been doing anything, we have been to truly do it. For me, the strangest and most far-out part was the banquet scene through which, as an alternative of food, everybody ate the king. Duncan needed to naked his higher torso while everybody else fell upon him and sucked. The play had been operating for a very long time and the man who performed Duncan seemed like E.T. after shiatsu. His pulpy white body held a, wild profusion of flowering hickies that started at his navel and ran, like little purple foot print, all the best way to his neck. I’d by no means seen anything prefer it.

When the time got here to rehearse that scene, Richard stripped-down to his Jockey sports, flopped out on that massive platform, and grunted, “Eat,” and with no hesita­tion I dove in and commenced to gum him. “More durable! More durable! Suck more durable!” he cried and I did. I went down on that bushy stomach that was then like the mixture of a Buddha belly and an orangutan’s: I sucked and sucked, solely pulling back for air and to select hairs from between my tooth, and as I used to be doing this.I assumed, yes, it’s true, I’m like several actor. Even on this experimental, environ­mental theater production I’ll do something for an element, even if it means taking place on the director in entrance of his spouse on an enormous wood platform in a garage that was a silver press shop in a cool crazy warehouse district that the viewers was afraid to set foot in and that might soon turn into shocking Soho, that the majority desired of desired spots in New York Metropolis.

KEVIN O’CONNOR: I had graduated from the Neighbor­hood Playhouse expecting to go out to one of the re­gional theaters to hone my craft on the classics, however alas, I was rejected and rebuffed, so I obtained a job ready tables on the Village Gate. My fellow waiters have been all actors, directors, and painters and such — including playwright Leonard Melfi, director Ralph Prepare dinner, and a busboy named Sam Shepard. Nicely, like Mick and Judy; we all needed to placed on a present, so together with Ralph Prepare dinner, and the Reverend Michael Allen, we began Theater Genesis at St. Mark’s-in-the-Bowery Church. We had Monday night time readings of latest performs with such writers as Murray Mednick, John Guare, Sally Ordway, Tom Sankey, and many others. Like other Off-Off theaters we used issues from our flats for set items — I keep in mind ripping the bath out of Shepard’s place on Avenue C for his play Chicago, and shifting most of Melfi’s condominium to the church for Birdbath, together with his desk and typewriter.

By way of all this time Ellen Stewart was producing a new play each week. It seemed all you had to do was go to her and say you had a script you appreciated, and she or he’d hand you $100 and say, “Go ahead, honey.” Round 1965 she obtained the concept if she despatched some of us off to Europe we might come house famous the best way opera stars do. She shaped two troupes; one beneath the course of Ross Alexander went first to Paris, the opposite beneath Tom O’Horgan went to Copenhagen. I was in O’Horgan’s troupe. We did nine one-acts in three weeks. There was a stage supervisor however no crew, so Tom ran around doing lights, and making sound and musical effects. We started with an viewers of 9 in a 100-seat theater, and by the third week they have been lined up across the block.

Right down to Paris. An enormous flop: American expatriates walking out left and right. We stayed for a few month, dwelling in a seedy lodge on the Left Financial institution, enjoying “Like a Rolling Stone,” on the jukebox. Our next tour excursions have been extra profitable, and culminated in 1968 with Tom Paine and Futz being produced Off-Broadway. Between these tours I continued to attend tables on the Village Gate. At that time the Obie shows have been held there. I used to be able to find someone else to work for me the night time I gained for Chicago.

ROBERT PATRICK: A Caffe Cino in the 1960s: An actress walks out on a show. Cause: Someone stateside was laughing in what she thought-about inappropriate places and she or he felt artistically compromised. Outcome: Joe Cino made a couple of telephone calls and a galaxy of Off-Off luminar­ies seem in an impromptu revue which included sever­al songs that went on to develop into world classics.

At La Mama within the 1970s: Half the forged leaves a present. Cause: That they had all been provided paying jobs in an uptown Off-Broadway turkey that not one in every of them be­lieved in. They informed the La Mama playwright, “Just postpone the show and we’ll be back when this folds.” End result: The turkey lingered on and La Mama had to usher in a manufacturing from outdoors, however the canceled play was ultimately produced with great success elsewhere.

At Theater for the New City in the 1980s: Half the forged walks out on a play after the first of three scheduled weeks. Purpose: They obtained a nasty evaluation and felt the play was not an excellent showcase for TV jobs. Outcome: The writer is informed he can’t prolong the run beyond the three weeks Equity permits even if he recasts, and if the play later moved, he would nonetheless be accountable underneath the showcase code to supply the roles to the actors who walked. As a result of theaters now get their grants based mostly on how many premieres they do, he has not been capable of get a second production anyway.

There have been, and are, many exceptions to those moods, however the basic image is correct. The unique Off-Off spirit now appears to be within the golf equipment and out of doors New York.

lRENE FORNES: What attracts me to theater is the adventure. Working Off-Off-Broadway I can do a play as typically as I would like, as typically as my endurance permits. That’s the biggest riches I can ask for.

The longevity of a writer is determined by being unafraid to think about writing in ways totally different type the best way she or he considered writing before. The longevity of a playwright is dependent upon having a place where his or her work will probably be carried out with love and trust, a spot that isn’t crammed with terror and worry of collapse. A place that may relatively collapse than surrender the concept there’s such a factor as artwork.

JACQUES LEVY: The audiences within the middle-to-late ’60s have been as unconventional because the work itself. Individuals came prepared to have their expectations upended, craving to be startled, shocked, even assaulted for the aim of getting a Recent Expertise. We have been making an attempt to make the theater leap out of its skin.

Once I directed Purple Cross (Sam Shepard’s first Off-Broadway manufacturing), I had loud rock ‘n’ roll music blasting type the second the viewers entered the theater, and the all-white lighting on the all-white set was blinding. Over a 20-minute interval prior to the start of the play, the depth of each sound and lightweight diminished until the theater turned silent and darkish; the actors took their locations; then the lights banged on at full intensity.

Nevertheless, on opening night time, when the lights banged on, a essential fuse within the theater blew. While I, helpless behind the theater, was having one thing close to a coronary, the audience — this understanding viewers, by then accustomed to taking a you-can’t-put-one-over-on-me stance, a slightly paranoid and greater than slightly cynical angle — sat there as if nothing untoward had occurred (a few of them laughing that particular snort that indicates they’re in on the joke), for what should have been 10 minutes. Considering again, I query whether we hadn’t perhaps loosened the fabric of expectations too a lot. Did we really need to create a state of affairs, set up a conspiracy, between viewers and creator, whereby all judgment of competency was suspended?

WYNN HANDMAN: I came to off-Broadway 23 years in the past, when there was no help institution for brand spanking new American playwrights. Then these writers appeared in all their variety, outrage, and talent. They discovered locations everywhere in the metropolis; instantly there was room for them. “Writing is a solitary act,” one playwright informed me, “however I have discovered a family.”

PAUL FOSTER: I had written a play which I assumed was an act of genius. Sadly no different producer thought so. So Ellen Stewart stated “We’ve simply received to construct a theater to place this on.” “The place in hell will we get the money to try this?” “Don’t fear honey, we’ve obtained backing.” “We received backing, the place?” “I received the verify right here.” She dove into her pocketbook and pulled out her $55 unemployment examine.

Later when things received clicking, Ellen was actually bank­rolling every thing, with a job she had in a showering go well with manufacturing unit. She stored Tom O’Horgan and me on a day by day stipend. I acquired $5 a day, enough for a hamburger and a pack of cigarettes. Then I came upon she was giving O’Horgan $10 a day and I used to be furious. So I faced her down. She knew she was trapped. She advised me,”Honey,­ he’s received a number of laundry to do.”

Once we started we clearly knew little or no. The primary director we had requested the place the sunshine board was. I used to be not sure what a light-weight board was. Ellen pointed to the only on-off change on the wall. He stated, “All right, the place’s the lights?” We showed him some tin cans. Then he requested for gels. That threw us; neither of us knew what he meant. Ellen stated, “I’ll look in my pocket­ebook. I should have some somewhere.”

RONALD TAVEL: I met Eddie McCarty in some disreputa­ble place again in ’63. He was brief, untoned, freckled, redheaded, and pale to the point of inexperienced. He was additionally broke and Irish. He ate uncooked potatoes and cried rather a lot. And most of the people stated he was one of the best gentile pianist in America.

In February 1967, Harvey Tavel swiftly staged a one-­acter of mine, Kitchenette, to pay the lease on the previous Play-Home of The Ridiculous. We asked Eddie and leggy Mary Woronov to star in it. We rehearsed for five days and Mary couldn’t study her strains. Harvey would stand right on stage feeding them to her. That gave me an concept: it was the first of my plays to include the precise director as an actor. Nevertheless it was Eddie’s manic performance that caught up the critics. He obtained an Obie. A scout for The Occasions was within the viewers one night time and, after seeing him, advised me The Occasions should be overlaying this kind of factor. And down they have been for the subsequent (Gorilla Queen), by which Eddie additionally appeared.

He starred again in Arenas of Lutetia in 1968, but by this time one thing was mistaken. He repeatedly struck an actress on stage, her boyfriend intervened, and the present folded. Within the years that followed I was not all the time in contact with Eddie. However once I did see him, I couldn’t understand what he was saying. And nobody appeared capable of assist. He returned to Decatur, Illinois, his hometown, and a bit after, a telephone call came from Jo Ann Forman telling me that Eddie McCarty had handed away. An post-mortem did not disclose any cause. I misplaced my voice for 3 days. He was 31.

JOANNE AKALAITIS: Each performance is special, however Purple Horse Animation at Theater for the New City was unforgettable, as a result of the truth that you would hear wind via the walls added a tremendous impact. One night time during a blizzard we carried out for less than two individuals, Philip Glass and Bob Fury.

I’ve never seen something just like the robust sense of com­munity I find off-off Broadway even right now. It comes from understanding we are survivors.

JOSEPH PAPP: Once we first started to tour Shake­speare, we had gone as much as Harlem and set up our stage in an enormous faculty yard. There have been a number of robust guys hanging round. I stated to certainly one of them, “You’ll be able to’t stand here, that is backstage.” He looked at me onerous for a moment and stated, “Are you kidding? This is third base.”

SUSAN YANKOWITZ: In 1970 I acquired a Drama Desk award as most promising playwright of the yr for my work on the Open Theater’s Terminal. The award was given at Sardi’s, a highly incongruous setting for a writer who was being paid $25 every week and whose theatrical surroundings and experience had been confined to a loft with uneven floorboards on 14th Road. Dressed to kill, understanding that Lauren Bacall and different luminaries have been to be present, I approached the door, the place to my astonishment and chagrin I was given a coupon entitling me to at least one drink on the bar and advised that additional refresh­ments have been to be at my own expense. The glamour of movie star was immediately dispelled, and never restored even by John Lindsay’s kiss on my cheek as I accepted the quotation.

CHRISTOPHER DURANG: Titanic Sinks. Titanic Hits Bottom. So stated the headlines. “Horrors,” stated Doug Watt. I ought to have recognized better than to title a play Titanic.

My first two plays in New York have been one-acts finished at 11 p.m. on the now defunct Direct Theater, run by Allen Belknap. First was Nature and Objective of the Uni­verse, warmly acquired. Months later came Titanic, which received more combined critiques however had a little bit of a cult following, so Yale classmate (and actor) John Rothman decided to maneuver it to Off-Broadway.

Mel Gussow’s assessment of the first model had stated that if the play have been minimize by about 10 minutes it might “float” (this play triggered countless boat metaphors). I minimize pre­cisely 10 minutes. Sigourney Weaver and I got here up with our first version of Das Lusitania Songspiel as a cur­tain-raiser. To economize it was determined that I might act as assistant stage manager and the director, Peter Mark Schifter, can be manufacturing stage manager. I also appeared as the body of the Captain’s wife, which meant I had to strip to underwear and be wrapped in a sheet and tied to a handcart, with a pillowcase over my head.

The day after opening Sigourney and I had been booked on the Joe Franklin Show, and needed to stare at him blankly when he requested us about evaluations and pre­tend they hadn’t come out but. He didn’t know who or what we have been anyway, and asked us infinite questions about vitamin because he had some meals skilled on this system. Sigourney remarked that she and I all the time ate liver and green beans for power. Franklin appeared im­pressed together with her beauty and referred to as her Sigornia.

The Van Dam theater went from being fairly full throughout previews to having about 12 individuals per night time after we opened. Schifter turned sloppy operating the tape machine, and one night time the sound effect of the ship hitting the iceberg came out as a mere “pip”; the poor actors pretended to hear one thing larger, and fell to the floor in a heap, although their bodies shook with laughter.

I’ve never been back on the Joe Franklin Show, however I’m still hoping.

MEREDITH MONK: In Vessel, again in 1971, we moved the viewers around in a bus, beginning at my loft, then to the Performing Garage, then on to a parking zone on Wooster Road. One night time I keep in mind so nicely, it was raining, and since I played an electric organ within the piece I was afraid I’d be electrocuted. The police had interrupted the rehearsals that afternoon and the youngsters in the piece have been scared to carry out as a result of they thought the police may come back. The motorbike riders within the company missed their cue. And in the midst of the efficiency someone leaned out of an condo which confronted the parking zone and started singing along with the remainder of us.

It’s not attainable to do pieces like Vessel. There were 100 individuals in that piece, all volunteer. At present peo­ple either perform professionally or don’t perform. In Europe there’s extra money, but you must have the manufacturing all labored out earlier than you begin rehearsals. That’s no good for me as a result of I work on all of the ele­ments of my items simultaneously. At the very least Off-Off still gives the potential of working that method. It might imply light-bulb faculty of lighting, however there’s freedom in that.

AL CARMINES: The Judson Poets Theater started beneath the auspices of playwright Bob Nichols and myself. Right off we found an exquisite play by Joel Oppen­heimer, The Nice American Desert, for our first pro­duction in September 1961. It was critical spoof on Western heroes like Billy the Child. Our theater at that time was the balcony loft of Judson Church. We might seat about 80 by crowding. We positioned actors everywhere — on the organ pipes, or beneath the balcony. An actor may pop up beneath your ft.

Our finances for every manufacturing the primary two years was $37.50 per play. We charged no admission; individuals contributed what they might. We begged, borrowed, and infrequently stole what we would have liked. In those days there was a shortage of actors (arduous to consider now), so I typically ended up appearing in a number of the early performs. I keep in mind that throughout a performance of a play by Derek Wolcott two actors have been sick and I did both roles, sort of throw­ing my voice for the double effect.

We have been in close communion with the other Off-Off theaters on the time. We exchanged props, costumes, actors, even playwrights. I keep in mind the primary time I met Rosalyn Drexler. She came in sporting a crucifix. “You’re Jewish, aren’t you?” my secretary asked. “Why the crucifix?” “Nicely,” she replied, “I knew I used to be coming to see a minister. I figured it couldn’t harm.” We all the time had beer events after the plays, and I keep in mind danc­ing with Joyce Aaron and her telling me about her new boyfriend Sam Shepard. “He’s a budding playwright,” she stated. Then she sighed, “I’m wondering if he’s bisexual like all my boyfriends.”

Joe Cino was the father of us all. On a stage no greater than a postage stamp, he created Magic Time for all his viewers. When he dedicated suicide, the start days of Off-Off-Broadway formally ended.

ISRAEL HOROVITZ: The night time before Line was set to open at La Mama, the actor enjoying the lead finished gown rehearsal and made probably the most extraordinary announce­ment. He stated he had gotten the lead in a TV pilot in Hollywood and that he would have to be on a aircraft for L.A. the very subsequent morning. He did that. He highest tribute I pays to that exact memory is that I’ve truly forgotten his identify. We have been surprised. No one needed to go away the theater after the announce­ment. The director, Jimmy Hammerstein, had observed that throughout rehearsals I had been mouthing the words on the sidelines. “You realize the half, Israel. You play it.” We rehearsed all night time.

Line begins with an actor, on stage, in line behind a white tape on the ground, ready. My character enters and instantly challenges the other character, Flem­ing, for first place. My first line was “Is that this a line?” With nice enthusiasm I came out into that protected, famil­iar room and — by God! It was filled with strangers. Critics lined the entrance rows. I forgot who I was, where I was, why I was. The stage manager, Bonnie, had the unpleas­ant process of having to answer my sick little plea: “Line, please?” She yelled out, “Is that this a line?” I repeat­ed, “Is that this a line?” “What’s it seem like?” Fleming answered, and the viewers laughed and clapped.

In The Indian Needs the Bronx, John Cazale played Gupta, an East Indian, and Al Pacino performed Murph, wherever and each time any person would allow us to do the play. Cazale was sensible, however I assumed it was going to be insulting to East Indians to have a Caucasian play the position. I insisted on finding a real Hindu and did: an accountant who lived in Queens and had a penchant for the stage. Our first and solely performance in Hampton Bays there have been 3000 seats and solely three individuals confirmed up: three previous women in large hats, atop hopeful bluish-haired heads. Midway via the performance, they left. They simply stood they usually merely left. A migraine hit me like a thrown plant pot.

We received Cazale back, we obtained Hammerstein, but the brand new producer wasn’t shopping for Al. “He’s too brief.” “The man’s a genius.” “He’s too brief.” “You’ll be able to’t do the play without him. I gained’t do it.” “He’ll need to audi­tion” “He’ll audition.” “You’ll have to think about other actors.” “I stated, ‘He’ll audition!’ ” He did. Al obtained two strains out of his mouth and the producer was startled. I ran down the aisle and screamed out to Al, “You bought the part!” The 20 other actors sitting ready to audition were not joyful. Now, wanting back, I don’t assume Al minded having to audition in any respect. He knew he was un­beatable. He nonetheless is. He nonetheless is aware of it.

TED MANN: In April of 1956 Circle within the Square theater was on the verge of going underneath; we determined that if we have been to shut, we might make the final production the most important, probably the most challenging and most troublesome. We selected O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh, a play that had failed on Broadway 10 years before, had a forged of 25, and ran over five and a half hours. Jose Quintero was set to go into rehearsals with Howard da Silva enjoying Hickey, however da Silva withdrew on the last moment. A younger actor came in and pleaded for a chance to read for the position. We had discovered our Hickey — Jason Robards Jr.

JAMES COCO: My first experience Off-Off was in a manufacturing of Salome. Opposite to all studies, I performed Herod the king. We had a particular make-up individual, and I ended up with extra make-up than Salome herself. I had a troublesome time discovering a job after that.

CRYSTAL FIELD: We’ve been doing Road Theater at Theater for the New City as long as we’ve been around. That’s 14 years. Early on we determined to move into the boroughs. Schaffer Beer had proven an interest in spon­soring us in Greenpoint, the place that they had a brewery, but pulled out on the last second — something about beer and youngsters. George [Bartenieff] thought twice about going, however I stated, “Come on, it’s Brooklyn, they’ll love us.”

We have been doing Undercover Cop that yr by Bob Nichols and once we arrived, the first thing we discovered was two gangs in the midst of a verbal brawl. “That’s O.Okay.,” I stated, “a play will calm them down.” One gang chief assured us that a play with singing was simply what was needed, so we proceeded to start out. There was no electrical energy within the playground, so three members of one gang climbed a fireplace escape, broke into an condominium and plugged us in — it happened so quick we couldn’t say no.

Within the play, George, enjoying a druggie, was to steal Margaret Miller’s purse and run by way of the viewers. Margaret was imagined to scream and run after him, adopted by me (I was enjoying somewhat fat boy) screaming and operating after her. Properly, I had all the time shut my eyes once I screamed because it needed to be loud and from a sitting place. Once I opened them, the complete au­dience was on its ft, chasing George. “It’s only a play,” I screamed. “For those who hold behaving like this we gained’t come again next yr.” They all seemed contrite. However it wasn’t three minutes before the growling started once more between the 2 gangs and chains swung and knives twisted in arms.

We never felt instantly threatened ourselves, though we thought we’d “get it” by mistake and it spoiled our focus and I by no means felt that they actually un­derstood the show. But there have been no injuries and no thefts. They pointed the best way to the bridge and cheered us as we drove off.

NORRIS HOUGHTON: Again within the earliest days Circle within the Sq. was devoted to new actors, and the Dwelling Theater to a brand new type of theater, but there was no place for established actors to perform away from the pressures of economic theater. What with tickets as much as a $6.60 prime, it seemed like Broadway was pricing itself out of existence.

So T. Edward Hambleton and I began the Phoenix. We opened with Sidney Howard’s Madam Will You Stroll? starring Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy, on December 1, 1953. The audience was extraordinarily favor­in a position and our hopes have been excessive, but the newspapers had gone out on strike. Fearing the Phoenix can be re­duced to ashes in our very first season, we made a curtain speech begging the audience to unfold the word. By the top of the week we had bought out.

FLORENCE TARLOW: I first appeared at Judson Poets Theater in Apollinaire’s The Breasts of Tiresias, enjoying a kiosk. Only my arms have been visible, so the kiosk might categorical itself. From then on, for a period of six or seven years, I seem to have been in a single play after one other, from the really splendid to the god-awful, but each had super power and enthusiasm. Some transferred to off-Broadway, like Shepard’s Pink Cross and Irene Fornes’s Promenade, and had respectable runs and good houses. Others weren’t so fortunate. On an exquisite summer time matinee day, once I fervently wished I have been at the seashore and was performing as an alternative on the Martinique in Ronald Tavel’s marvelous comedy Gorilla Queen, there were twice as many of us on stage as out in the audience.

Close contender to the Judson for my fond reminiscences of Off-Off Broadway in the ’60s was the Hardware Poets Theater, situated over a ironmongery shop in a block now occupied by the New York Hilton Lodge. Performing in their always-original, often-mad performs was monumental enjoyable. There have been frequent particular occasions like the three­-day Yam Pageant throughout which one might take part or watch events constantly for all the interval. I did each, with out leaving the premises for 72 hours, and emerged into the brilliant sunshine with one thing just like the bends.

TAYLOR MEAD: Outdoors of the dreadful bullshit and sadism of just about each producer and director I labored with within the ’60s, there was an depth of dwelling each on, and off stage. Typically the two have been indistinguish­in a position — if the strains or timing didn’t go well with the person’s mood of the night, voila, a new play! Ondine was considered one of our biggest prima donnas — beating up members of the viewers or ordering them to go away in the event that they laughed on the “mistaken” half. In Conquest of the Universe we al­ways questioned whether or not he would go on or not, or when the curtain would rise on him nonetheless fixing his make-up.

Conquest was one massive anecdote because we had a very robust forged, fortuitously, and since we had a very robust director — John Vacarro — and no one took any nonsense from anyone. Once I first learn the script I assumed it was unreadable, pointed to the middle, and stated, “I’ll do it if I can sing ‘I’m Flying’ from Peter Pan right right here.” Vacarro stated, “Okay,” and we had a ball. Later I performed the track (coated in jewels) on the Johnny Carson show. A nervous Bob Crane was visitor host. He thought I used to be going to answer the questions the best way I did within the interview, however when he requested, slightly acidly, what I did all day, “the dishes?” I replied: “I only have one dish.”

RICHARD FOREMAN: Within the early ’60s, once I entered the Off-Off Broadway world, I had just spent six years deeply involved with Jonas Mekas and the underground film motion. It was quite a couple of years earlier than my tiny film-oriented audience started to incorporate extra “institution” Off-Off Broadway spectators. From ’68 until ’72, we might usually carry out for 15 to 20 individuals a night, half of whom would go away inside the 20 minutes. We measured the success of the night when it comes to how many individuals stayed until the top (typically not more than 5 or 6). I’ve typically thought that if it hadn’t been for the fortunate accident of the Voice sending Arthur Sainer to evaluation my first items, for which he wrote enthusiastic evaluations, the overall viewers hostility (and tinyness) may need accomplished me in. As Gertrude Stein says: artists don’t need criticism, they need praise.

RICHARD BARR: Edward Albee, Clinton Wilder, and I ran the playwrights unit on Vandam Road for about 10 years. The manager of that unit was Charles Gnys. Originally we every learn all of the plays submitted; later Gnys learn them alone. Then Albee submitted his new play, Box, underneath a pseudonym; Gnys wrote a scathing evaluate. The play turned Box Mao Box. Just exhibits what can happen for those who delegate authority.

MICHAEL FEINGOLD: The primary present I directed Off-­Off-Broadway was on the Previous Reliable, round 1970, a pair of one-acts by Lonnie Carter. I made a horrible mess of one and did the opposite brilliantly. In the first one Neil Flanagan performed the god Bacchus; Arthur Sainer gave us an awful pan within the Voice, but he talked about that Neil wore a nine-foot garden hose popping out of his fly as a phallus, so the subsequent day we had strains across the block. In the second play Neil was a mad German physicist who had discovered a solution to take away area from time, Joan Pape was his spouse, who did nothing all day however make ginger-ale-flavored yogurt, and Albert Poland­ — his final onstage performance — was their villainous nephew, who needed to take advantage of Neil’s discovery. That they had a really tense confrontation in the ultimate scene and one night time, simply as they hit this second, with lifeless silence in the theater, there was a gunshot, very distinct, within the constructing subsequent door. Albert went utterly white; they each stood stock nonetheless for a minute. Then Neil, making an attempt to get well, stated, “Nephew,” very softly, and thank good­ness, simply then we heard the police siren approaching. “Nephew,” Neil stated, “you’re not going to get away with this. I took the precaution of phoning the police.” And everyone cheered.

ARTHUR SAINER: As Voice drama critics, Michael Smith and I might typically go to the theater collectively. We’d confer after the present; the unwritten rule: whoever appreciated the play higher would write the evaluate. In June of ’63 Michael wrote and directed a play at the Caffe Cino referred to as I Like It. In it, a mom and grown son spend most of their time in an enormous brass bed. (Michael hauled over his personal mattress for the run.) I was scheduled to do the evaluation; I was additionally briefly staying in Michael’s house. I wrote the evaluation (combined) on Michael’s typewriter, listened to the periodic downward thrust of the pants presser in the shop under (it was hovering close to 100 levels that week), visited the adjoining apart­ment, where Tom O’Horgan had painted his front room walls a deep inexperienced to offer one a vivid sense of the subterranean life, and eventually in desperation wrote a one-act play, The Bitch of Waverly Place, which two years later was to mark my debut as a playwright in that then arcadian world of Off-Off Broadway.

I’d written The Bitch as a solo efficiency for Jenny Hecht. Jenny was nervous about soloing and couldn’t fathom what the play was about. She (your complete forged) vanished the last two days of rehearsals. Opening night time, looking for something to hook into, Jenny began im­provising: “I don’t know what this play’s purported to be about. Mr. Sainer wrote these things, I can’t make any sense of it, can you?” I had a recurring fantasy about operating onstage and turning Jenny’s monologue right into a dialogue, but was too timid in those days. Nicely, Jenny has since departed from this Earth, as have Joe Cino and others who have been within the forefront of a wierd and wonderful moment in theater history. Bless them.

HARVEY FIERSTEIN: I labored my ass off for 11 years in over 60 productions, enjoying the whole lot from Greek tragedy to Christmas camps. Eleven years of rat-ridden rehearsal rooms, thrift store costumes, organ loft gown­ing rooms, and sweatbox theaters. I suffered the slings of Michael Feingold, the arrows of Michael Smith, and the outrageous fortunes of Joe Papp. I sported tuxes and togas and lamé robes. I tap-danced and stripteased and hung by chains from the walls. I ruined my health, alienated my family, and embarrassed my pals. And all for what? In order that in the future I is perhaps sitting in Art D’Lugoff’s columned corridor, consuming sangria snatched from the subsequent table, when the emcee introduced, “For excellent all the things, the judges have awarded an Obie to Harvey Fierstein.”

So did it ever happen? Yearly I sat there, my acceptance speech scrawled in my sweaty palm, and for 10 years it was all the time the same: “For excellent each­thing, the judges have awarded an Obie to Maria Irene Fornes.” After 10 years I figured they’d a minimum of give me a lifetime achievement award. In any case, Irene already had 4 of these. But no, my 10th yr slipped by unnoticed. In truth, I wasn’t even invited to the Obies that yr.

Now this saga does have a cheerful ending. I used to be finally awarded an Obie for writing and appearing. (God forbid they need to give me two separate ones. They gave Irene three that yr.) The award hangs prominently amongst a humbling array of such trophies and I’m definitely glad to see it each morning. But in closing let me simply remind the august Obie Committee that 1986 marks my 15th yr among y’all and I’m positive Irene’s walls are full whereas I have a country home to embellish. Enough stated. See you at the Obies.

From his performances with the Dwelling Theater, by means of the startling ensemble produc­tions he created with the Open Theater and the Winter Venture, from his interpretations of Beck­ett, by way of his collaborations with Sam Shepard, Joseph Chaikin’s work has been a model of the perfect of Off- and Off-Off: noncommercial, uncon­ventional, clever, visceral theater.

A yr ago, Chaikin suffered a stroke. He has only partially regained his speech, but lately wrote and recorded two radio plays with Shepard and hopes to conduct a workshop in Israel subsequent fall. Once I asked for a contribution to this history, he handed me letters from Shepard. In one the playwright quotes his favorite line from a Brecht poem: “You can also make a recent start together with your remaining breath.”


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