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Kamarck, Edward (ed.) / Arts in society: the arts and the black revolution II

Malpede, Karen
Notes and discussions: off off Broadway: the effort to create a contemporary theatre,   pp. [522]-529 PDF (8.0 MB)

Page 523

its promising beginning with the
presentation of the first plays of Albee,
Gelber and Kopit, off-Broadway became
merely an extension of the Broadway
theater. Off-Broadway is today in financial
trouble because the small size of its
theaters cannot meet the rising cost of
production. Hence, the original experimental
aim has largely been forsaken.
Not through rational plan but out of
commercial need, the founders of Off Off
Broadway have established the only
theater institution in this country largely
dedicated to new plays and new talent.
Larry Kornfeld who has directed an
average of six plays a year for the Judson
Poets' Theater explains:
Off Off Broadway started with people needing
a place to do things. All of us at Judson
are involved in theater, and when we get
work in the commercial theater we work
there. We do not consider ourselves
amateurs or professionals. We are artists.
Ralph Cook, artistic director of Theater
Genesis at St. Marks-in-the-Bowery, shuns
the idea of working in the Broadway
theater system and says:
We want to do living theater instead of
museum theater. I have nothing against
museum theater, but ninety eight per cent of
the theater in this country is museum theater,
while two per cent, at best, is living theater.
In New York City there are nine museums to
show the work of old artists and about
325 art galleries for new artists. That is a
healthy situation.
Off Off Broadway is in the hands of its
artists: Al Carmines, assistant minister of
Judson Memorial Church and director
of the arts program, is a composer; Ralph
Cook and Joseph Chaikin, chief spokesmen
for the Open Theater, are directors, as
was Joe Cino who ran the Caffe Cino
until his death in 1967; 'Ntoni Bastiano,
Playwrights' Workshop Club Founder, is a
writer. A prime exception is Ellen Stewart,
founder of La MaMa E.T.C., who is a
patron: she pours her earnings as a
clothing designer into her theater.
If Off Off Broadway is not the answer to
the problems shrouding the commercial
theater, it has managed to free itself of
most of them. Financial considerations
play little part in the selection of plays
for production, and OOB plays do not
close from lack of income. Only in the
theaters operating with a grant are actors
paid. Yet Equity members have banded
tog3ther and won the right to be allowed
to work Off Off Broadway and in many
productions a number of cast members
are likely to be cited as appearing
"through the courtesy of Actors' Equity."
Since admission to OOB is seldom more
than a dollar there is virtually no one in
New York City who would find the cost of
attending an OOB play prohibitive.
The large number of new plays by new
writers produced in OOB regions means
in Ralph Cook's words, "there is an awful
lot of junk." No one working OOB will
deny the uneven quality of the offerings.
After all, this is an experimental theater
created to be free to experiment.
Finding plays to produce is seldom a
problem, since apparently there are
substantially more new plays around than
even prolific OOB can handle. Ralph
Cook says:
I get about twenty scripts a week. Decisions are
rather subjective. A play has to somehow
tear me apart. It has to take me somewhere
I've never been before, and I've been a
lot of places.
Ellen Stewart who receives at least five
scripts a day characterizes the plays she
presents at La MaMa as having a
"subconscious appeal."
Anytime you come to La MaMa you will find
a diversified audience. Our audience is as
much suburban and middle aged as anything
else. Yet 60 per cent of them have no
concrete idea of what the play is about. They
are interested in it because of its subliminal
The Judson Po3ts' Theater, Theater Genesis
The two Off Off Broadway theaters
affiliated with church arts programs are
vital reminders of the now dead hope of
community theater. Both Al Carmines
and Ralph Cook are conscious of the
community organization of their programs.
Carmines says:
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