Author Archives: Jayne Anne Harris

Bring Holly Woodlawn Home

Bring Holly Woodlawn Home

lldanceteriaGIII

May 1982 – A nice piece in Michael’s Thing written for George Harris III aka Hibiscus’ fundraiser for medical expenses at Danceteria. Pictured are the Screaming Violets with their band. The top left picture features the cast of Tinseltown Tirades, George’s last show at Theater for the New City. Holly Woodlawn (center) star of that show is now in dire need of funding due to a life threatening illness. Our friend Penny Arcade has set up a GoFundMe page. Please consider donating to Bring Holly Home.

 

 

 

 

 

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Magical Trail – Our new book of the life and times of George Harris III aka Hibiscus

Magical Trail – Our new book of the life and times of George Harris III aka Hibiscus

SHOWJUDSON LOU

 

Our family reunion started at the beach in Ocean Grove, New Jersey and turned into the kickoff of writing our second book about our brother George Harris III aka Hibiscus. Once back in New York City, positive signs from the universe began to appear. A freshly glittered sign at Judson Church (one of our first Off – Off Broadway homes), a fresh Hibiscus flower found at 7AM on an industrial street in Chelsea. In the words of Joe Cino before every show at the Caffe Cino – “It’s magic time.”

 

HIBISCUS 30TH STREETPOROIT

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Angels of Light: The Practically True Story of The Cockettes

Angels of Light: The Practically True Story of The Cockettes

Hibiscus crepe

Real Beards, Real Ladies

New play about psychedelic drag legends The Cockettes gets a blessing from a living legend shimself

Angels of Light

PHOTO COURTESY OF THE DOLLS
Angels of Light transports you to an epic hippie hellscape.

“OMG!!!” began a Facebook post by Kenneth Ansloan, Head Doll of The Dolls Theatre Troupe. “The one and only Rumi Missabu … an original member of the infamous hippie drag troupe The Cockettes, is going to be at our opening weekend!”

On New Year’s Eve in 1969, Missabu was one of 11 friends inveigled to dress up in vintage finery and perform a chorus line onstage at the Pagoda Palace Theater in exchange for free tickets to Nocturnal Dream Shows’ midnight screening. The newly branded Cockettes—a nod to The Rockettes—drove the audience wild with their bizarre antics and acid-fueled aesthetic. Thereafter, they became a monthly Palace fixture.

Until success burst the bubble.

Hibiscus

JACK WEBER
The real Hibiscus, free-theater aficionado and head of The Cockettes

After Ansloan saw the 2002 documentary filmThe Cockettes, he conceptualized his new two-act playAngels of Light: The Practically True Story of The Cockettes. Moving between present-day and flashback segments, Ansloan plays an invented romantic interest named Juju to dramatize the event that simultaneously made and broke The Cockettes for all posterity: their big divorce.

“This troupe, this commune, these hippies, this family that was together for three years suddenly was torn apart,” Ansloan says. “And that fascinated me, and I made that kind of into a love story.”

In 1971, however, the deathblow was more philosophical than personal.

“The beginning was all about [Cockettes figurehead] Hibiscus and his ‘let’s put on a show’ attitude,” says Missabu, who spoke with the Alibi from his home in Oakland, Calif. And what a show it was, with bawdy showstoppers like “Gone With the Showboat to Oklahoma” and “a fairytale extravaganza on LSD, where all the fairytale characters come together.”

“They were the first bearded drag queens,” says filmmaking legend John Waters, who also got his start at the Palace, in the 2002 documentary. “Hippie, acid-freak drag queens, which was really new at the time.”

The Dolls

PHOTO COURTESY OF THE DOLLS
Like The Cockettes, The Dolls don’t do “buttoned-down.”

“So more and more people would jump up from the audience, who were just as dressed up and just as stoned as we were, and be in the show forever more,” Missabu explains, estimating that by the end, upwards of 160 people were associated with Cockettes’ performances in some capacity. By 1970, “there were 65 people on stage and that’s when I said, I’ve had it.”

The communal spirit, initially responsible for bringing The Cockettes together, sowed the seeds of disintegration as the troupe began to draw increasing exposure—and money—for their revolutionary form of street theater.

“Hibiscus was very much the hippie and was all about free theater,” Ansloan explains.

Rumi Missabu and Tina Turner

DAVID WISE
Rumi Missabu and Tina Turner (!) backstage at Basin Street West in San Francisco, 1971

“All these serious queens took over, and there was a board of directors. And it was like, board of directors? This isn’t fun anymore,” Missabu says with a laugh. “We had board meetings at The Cockettes’ château, and it was basically a bitch session of who was worth what for each show, based on who did what.”

Hibiscus’ battle to steer his troupe away from the trodden path of scripted productions was compounded when theater critic Rex Reed interested producers in taking their trippy form of guerilla drag east to the theater capital of the world. The question became, Will success spoil mediocrity?

“I read [that] it was the biggest hyped event in New York City since Elvis at Shea Stadium,” Missabu says. “People were clamoring and fighting for tickets.”

Before more than 40 Cockettes flew the coop for the Big Apple, Hibiscus left the group to form Angels of Light in the original free spirit of The Cockettes. Missabu, seeing the writing on the wall, joined him.

Rumi Missabu and Hibiscus

DAVID WISE
Rumi Missabu and Hibiscus in San Francisco’s famous Ross Alley, 1970

On Nov. 7, 1971, at New York’s Anderson Theater, a veritable red carpet turned out for The Cockettes’ opening night. Luminaries included Gore Vidal, Allen Ginsberg, John and Yoko, Andy Warhol and Angela Lansbury.

“Poor Truman Capote was too sick to come to New York,” Missabu reports. “He was in the hospital, so he just sent a telegram.”

When Truman Capote apologizes for missing “the glory and splendor of your New York debut,” you’re entitled to high hopes. But there’s also a Broadway-town maxim that would ultimately send The Cockettes packing with their tails between their legs: In New York, you have to deliver.

“The radical press back then really politicized us because we were so new,” Missabu says of the San Francisco media. “I like to say The Cockettes couldn’t live in the world of established performance or theater because ultimately we were like sexual outlaws. It was just a free-for-all. … Sex on the stage. Sex in the balcony with the audience.”

Rumi Missabu

DAVID WISE
Rumi Missabu in Elevator Girls in Bondage, 1972

The New York press frequently reported that The Cockettes were everywhere but rehearsal. So when their opening number launched them with the same kind of chaotic disaster so celebrated back home, it became clear that what was lacking was some serious cultural context.

“People couldn’t get out of the theater fast enough,” Missabu says.

“Hibiscus was right,” says Ansloan. “What was popular and fascinating in San Francisco, the kind of LSD-influenced shows, didn’t work in New York because they expected to see a traditional play that was highly scripted and highly professional. … So Angela Lansbury of all people stood up and literally said … ‘Fuck this shit, I’m leaving.’”

The Cockettes finished their tour and returned home to stage some of their best work over the next year, including Journey to the Center of Uranus, in which Waters’ legendary film star, Divine, played a crab on the far-flung planet.

The Dolls’ Angels of Light, which includes video parodies of some of The Cockettes’ most notorious films (like their spoof on first daughter Tricia Nixon’s 1971 wedding), also features some highly anticipated Angela Lansbury drag. Missabu will host a Q&A afterward as well as a short, Cockettes-inspired performance after each of the opening weekend shows. He says this will be his first time seeing himself portrayed as a scripted character.

“That’s why this project seemed like a good fit,” Missabu says. “For me to have a good time and bring my magic to New Mexico, of all places.”

Angels of Light: The Practically True Story of The Cockettes

Runs May 15 through May 31
Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm

Aux Dog Theatre
3011-15 Monte Vista NE
254-7716, auxdog.com
Tickets: $20
Post-show Q&A and performances by Rumi Missabu held opening weekend, May 15 through 17.

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If Happy Little Bluebirds Fly Beyond The Rainbow, So Can The Harris Family! – Andrew Martin

If Happy Little Bluebirds Fly Beyond The Rainbow, So Can The Harris Family! – Andrew Martin

caravan

The review below was written by our talented friend performer, writer, radio personality Andrew Martin:

Anyone who has ever availed themselves of the Off-Off-Broadway experience in New York City, whether as a performer, a crew member or simply “one of those little people out there in the dark,” will truly sink their literary teeth into Caravan to Oz, a splendid history of one family’s journey into a most exciting period in the American theater in the Big Apple. Anyone who hasn’t ever availed themselves of the Off-Off-Broadway experience in New York City, whether as a performer, a crew member or simply “one of those little people out there in the dark,” will truly sink their literary teeth into the book all the same. And in any case, this two-hundred-and-seventy page tome laden with stunning photography, emerges as a wondrous history lesson even to those not necessarily theater-oriented. To be succinct, it’s nearly impossible to put down once begun reading. The book bears vague similarities to Edie, the smash recounting of Warhol superstar Edie Sedgwick, except that in this case the story is actually told by the subjects in question, along with additional input by such legends of the Off-Off-Broadway scene and the cultural world at large as Tim Robbins, Bob Heide, Robert Patrick, Crystal Field, Mike Figgis, Mark Lancaster, Ritsaert ten Cate, and the late Ellen Stewart.

The caravan begins its initial drive down life’s highway in the Westchester, New York enclave of Bronxville, where actor-writers George Edgerly Harris II (hereafter referred to as George Sr) and his wife Ann launched a family of six eventual children, namely and in order George Edgerly Harris III (hereafter referred to as G3), Walter Michael Harris, Frederic Joseph Harris, Jayne Ann Harris (today Harris-Kelley), Eloise Alice Harris (today Harris-Damone) and Mary Lucille Harris, hereafter referred to as Mary Lou. After the family relocated to Belleaire, a suburb of Clearwater in Florida, and spent several years there in which all six of the children proved themselves extremely adept at both performance and self-producing various extravaganzas, the family once again headed north and took up residence on the Lower East Side, slowly assimilating themselves into the world of Off-Off-Broadway which had already begun coming into its own ten or more years earlier with the advent of LaMaMa Experimental Theater Company, the Living Theater, and the Caffe Cino. By the late 1960s, Walter Michael (not merely an actor-singer but a very impressive and self-taught musician) had established himself as the youngest original cast member of the hit musical Hair on Broadway, while George Sr took a role in The Great White Hope and subsequently took the show on the road, and mother Ann assumed a featured part in the classic horror film The Honeymoon Killers, alongside Shirley Stoler and Tony LoBianco. G3, meanwhile, trotted off to San Francisco to find his own path and, aside from being reportedly the first person to stick flowers into the gun barrels of the police during the Summer of Love in Haight-Ashbury while living on a commune, also began exploring drag artistry under the name Hibiscus as a founding member of the pioneering troupe The Cockettes. Upon his self-imposed termination in Hair, Walter Michael also ventured to Northern California to join his big brother but opted for a more spiritual path, ultimately becoming a monk of the Holy Order of MANS (although he did eventually return to the theatrical fold after a fashion). Once reborn as the theater company The Angels of Light, the girls of the family along with their mother settled into a happy existence as literally the First Family of Off-Off-Broadway besides appearances on a triumphant tour of several European countries.

The story also has some disturbing twists and turns. Hibiscus ended up as one of the earliest-known victims to succumb to the AIDS crisis. It’s also notable that brother Fred offers no input to the book whatsoever, leaving a reader wondering exactly what his side to the story might be. The Harris Sisters, however, continued to find fame as a trio within the cabaret club spectrum during the 1980s and 1990s (occasionally making appearances with the renowned downtown actor-singer Bobby Reed), and the entire book is interlaced with lyrics written by mother Ann for such shows as The Sheep and the CheapskateThere Is Method In Their Madness, and Sky High. It’s almost a little too much to take in upon just one reading, to realize exactly how incredible this superb family of eight managed to accomplish in one lifetime together. But by the last page, one can’t help but feel a sense of peace, as well as the hope that anything in life is truly possible given the right brand of dedication and talent.

Caravan to Oz is available by ordering here. Do yourselves a favor and grab a copy.

 

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Judith Malina co-founder of The Living Theater dies at 88

Judith Malina co-founder of The Living Theater dies at 88

judith malinaJudith Malina co-founder of The Living Theater died on Friday 10 April.  She and her husband Julian Beck were on the cutting edge of experimental theater from the early ’50’s.  Her presence in the industry will be missed.

New York Times Obituary Judith Malina

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What people are saying about Caravan to Oz – D.S. Ripley

What people are saying about Caravan to Oz – D.S. Ripley
By D. S. Ripley on August 31, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase

“Caravan to Oz” is the collective story of an irrepressible family with dazzling energy, unbreakable optimism, and unflagging creative spirit. But it isn’t just that: it’s a history of the decades through which the family has lived, persevered and grown, and even helped to shape events, in theatre and in the broader American culture. It can almost be challenging to believe that so many stories – some of which will be familiar to you, some that you will hear for the first time – could come from the experience of a single family. It’s as though George, Sr., Ann, George III, Walter Michael, Fred, Jayne Anne, Eloise and Mary Lou were the love children of Lewis Carroll and L. Frank Baum, midwifed by J. M. Barrie. However, that’s not quite it – there are certainly fabulous and fantastical elements to the story, but they have all worked very hard, all their lives, to turn their magical vision into reality.
And it’s all, or mostly, there, told with humor, love, grace and honesty. From the early “Let’s put on a show!” days in Florida, to the risky transplanting of the whole tribe to New York, to the beginnings of the Theatre for the New City, the family-written and produced shows at La MaMa ETC, the groundbreaking and culture-changing phenomenon of “Hair”, to the founding of the Cockettes in San Francisco, the journeys through Europe, a monastery, and Bay Area communes, to the shattering new reality of the AIDS epidemic and the maturity and mellowing of seasoned performers with an amazing range of talents and accomplishments. They renewed themselves with each success, setback, and new inspiration, began new families and, through it all, retained their devotion to each other. The Harrises were, and are, in and of their times in a way that very few, if any, other families could have been. It’s a remarkable ride through a time that must have looked very different on the inside of the magic mirror, as they were. I found this ride to be enriching as I looked back over the years they describe, and saw those times from a fresh and exhilarating perspective.
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The Questioning of John Rykener production dedicated to the late Marsha P. Johnson

The Questioning of John Rykener production dedicated to the late Marsha P. Johnson

MARSHAPJOHNSON

The Questioning of John Rykener, a new dance & theater attraction concerning a true tale of a cross-dressing male prostitute in 1395 medieval England is coming to The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center in NYC April 11th, 8pm. The production is dedicated to the memory of trans-activist Marsha P. Johnson and is conceived, directed & narrated by original Cockette Rumi Missabu aka James Bartlett.

“Miss Marsha” P. Johnson embodied the early Gay movement proudly and very LOUDLY.” Marsha was best known in New York City as a gay and transgender rights activist. She was a leader in the 1969 Stonewall Riots that united the LGBT communities to demand an end to police brutality.  When asked what her middle initial “P” meant she replied, “Pay It No Mind” and this became her signature catchphrase. Following the 1992 Gay Pride celebration Miss Marsha was found murdered and her case was never solved.

 

On stage with Hibiscus’ aka George Harris III troupe  Angels of Light (New York), family friend Miss Marsha would be met with standing ovations upon her entrance without ever singing a note or dancing a step. She would inevitably break the fourth wall and start talking to the audience, which whipped them into a frenzied back-and-forth banter leading to another standing ovation. Hibiscus eventually stopped assigning songs and dances to Miss Marsha, because she rarely got to them. Just being Miss Marsha P. Johnson was enough magic to electrify the audience.

 

 The Questioning of John Rykener info: cocketterumi@gmail.com

 

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