Each year the family tries to top itself at this popular Halloween costume contest in the Catskill Mountain town of Andes, New York. This year was no exception. Here are your “Best Group” winners, The Presidential Candidates, from left to right: Donald Trump (Jayne Anne), Hillary Clinton (Mary Lou) and Jeb Bush (Eloise). Wow!
This weekend, a new production of HAIR opened at Bainbridge Performing Arts, just a ferry ride away from my home in Seattle. Michael Moore, theater critic for The Kitsap Sun, was won over by the energy and vibrancy of the cast, the fine work of the creative team, and by the irresistible theatrical alchemy of HAIR. Here is his review, in PDF:
If you live near Seattle, this is a HAIR you should see. Its anti-war message is as relevant today as it was almost 50 years ago. But don’t procrastinate – its three-week run ends Sunday, October 25. Below are director Teresa Thurman’s excellent program notes, and photos shared with me by BPA’s public relations director, Sally Jo Martine.
DIRECTOR’S NOTES by Teresa Thuman
What happens when two opposing forces collide, such as when a writer of college musical revues (James Rado) meets an experimental ritualistic theatre artist of the Open Theatre (Gerome Ragni) in the middle of an era of radical social change (1960’s)? You get the cosmic explosion and unique cultural fusion that is HAIR, the Broadway hit musical. HAIR was honest, raw, organic, iconoclastic, non-linear, and spoke to a generation rejecting their parents’ rigid and conventional social norms.
HAIR is primarily an anti-war story, created at a time of unapologetic experimentation with every conceivable means of altering reality: psychedelic drugs, sexual freedom, revolutionary politics, a search for identity, self-examination, and, under the shadow of potential induction into the draft, questioning existence itself. Within this environment, a brave, intimate and idealistic tribe is forged, and tested, on their path to celebrate the gift of life.
HAIR is now almost 50 years old, and in 2015 our concepts of radicalism have changed. The pendulum of social change swings through the decades, and HAIR now holds outdated views of racial equity, cultural and gender identity, sexual orientation, politics and drugs (addiction is never explored). We look back knowing much of this hippie utopia was naïve and unsustainable. However, I am forever grateful to this vanguard of courageous idealists, because without their radical acts in the 1960s, this world would be a very different place. Perhaps the Age of Aquarius is indeed upon us and the endurance of this musical is proof enough for me.
This quote is from a recent rave in The Antigonish Review:
“….Dominic writes as Julius Caesar spoke (“I came, I saw, I conquered.”), as Dickens wrote, and as Toni Morrison writes. The style is immediate and emotive. It also makes for a fasten-your-seat-belt read….”
And here’s the link to the full review by Marjorie Simmins:
Get to know Magie by ordering “STREET ANGEL” and by visiting:
Tonight at BIZARRE Bushwick, 12 Jefferson Street Brooklyn, NY 9 PM (Donation)
Actor director producer Rumi Missabu aka James Bartlett of the rag-tag acid-drenched gender-bending Cockettes who were to drag shows as Niagara is to wet hosts a fun-filled multimedia romp with Special GuestsAlejandro Rodríguez aka Lady Quesa’Dilla, Nicholas Gorham, Sasha Velour. Jarvis Jun Earnshaw, Mark Golamco, Video installation by Drag Historian Joe E. Jeffreys, DJ John Goddard aka Johnny O’rrible – 9pm
On July 14, 2015, T magazine assembled some of the artists, writers, performers, musicians and intellectuals who defined New York’s inimitable and electrifying cultural scene of the late 1970s and early ’80s. Happy to say we were a seminal part of that scene among many, many other influential creative people living and no longer with us who do not appear in this photograph or article. Click on the link above the picture to read about the remarkable times.
One of the original Cockettes Fayette Hauser (photo – Roger Arvid Anderson) is publishing a photo book about The Cockettes. Please consider donating to her Kickstarter campaign to publish this Limited Edition Photo Book about pioneering, influential San Francisco theater troupe – The Cockettes 1969 – 1972.
Only three more performances remaining – hurry, hurry to Albuquerque before they sell out! Our cousin Dale Rose and her family caught the show this weekend and were quite moved by it. Here’s a local review:
ANGELS OF LIGHT REVIEW BY DEAN YANNIAS
Angels of Light: The Practically True Story of The Cockettes
The Dolls at Aux Dog Theatre Nob Hill
If you were lucky enough to have been at the opening weekend of Angels of Light: The Practically True Story of The Cockettes, you would have had the privilege of hearing Rumi Missabu, one of the few surviving members of The Cockettes, sing “Stranger in Paradise” from Kismet half in the voice of Alfalfa and half in the voice of Marlene Dietrich, in drag. It’s this kind of absurdist creativity (genius, in a way) that was the hallmark of The Cockettes.
The Cockettes flourished for only a few years, 1969 to 1972, and were sui generis. They are usually called a psychedelic drag troupe, but their fantastic costumes and glittery makeup owe more to Mardi Gras parades than to traditional drag, and there were a few women in the group. They lived communally in San Francisco and performed almost exclusively there, except for a less than successful stint in New York. They were too hot not to cool down, and after a couple years the group broke up for good.
Just by chance, after seeing this show, I saw a Susan Sontag reader sitting among the dozens of unread books at my bedside, and found her famous “Notes on Camp” essay. She says: “The essence of Camp is its love of the unnatural: of artifice and exaggeration. And Camp is esoteric—something of a private code, a badge of identity even, among small urban cliques.” She was in essence defining The Cockettes.
Kenneth Ansloan, who is without doubt one of the most creative people in Albuquerque, has turned the history of The Cockettes into a partly fictional stage play, another world premiere for our town. He not only wrote it but, along with Jessica Osbourne, directs it as well. His way into the story is through an elderly Cockette, Juju (played by Ansloan), reminiscing to a young student (Bryan Andrew Lambe) who is doing research on the group. The student then takes on the role of the young Juju, and we’re transported back to San Francisco in 1970. He soon meets Hibiscus (Garrick Milo), the leader of the Cockettes, otherwise known as George Harris III, who was immortalized in the famous 1967 “Flower Power” photograph as the young man putting a flower into the barrel of a National Guardsman’s rifle. After passing the blow job test, Juju is invited into the commune and becomes a Cockette member. We then follow the group to the climax of their fame, and the deflation that follows.
In all of Ken’s shows, amid the flamboyance and hilarity and raunch (there’s always a dildo somewhere), there are moments of poignancy and pensiveness. Here, they originate from the love story between Juju and Hibiscus, and that’s one of the problems with the script. That love story hardly exists, so when young Juju breaks down in tears or old Juju finds some evidence that Hibiscus really did love him and can finally be at peace, it’s easy to question why this wasn’t demonstrated to us other than by an offhand whisper of “I love you” by Hibiscus as he was flouncing around. There’s dramatic potential here that wasn’t quite realized.
My only other suggestion is to trim the first act a little, since it drags a bit. There is a “Cheech and Chong” stoner dialogue between two minor characters that goes on too long, and a monologue by Candy Darling (A.J. Carian) that could be shortened. Sometimes too much of a good thing is really too much. And for some reason, old Juju sounds British but young Juju, except for a couple lines, sounds totally American.
But these few shortcomings are easily outweighed by the really good things about the show. The story itself is interesting, the spectacle is always entertaining, and the actors are all very good. I’m grateful for the fact that they didn’t lip-sync. There are some excellent performers here, in drag or not, and I would have loved to have heard more singing from Jaime Pardo (who plays Sylvester, the only Cockette to have a well-known solo career) and Jessica Osbourne and Garrick Milo. It’s a pretty big cast that includes Hasani Olujimi, Joshua Ball, Brian Fejer, and Joel Miller.
As in all Dolls shows, the costumes and makeup and wigs are fabulous. Credit goes to Off Broadway, House of Dolls, Korlee Robinson, and Nikolas Hoover. The amazing set, which transforms in seconds from a New York City apartment to a San Francisco commune or a theater dressing room, was built by Tom Epley, Ray Cawley, Ray Francia, Garrick Milo, Heather Epley, and Lauren Epley. The set is beautifully dressed by Dean Squibb and Nina Dorrance, who also did the props (she’s everywhere). Lighting and sound, by John Kupjack and Tom Epley, are excellent.
Whether The Cockettes were a seminal group, or just a one-off, history will judge. But they should not be forgotten, and we can thank Ken Ansloan and all of the Dolls for reminding us that once upon a time, for one brief shining moment …
Angels of Light: The Practically True Story of The Cockettes, written and directed by Kenneth Ansloan, is being presented at the Aux Dog Theatre Nob Hill in Albuquerque. On Monte Vista just north of Central.
Through May 31, 2015. Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00, Sundays at 2:00. Tickets $20. Info at www.auxdog.com or 505-254-7716. Unfortunately, Rumi Missabu was here only for the first weekend.
Real Beards, Real Ladies
New play about psychedelic drag legends The Cockettes gets a blessing from a living legend shimself
“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.
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.”
“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.
“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.
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.”
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.”
Runs May 15 through May 31
Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm
Aux Dog Theatre
3011-15 Monte Vista NE
Post-show Q&A and performances by Rumi Missabu held opening weekend, May 15 through 17.
Not long after we arrived in the land of off-off-Broadway, we found ourselves in very good company. Marshall directed two of us in world premieres of Lanford Wilson plays in 1965: Dad (George Harris, Sr.) in “This Is The Rill Speaking” at the Caffe Cino; and Walter Michael Harris in “The Sandcastle” at La MaMa. In 1967, Marshall directed an all-star cast that included Jayne Anne Harris in Claris Nelson’s “The Clown” at the Cino. Also that year he invited Walter to reprise his role as Kenny in “The Sandcastle” – a revival that ran first at La MaMa and was extended at the Cino. These shows were rich experiences that helped us grow as artists. Marshall’s example became our gold standard of how a director works effectively with playwrights, actors and designers. He was a class act from Day One, and a pleasure to work with. So it comes as no surprise to us that Marshall is being recognized and honored in this way.
Here is the text of Marshall’s acceptance speech at the American Theater Hall of Fame “Class of 2014” induction ceremony on May 4th at The Gershwin Theater in New York City:
“I’m so grateful this honor is not being bestowed posthumously.
What a privilege to be inscribed among the names of the great directors of the past: David Belasco, Orson Welles, Tyrone Guthrie, Peter Brook, Garson Kanin, Mike Nichols and, my artistic hero, Elia Kazan.
This reward is for a lifetime of doing what I loved, so I must thank my mentors who guided my path to this moment: Harold Clurman, Lee Strasberg and, especially, Alvina Krause. It would be disingenuous of me not to also mention Mel Gussow.
When I founded Circle Repertory Company, I followed visionary trailblazers like Eva La Gallienne, Margo Jones, Joe Cino, Ellen Stewart and Joe Chaiken.
Enlarging my vision were my inspirations: Tennessee Williams, Francois Truffaut, John Gielgud, Marlon Brando, James Dean, Laurence Olivier, Kim Stanley and Cat Stevens.
Always before me were the examples of enduring creative relationships: Chekhov and Stanislavski, Lindsay and Crouse, Rogers and Hammerstein, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. Lanford Wilson and I were proud to join that list, with the longest collaboration between a playwright and director in the history of the American Theater. Lance, you’re still here.
This recognition is a celebration of my colleagues: John Lee Beatty, Rob Thirkield, Tanya Berezin, William Hurt, Trish Hawkins, Judd Hirsch, Nancy Snyder, Jonathan Hogan, Swoosie Kurtz, Jeff Daniels, Helen Stenborg, Richard Thomas, Debra Monk, Bill Hoffman, John Bishop, my Stage Managers Margo Channing & Eve Harrington, otherwise known as Fred Reinglas & Denise Yaney, and the amazing company of actors, playwrights and designers who were Circle Rep.
A personal thanks to Rand Mitchell, my Assistant for many productions, who advised me on details I was inclined to overlook, like the high-heeled shoes of my leading ladies. Also to my good neighbor George Atty for kindnesses too numerous to mention. And to my faithful friend, who´s here tonight, my Gal Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday Wednesday and Thursday, Glenna Clay.
Always sharing my journey to this peak was mi compañero of 40 years, and mi esposo for the last four, Danny Irvine.
As Ozymandias might warn us, unfortunately being designated an Immortal does not actually impart Immortality. But in my posthumous years, which I hope will be in some distant future when even Wicked will have closed, someone will look at this impressive list (in the South rotunda) and say: “Who was he? He must have been Someone.” Perhaps his companion will answer: “Of course: everyone is someone; but not every Has Been has been someone who is remembered.”
Thanks for remembering me.”
With love from The Harris Family
Today is the 33rd anniversary of the death of our brother, George Harris III, aka Hibiscus. He died of AIDS on May 6, 1982. Rest in Peace, George.