Playhouse of the Ridiculous
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
The Playhouse of the Ridiculous was a New York City theatre presenting works produced and directed by John Vaccaro and Charles Ludlam. Both men are credited with the invention of the Theatre of the Ridiculous, a school of extreme theatre that knew little boundaries in terms of taste and morality. Its only conceivable antecedent would be the "Theatre of Cruelty", pioneered by Antonin Artaud. Influences sited have been gothic horror novels, old or 'classic' movies, popular culture, Wagner and Shakespeare. Other directors involved in this movement include Ronald Tavel, Tom Eyen, Jackie Curtis and Tony Ingrassia. This form of theatre had a large impact on the sensibilities of sixties playwrights, film directors such as Andy Warhol (through his association with Ronald Tavel, who wrote and co-directed many of his early films), and musicians such as Wayne County, Alice Cooper, David Bowie and The New York Dolls. Charles Ludham later severed his connection with the Playhouse of the Ridiculous but his plays continued to exemplify the Theatre of the Ridiculous, in work such as Conquest of the Universe or When Queens Collide and Irma Vep, whose reproduction rights include a stipulation that lead actors must be of the same sex to insure cross-dressing on stage. Ludham's very noted career ensured the survival of Theatre of the Ridiculous.
In 1970, John Vacarro produced and directed Jackie Curtis in his play Heaven Grand In Amber Orbit in which Jackie played the female lead role. This play, and others like it, came to personify the Playhouse of the Ridiculous, with its explorations of gender transgression, homosexuality and lesbianism, critique of glamour and fame, and an absolute disregard for the morality of the day and conventions of theatre. The play began with the cast intermingling with the audience while still in the lobby and included topical references to atrocities such as the Charles Manson murder of Sharon Tate and songs like "Thalidomide Baby", subjects sudiences had not encountered in the theatre previous to this time. At the time, these plays werefrequentlythe target of protests by Christian groups, for reasons of morality; gay and lesbian activists who charged that the productions were not 'politiclally correct'; and raids by the police were not uncommon.