We've always been good
at publicity, well, that's what the theater is all about. If nobody
comes to your show, you're out of work. And I've collected quite a
little scrapbook of our press clippings over the years. See for
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For the very first play I did at the little Ensemble Theater in Seattle,
in August of 1968,
director Dale Meador had chosen to do "The Mother of Us All" by Gertrude Stein. I had never heard
of Gertrude Stein but we would have lots to do with her over the years to come. I
did the sets and Milton Hamlin said, "Technically, it's the best show
the Ensemble has mounted, with a marvelously imaginative set by William
Woolf." (Look how I was spelling my name! I always said
Virginia Woolf was my aunt.)
This was soon followed by
another favorite of Dale's, "Happy Days" by Samuel Beckett. The
title's ironic; it's a long, dark evening.
Then Dale burrowed into the
early dada epoch and came up with Alfred Jarry's wonderful "Ubu Roi."
I did the set and costumes. I put the men in jock straps.
By September of 1969, the Theater had closed and a bunch of us actors
had set out on our own as the Ensemble Street Players. Our first
project was Radical Theater Week at the University of Washington.
Here's Billy King in the main event, giving "birth" to his 1950 Chevy.
Looking good, Billy.
A couple years later, we found ourselves doing summer stock in Sharon,
Connecticut. I was doing the costumes and Russell was doing
publicity. I also volunteered to do some big collage lobby cards
for the theater. Russell got me a good write-up in the local paper.
Back in San Francisco, I had hooked up with "Les Nickelettes" and we
were doing silly live shows before the weekly, underground movies at the
Intersection Theater in North Beach. We weren't really ready for
the critics but somehow John Wasserman sneaked in.
Wasserman gave the Nicks a terrible time, of course, but saved the
worst of his vitriol for the poor M.C. of the show, Bill Wolf.
Mr. Wolf gurgled on his return to the stage at the end of the skit,
“wasn’t that FUN? Wasn’t that just GREAT??!!”
beamed around the room, which contained about 50 people – near
capacity. “Say,” he said, “did you hear the one about the
missionary who was captured by cannibals? In order not to be eaten,
they told him he would have to accomplish three impossible tasks.
He would have to drink a HUGE bottle of rum without pausing for
breath, then he would have to extract the sore tooth of a RAGING
lion, then finally he would have to satisfy a BEAUTIFUL woman who
had never, uh, been fulfilled before …”
Titters broke out among those in attendance. Not at the joke, which
was barely underway, but at the expression on Mr. Wolf’s face, which
was so obviously delighted with his story – and so clearly
anticipating the thunderous waves of laughter that would follow the
punch-line – that it could hardly contain itself.
anyway, the missionary downed the rum and then went into the tent
where the lion was, with the sore tooth. The tent shook like an
earthquake and great screams and groans were heard.” Mr. Wolf
paused for a moment, quite overcome. Regaining control, he
“Finally, the missionary came out of the tent all battered and
bruised and bloody, but a triumphant look on his face. ‘OK,’ he
said to the cannibals ‘now where’s that lady with the sore tooth…?”
Wolf dropped to the floor in convulsions.
Damn! He gave away my best punch-line.
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Then down to Capitola, California, where "The Old Showboat" competed
in the 16th Annual Capitola Begonia Festival Nautical Parade.
That's us listing on the left. The "Golden Hinde"?
In 1976, our Bi-Centenial tableau, "A Far Out Fourth," at the
Intersection Theater got big play in a local underground rag, below.
In 1977 our movie "Rocket to Mars" opened at the Music Hall Theater in
San Francisco. We hadn't really developed our full promotional
skills at that time and can't really point to much results. We
Below, the Berkely Barb wrote, "One must believe that the adjectives 'sleezy' and 'tacky' are not
pejorative. ... it's on the art side of the art-trash fence."
The slick trade magazine "Super 8 Filmmaker" thought we were the
greatest thing EVER!
On December 30, 1978, we presented, with the Nickelettes, of course, a
huge Living Tableau called "The Coming of the Aliens" to a full
auditorium of the San Francisco Mental Health Care Out-Patients' Program,
and got a good bit of attention in the press. We're learning.
We even bought our own ad in the paper, though what anyone ever thought
about it we'll never know. There were no calls.
Then, suddenly we hit our stride! Our friend Maria christened
herself "Maria Manhattan" and went after Judy Chicago in a big way.
"The Box Lunch" got more ink than anyone since Queen Elizabeth's Jubilee!
On and on it went, at one point the papers were calling Maria the "Mistress
of the Press Release!" We loved it.
So our giant publicity team was in place and running for our big "Salute
to the 70's" just three months after. We snowed 'em.
And, of course, our girl Leila always got a lot of good ink, too!
We even got some press for this silly "49er's Follies - Locker Room Stud"
street flier I made in 1985, below.
So when we hooked up with the AIDS Emergency Fund decorating for their
parties and building their floats we were able to handle lots more ink.
The wonderful Sharon McNight in her "Big Dress" float, below in June of
1987, took up the whole front page of the next day's San Francisco
My bloody skeletons even got a little ink in the North Mission News.
Here's our gal Sharon McNight again, singing her heart out.
We were full of novel ideas which the press always appreciated.
Below, our "Hug-A-Hunk" (!) booth in the Doly Alley Street Fair.
Yes, that's Doris Fish, "Ronnie" Salazar, Sanantha Samuels, "Tiffany"
and our own Bermuda Schwartz, at our "Care-A-Thon" booth in Civic Center
which raised over $5,000 for the AIDS Emergency Fund! It was a Gay
And in 1992, my new mural of Frida Kahlo on the side of my studio got a
nice bit of attention, below.
By 1993, I was living in Oaxaca, Mexico, and when I got my big "Lucha
Libre" show with the City government, I knew just what to do. I
snowed the seven (!) daily papers of Oaxaca with lots of great photos
and juicy press releases and they ate it up. I was all over the
papers with big articles about my show. One reporter said, "What
artist wouldn't give his left arm for the kind of crowds Wolf has been
attracting to his show?" One day 5,000 people walked through my
The IMPARCIAL called me "a wolf in the darkness."
When I became involved with our local Common Front Against AIDS in
Oaxaca, I managed to attract a bit of attention in the U.S., here in the
San Francisco BAY AREA REPORTER.
I had gone to school in Portland so this Oregon paper called me a former
Oregonian when it reported about my work in AIDS education in Oaxaca.
Our big first AIDS Walk in 1994 was a huge success, below. Yes,
that's me and Dottie, in her T-Shirt, walking on the right.
We got a lot of support from the local press for all our AIDS prevention
activities, like the taping of our prevention message translated into
eighteen indigenous languages of the state (!). That's our theater
director Sergio Santamaría, below, directing the translation workshops,
Russell was providing us with lots of great black-and-white glossies for
all our promotional efforts and when Dino Castro offered the Frente
Común his powerful drama, "Interpret My Silence" we got a good bit of
beautiful photos in the papers, 1996.
Being the show-biz sort of group we were, we came up with lots of big,
flashy ideas to promote our organization and the press always liked us a
lot. When our condom store was nearing 50,000 condoms sold (!) we
decided to make a big deal of it and began seeding the press with our
numbers. On the eve of a convenient Saturday (!) the papers
announced that "Today, Friday, Condón-Manía closed with 49,972 condoms
sold!" They headlined "TOMORROW FOR SURE!!!"
A bewildered neighbor came up to me on Friday morning with this article
in his hands. "Hey," he said, "but ... but, you're still open and
it says ... This can't be true!"
I told him just hang on, "It will be true."
We got the City to close the street, a heavy bus route, for two hours on
Saturday for music and dancing and the selling of the 50,000th condom!
We know, too, how much the papers always like to print photos of their
own newspapers in their reporting. Our publicity team took seven
photos of our mascot Señor Condón holding up each of the dailies with a
big photo of himself on the front page and the banner headline "GOOD GUY"
and sent it out. They all ate it up. We wrote, "Señor
Condón enjoys reading about himself in the papers because he knows his
message of prevention and protection is being read by thousands of young
people in Oaxaca." Here he is in EXTRA de OAXACA.
Here's Dino again, this time in San Francisco, with our own Tom Ammiano
promoting our organization's big Oaxacan Art sale of 1999 to benifit our
AIDS work in Oaxaca. It was a big success. Thanks, guys!
One of our most powerful pieces was the installation, "Night of the
Candles," featuring 845 candles representing each of the deaths by AIDS
in Oaxaca, October, 2000. We got a big photo on the front page of
During this time, I was getting a lot of ink for my advocacy for better
medical treatment for AIDS patients.
* * *
It was depressing. Around the world people watched as the United
States prepared to launch a war against Afganistan. In Oaxaca, our
little theater company took a strong stand against the war. I
thought back to our early days of the Ensemble Street Players and our
anti-war, guerilla theater antics and felt proud of our current efforts.
At Day of the Dead in October of 2001, the IMPARCIAL reported of our
installation on Alcalá street that "Even the dead say NO to war."
In early 2003, the world looked on in horror as the United States
decided to attack Iraq and Picasso' "Guernica" would become an emblem of
resistance to this madness around the world. Our theater company decided to
reproduce this great work and it became the backdrop for protests in this city.
When Susan Sontag died in 2004, I knew the people at the daily ROTATIVO
and was honored to write a short obituary for her, below. You can
read this Homage to Susan in RECENT WRITINGS, off our Main Menu.
When the brutal repression by the Ulises Ruiz government came down upon
the people of Oaxaca, the art community, including our Teatro Vivo,
responded with strong voices. Our Day of the Dead Altar to the 56
Political Assasinations made all the papers.
In the following year, our theater's contingent in the Ninth Mega-March,
"Justice Raped," made local and national headlines.
As well as the cover of alternative magazine "Barricade," below.
The little book I made for Flavio Sosa can be seen in this press photo
in the hands of his wonderful wife, Beatriz, in June of 2007.
And, of course, my good friend, Alejandro Santiago, has been fairly
rolling in terriffic press attention for his monumental work of art,
"2501 Migrantes," in November of this year, below. Congratulaions,
NOTE: You can see lots more coverage of
Alejandro's powerful piece in my Encyclopedia of Images under SANTIAGO,
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