The Ensemble Street Players were on
our way as an acting troupe and I was the leader. This is where I
knew I wanted to be.
Our first “real” event came when we
approached the University of Washington and arranged to perform
several pieces on campus in connection with the Freshman Orientation
Week which was coming up in early September. We received $250
dollars in exchange for four days of different shows sprinkled into
a score of other events for the freshmen. We presented the
Ferlingetti “Routines,” a sort of shortened version of Brecht’s “The
Clown Play” that Rhoda and I had done a year earlier at the theater,
this time with Brenda and I, and a new production of Rochelle Owens’
“Futz and What Came After” with Billy King in his first big acting
part as the lead, Futz, the stupid country bumpkin who fucks pigs.
The script calls for the actual copulation to take place off stage
and be reported back to the audience much like a Greek tragedy, but
we, modern in our revolutionary zeal, decided to bring the action on
to the stage. A large, anatomically-correct burlap pig was made and
Billy was instructed to give it his all. Yes, we were quite the
And I performed my Billy Graham
imitation which ends with the cast ripping my cloths off. It was
all a big hit!
But Freshman Orientation Week was
really just the build up for our next big project with the
university, “The Ensemble Street Players’ Radical Theater Week.”
Buoyed by our success with the freshmen, we convinced the student
body council, or such, to spend a full one thousand dollars for an
entire week of events. We promised parades, events, happenings,
daring comedies, and intense modern drama.
With Dale gone to California, Brenda
now was renting his big apartment in the Hamilton Arms, mostly I
think, because she’s the one who had all the costumes. We were all
hippies then and lived in a pigsty all the time. The big front room
which Dale and Vivian always had so nice, if tattered, now was empty
except for some props and junk around in the corners, and it became
our big rehearsal hall. The troupe now counted about eight, me,
Russell, Brenda, Peggy, Billy King, and John Counter, a friend
Russell had recruited, as well as a few hangers-on.
Billy had married Olga, a Russian
dark-eyed beauty, and she was about to have a baby! He had been
working on an art project, naturally, to commemorate the birth of
this, their first child. He wanted to cover over completely this
old car he had with plaster and let it sit for a period of
“pregnancy” and then, with sculptor’s smock, mallet and chisel, give
“Birth to a Chevy.” We all thought it was the perfect event to be
the centerpiece of our radical theater week!
We took up rehearsing, also, a
forgettable off-Broadway piece by beat poet Kenneth Koch called “George Washington Crossing
the Delaware,” directed by Russ, with me as George
Washington and Bob Gallaher as his counterpart, Lord So-and-so. We decided to
stage it as a huge pageant spread over a large area, recruiting the
audience to join various “armies” and forcing them to move around to
follow the action.
For heavy drama, I decided to portray
Hamm in Becket’s “Endgame,” thinking I could at least imitate Steve
Knox’ great performance in Portland. Bob played Hamm’s servant,
Shep; Russell and Peggy his parents in cardboard boxes, the poor-theater’s
version of trash cans. Brenda directed.
We dusted off the now wildly funny
pig-fucking of “Futz” but felt we needed one element more for our
radical theater week. We strung together a bunch of skits and
numbers into a midnight variety show geared to the frats and heavily
into dirty jokes and any suggestion of nudity, and called simply
“The Smut Show.” In all about 15 performances planned for five days
Well, our “Radical Theater Week” was
a big success. Billy King’s art event, the kick-off for the week
was well covered in the local papers.
first performance of “George Washington Crossing the Delaware” was
predictably confusing, but we traipsed around the university quad in
our cardboard tri-corner hats and managed to attract a small
audience. We would remember it later as a big hit, of course.
The first of performance “Endgame” practically came
unglued. Bob and I forgot large portions of the script and ended up
with a very short evening. Some friends from Portland came to see
the show and I was anxiously awaiting their approval, as they had
also seen Steve’s version. I got sort of cool silence about the
play and some small talk about other things. Oh, well, I guess
that’s how the artist’s hard outer shell is slowly built, to protect
him from the world. I went on to the next performance.
The midnight “smut Shows” turned out
to be the hit of the week. We knew it all along. The show was a
mix of every dirty joke we knew with the women in low-cut dresses
and the guys running around rubbing their crotches and sticking out
their tongues in a horney manner every chance they could get.
Billy King revived his famous fellatio scene with the antatomically-correct
stuffed pig. Even
Dan and Eunice’s eldest son, Jeffery, was recruited, a very underage
drummer, beating out the bumps and grinds to the jokes.
and I did a short bit called "The Confession" where I confess to a
long story of eating out my girlfriend's pussy to John's
masturbating priest. The crowd ate it up.
We were performing it in a
lecture hall in front of a blackboard and facing rows of seats.
Between skits we played dirty-word hangman on the blackboard. It
was scheduled for three nights. The first night got lots of
spitballs thrown at the actors, to great hilarity. By the third
night the audience was bringing eggs and we practically ruined the
* * *
So, as I say, we felt real good about
the Radical Theater Week, and made a lot of friends and got
ourselves a little notice. We were feeling confident.
Russ and I were living in his little
apartment on the street behind the Hamilton Arms, but all our
activities were centered around Dale’s old apartment an the top floor.
It was as if he had left us his ghost, we worked on, struggling with
the problems of modern theater and loving it. The rehearsal room
was always busy, as nobody worked in those days, we rehearsed all
day. Nights we partied and took acid and tripped out. It’s a
wonder any theater got done at all.
Bob Gallaher was a dead ringer for
Freeloadin’ Franklin of the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, which we
all loved, and he taught me never to save dope. “What are you going
to save it for?” he would ask. “Don’t save dope! Smoke dope!” I
would remember it forever.
There was some sort of anti-war event
or exhibit that was to be held at the Seattle Museum of Art in the
then-shabby relic of world’s fair days, the Seattle Center. We
contacted the organizers and proposed “living sculptures” to be
exhibited in the galleries during the inauguration ceremonies. Well,
they liked the idea a lot and we decided to create the four recent
deaths of the students at Kent State. The images of each body had
been much reproduced and our recreated poses were instantly
recognizable. In place of blood, bright scraps of red fabric lay
over the bodies. I believe we held the poses for about an hour.
Many people found it a moving
experience to view and we felt a strong power to communicate a dark
message, a serious message, in the frozen moment. We felt an
exciting drama in the prolonging of the single action.
We had experienced something like it
in the Ferlengetti “Routines,” the very non-theater pieces, which we
had reduced to their each single action, repeated over and over.
Then of course, Billy King’s “Birth of a Chevy” tribute to his
newborn daughter was a true sixties “happening” but also contained
that single action, the chipping away of the plaster coating his car,
stretched out into an entire afternoon.
I remembered that Dale had used a
device which he called a “tableau vivant,” or living picture, in the
staging of the Gertrude Stein we did, “Mother of Us All,” and which,
he said, had been a Victorian parlor diversion, often quite
elaborate, in which family and friends would recreate famous
paintings, say, or ancient Greek urns or such, and hold the pose
during, usually, a slowly revealing lighting scheme and some musical
I got interested and read some more
about this little known sub-genre of the theater and we talked about
portraying not a frozen moment over time, but completely acting
every moment in real time, the moment, fully alive, going on and on,
in no time. We would do many more of these Victorian diversions and
advertise “Living Tableaux!” for many years.
Those were the days, too, of the big
free rock festivals in the woods, mainly following Woodstock, of
course, and in Seattle, the big Sky River Festival and Piano Drop
took place on a wet weekend out of town. Two days of rock bands and
a helicopter was to fly over carrying a piano and drop it in an open
field. We had to go!
I don’t know if we had really
planned anything ahead as street theater but the amount of strong
drugs to hit us immediately ended whatever pretext of theater we had
imagined. I recall we managed some sort of silly parade with kazoos
but no one could tell us from the other thousands of the stoned,
parading hippies there in the woods. We were always far from the
stage and never together as a group in the same spot since we
arrived. Then too, we, or at least, I, discovered the nearby newly-beaten
trail through the bushes around back where hunky young guys were
hiding behind every tree and sucking and fucking day and night, and
I had little time for street theater. But we went and we came
back. We never saw the piano drop.
Russell remembers the rich cocaine
dealer in Bellingham who hired us on to do our hippy street theater
for a big party for him, or something. And we went up for the
weekend but were too stoned to do a show, but I ended up blowing the
rich cocaine dealer. I don’t remember any of that, but the story
has a sort of ring of truth about it.
So, we were in Seattle, looking
around for shows to do, but mostly just hanging out, enjoying the
hippie life. But it was fall and getting dark and rainy and we
really didn’t know what we were doing next. The decade was drawing
to a close and a new one would begin soon. I guess I was
susceptible to the first suggestion which would come along.
* * *