Theatre Genesis

Bob Amussen, editor in chief of Bobbs-Merrill, was a member of the vestry of beautiful, historic St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bouwerie at 10th Street and Second Avenue in New York, and he served as the president of the board of Theatre Genesis, which operated in a fairly large square room upstairs from the parish hall in back of the church. He published my first book, “Eight Plays from Off-Off-Broadway,” which I co-edited with Nick Orzel, who had initiated the project (see Books). I wrote an Introduction to this book that effectively defined Off-Off-Broadway, identifying the five key sites: Caffè Cino, La Mama, Judson Poet’s Theatre, the Open Theatre, and Theatre Genesis. Bob subsequently commissioned two more books from me, “Theatre Trip,” mostly about the Living Theatre on perpetual tour in Europe; and another anthology, “More Plays from Off-Off-Broadway.” In 1971, when Bob decided to drop out and move to Oregon, he asked me to take his place on the Theatre Genesis board.

I had admired Theatre Genesis ever since I saw Sam Shepard’s first plays there in 1964. Ralph Cook, who founded it and ran it for years, was a fine director, devoted to serving and nurturing the playwrights he introduced and believed in. But Ralph was gone by this time, and the theatre was being run by two playwrights, Murray Mednick and Walter Hadler. (Sam was also on the board, but he was no longer in New York.) Murray and Walter welcomed me warmly as a fellow playwight and director. Murray said, “Now you have a theatre.”

It was wonderful to have an artistic home in New York. I wrote two plays for Theatre Genesis, “Country Music” and “Prussian Suite,” and directed them both. Without thinking about it particularly, I opened Theatre Genesis to gay artists—it had been notably straight and masculine till I came along (at the end of my own gay years, as it turned out). I directed Ronald Tavel’s extraordinary play “Bigfoot” and co-directed Irene Fornes’s “Tango Palace.” I more or less produced Charles Stanley’s striking solo, “Le Roi Soleil: A Personal Landscape” and Ron Tavel’s “Queen of Greece,” as well as hosting “Light Cell Death,” a play by Charles Kespert, a student of mine at Hunter College.

By this time I was staying out of the city as much as I could. When I moved away for good in 1974, and Murray moved to Los Angeles, Walter was the only one left. I am still ashamed of how irresponsible I was in letting Theatre Genesis fall apart. It would not have lasted as long as it did without Steve Facey, the administrator, who worked for the church; Steve, it seems to me, took the theatre’s mission more seriously than any of the rest of us, who were largely concerned with our own survival in those desperate years. When the church and theatre were severely damaged by fire in 1974 and needed help in the worst way, I was no longer there.