Jan 9, 2016

Coffeehouse Chronicles #130: Jim Neu

Curated by: Michal Gamily

Moderator: Keith McDermott

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Panelists: Agosto Machado, Carol Mullins, Mary Shultz, & Roger Babb

Performers: Deborah Auer, Black eyed Susan, Roger Babb, Catherine Galasso, Harry Mann, Keith McDermott, Mary Shultz

Jim Neu’s work as a writer was an important part of Downtown New York theater since the late 1970s. In works ranging from monologues and one-act dialogues to full-length plays and dance/text collaborations with major choreographers, his style and sound are instantly recognizable. Since beginning a long relationship with Ellen Stewart and La MaMa in 1991, most of his work originated there. His last play, GANG OF SEVEN (2008), was his tenth play at La MaMa.

Please join us for a celebration of the late Jim Neu’s life and career in Downtown New York! There will be a panel discussion including friends and contemporaries, live performances, and archive materials of Jim Neu’s performances.


Jim Neu’s worked as a writer was an important part of Downtown New York theater since the late 1970s. In works ranging from monologues and one-act dialogues to full-length plays and dance/text collaborations with major choreographers, his style and sound are instantly recognizable. Since beginning a long relationship with Ellen Stewart and La MaMa in 1991, most of his work originated there. His last play, GANG OF SEVEN (2008), was his tenth play at La MaMa.

Neu’s writing has two prime influences — jazz and the performers he’s been fortunate to work with. The rhythms, ambience, and attitude of jazz are in his language. The rich individuality of the actors speaking it were, in turn, a continuous inspiration — the way great soloists are in a jazz band. Since the mid-80s a company of actors, musician/composers, and designers added great consistency and style to his work. The company began with Bill Rice, Mary Shultz, Roberta Levine and designers David Nunemaker and Carol Mullins; it would eventually include Black-Eyed Susan, director Keith McDermott, and designer David Fritz. Musician/composers Harry Mann and Neal Kirkwood wrote music, individually or collectively, for nearly every play since the late 80s.

Jim Neu’s background was anything but theatrical. He grew up in Brooklyn and, after age 7, Huntington, Long Island. He was unlucky enough to be drafted after graduating college, but lucky enough not to be sent to Viet Nam. Upon his release in late 1967, he moved to New York’s East Village, joining the quest for self that permeated the times. Progress was slow until new friends suggested going to a workshop in the summer of 1970 run by an emerging figure in theater named Robert Wilson. Wilson wanted to work with people who had no theater experience.

Performing in Wilson’s Byrd Hoffman School of Byrds from 1970 through 1975 was a transforming experience. Robert Wilson’s work became known worldwide. The company traveled throughout Europe, to Brazil, British Columbia, and Iran, performing such landmark works as DEAFMAN GLANCE and KA MOUNTAIN AND GUARDenia TERRACE. When Wilson began using spoken text, he asked Jim to be one of the writers. Neu contributed text to KA MOUNTAIN, THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JOSEPH STALIN, A LETTER FOR QUEEN VICTORIA and THE $ VALUE OF MAN.

With fellow Wilson veteran sk dunn, he began creating his own work for the Napa Valley Theater Company in 1976. They performed in San Francisco and toured Northern California. ECHO RANCH (1977), with composer Michael Galasso and choreographer Liz Pasquale, was created at the NVTC and first performed there. The piece — an early multi-media work combining theater, music, dance and video — -would be presented in New York at the Green St. Gallery and PS1.

The late 70s began a period of major growth in the Downtown New York performance scene. Jim’s work with SK Dunn and John Nesci at the Kitchen, Westbeth Theater Center and PS122’s Avant-Garde-Arama is part of the early history of those pioneering venues. He was also featured at Soho Rep, H.E.R.E., The Performing Garage, Squat Theater and at theater festivals in Europe and the U.S.

Other projects include plays for the Talking Band, Otrabanda and Bloolips and the screenplays of Andrew Horn’s first two features DOOMED LOVE (1984) and THE BIG BLUE (1988). He has also written text for dancers in Yoshiko Chuma’s A BOY, A BEER, AND A BLONDE (1985), DEEP COVER (1986) with David Woodberry and AEROBIA (2001) with Douglas Dunn. From 1994-98 he was a mentor in the young playwrights program at Andy’s Summer Playhouse in New Hampshire, and in 2000 conducted a playwriting workshop for the Mladinsko Theater in Ljubljana, Slovenia.


DEB AUER sings classic jazz and bebop and adds in moments of theater, often written by acclaimed East Village playwright, Jim Neu.
Deb has been singing and acting in the East Village for …. well …. long enough to know how. She had the good fortune to perform with Jim Neu in several of his shows at La MaMa. Deb presided over memorable gigs in joints gone but not forgotten, such as the St. Mark’s Bar & Grill and the C-Note. She will be singing in Pangea’s beautiful cabaret room on Dec. 28, 2015.

ROGER BABB wrote and directed numerous plays with Otrabanda company and collaborated as an actor and writer with many experimental theatre artists including Joseph Chaikin, Meredith Monk, Ping Chong, Jim Neu, David Cale, The Talking Band and others. For many years he taught at Princeton University and at Swarthmore Colllege and Mt Holyoke College. He now volunteers at Sing Sing prison and reads with six and seven year olds at Campos Community Center in the East Village.

BLACK-EYED SUSAN is an original member of Charles Ludlam’s Ridiculous Theatrical Company and received a Villager Award and an Obie for Sustained Achievement for her work with the Company. She has also appeared in productions by Ethyl Eichelberger, Stuart Sherman, Mabou Mines, Roslyn Drexler, Jim Neu, Charles Allcroft, Samuel Beckett, Stephanie Fleischmann, John Jahnke, Christina Campanella/Stephanie Fleischmann, and Mallory Catlett.

CATHERINE GALASSO grew up on Jim Neu’s plays. Her parents, Michael Galasso and Liz Pasquale, were early collaborators of Jim’s and their first show together was Echo Ranch at PS1 in 1977. Catherine’s choreography has been presented at places like the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the National Library in Paris, Harvard University’s Carpenter Center, Museum of Contemporary Art Santa Barbara, Joyce SoHo, and the International Theater Festival in Pristina, Kosovo. In 2015, she choreographed and co-directed, with Keith McDermott, a revival of Jim Neu’s The Floatones, a New York Times “Critics’ Pick” at La MaMa. Catherine is an artist-in-residence with the 2015-16 Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s Extended Life Program made possible in part by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. www.catherinegalasso.org

AGOSTO MACHADO first met Ellen Stewart in 1961 and is one of her oldest living “Babies”. Done the work here of Jacie Curtis, John Vaccaro’s Play House of the Ricdiculous, H.M. Koutoukas, Jeff Weiss, Paul Foster, Charles Allcroft, Jim Neu, Chris Tanner and finally John Jesurun. I feel so blessed.

KEITH MCDERMOTT was an original Floatones in Jim Neu’s 1995 production of The Floatones, directed by Rocky Bornstein, with music by Neil Kirkwood and Harry Mann. He went on to direct Neu’s plays for the next fifteen years, six of them at La MaMa: Mondo Beyondo (1997), Undercurrent Incorporated (1999), Kiss Shot (2002), Target Audience (2003-2004), La Vie Noir (2007) and Gang of Seven (2008). Last year, he co-directed the 2015 revival of The Floatones with choreographer, Catherine Galasso. Mr. McDermott began his professional career with the Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Connecticut. On Broadway, he starred opposite Richard Burton in Equus, played Harold in Harold and Maude and Tom in the Christopher Isherwood play Meeting by the River. He has worked in New York, Europe, Russia and Japan with the director Robert Wilson.

CAROL MULLINS met Jim Neu in 1967. From 1970 through 1975 they traveled to France, Brazil, Italy and Iran and more with Robert Wilson’s Byrd Hoffman School of Byrds. They married in 1998. Carol has been a resident Lighting Designer for the Danspace Project at St. Mark’s Church since 1982. She has received one OBIE for her lighting for The Talking Band’s, Painted Snake on a Painted Chair at LaMaMa and 2 BESSIEs, New York Dance and Performance Awards.

MARY SHULTZ first worked with Jim Neu in Situation Room in 1992, then in The Floatones (’95), Mondo Beyondo (’97), Undercurrent Incorporated (’99), Kiss Shot (’02), Alone Together (’05), La Vie Noir (’07), and Gang of Seven (’08). She’s worked with some other wonderful artists including Meredith Monk, Ping Chong, Dan Hurlin, Otrabanda Co., Jeff Weiss, John Jesurun, Jeff Jones, Mac Wellman, Anne Bogart, Talking Band, Adam Bock, Anne Kauffman, Craig Lucas, Caryl Churchill, Tony Kushner, Lisa d’Amour, Jennie Schwartz, and David Greenspan. Mary is the recipient of two Obies, a Bessie, and the inaugural Ruthie.

Coffeehouse Chronicles


Coffeehouse Chronicles is an educational performance series exploring the history of Off-Off-Broadway. Part artist-portrait, part history lesson, and part community forum, Coffeehouse Chronicles take an intimate look at the development of downtown theatre, from the 1960s’ “Coffeehouse Theatres” through today.

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