May 6, 2017

Coffeehouse Chronicles #142: John Vaccaro and the Play-House of the Ridiculous

Michal Gamily – Series Director
Arthur Adair – Educational Outreach

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Celebrate the life and career of John Vacarro and the Play-House of the Ridiculous with archival footage, live performances and panelists.

Moderator: Penny Arcade

Panel Members: Judy Altman, Michale David Arian, Agosto Machado, Don Arrington, Gabriel Berry, Lola Pashalinski, Tony Zanetta

Performers : Don Arrington, Nicky Paraiso, Ruby Lyn Reyner, Nicky Paraiso, Chris Rael, Suzie Sugarman, & Mary Rodriguez

JUDY ALTMAN did her fist play in New York City with John Vaccaro at LaMama.  It was a Christmas Play called XXX’s.  After that a few more off-off Broadway  plays and then off to L.A. where she worked in T.V. and Film. and  did Stand-up Comedy, a One Woman Show THURSDAY’S CHILD, she wrote and directed at the Players Club and in Paris, France.She also wrote a Play called SEX, also done at the Players Club.  She is also proud to be the Great-niece of Fanny Brice.

PENNY ARCADE debuted at 18 in John Vaccaro’s explosive Playhouse of the Ridiculous at seventeen. She was a regular at LaMama Etc and an escapee from Andy Warhol’s Factory scene at 20. Penny Arcade (born Susana Ventura) emerged in the 1980s as a primal force on the New York downtown theatre scene and was an originator in solo text based performance art. She grew as both a an improvisor and writer to bring the political and sociological brand of high camp and street-smart rock and roll showmanship she learned at Vaccaro’s knee into her own work which has been winning over international audiences ever since. Since 1992 she has collaborated with former architect and video producer Steve Zehentner in all her theatre work and since 1999 they have co-helmed The Lower East Side Biography Project, an oral history video project which broadcasts every Monday at 11pm on Manhattan neighborhood Network. Also a poet and essayist, her writing has been published in numerous newspapers, journals and catalogs: Film Culture, Found Object, Verses That Hurt, Please Kill Me (The Oral History of Punk), Out of Character, Raves, Rants and Monologues from America’s Top Performance Artists, Monologues for Women, Monologues for Cold Reading, Writing Your Own Monologues. Bad Reputation a selection of her scripts with essays on her work by Sarah Schulman, Steve Zehentner and Professor Stephen Bottoms was published by Semiotexte in 2010

MICHAEL ARIAN‘s life and education began when, in 1967 as a 19 year old, he won an ABC Network scholarship to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. After not being asked back for year two of the scholarship, creative thinking brought him to a job where he met Kenny Hill. Kenita-as he came to be called brought him to La Mama for the first time to see a Jackie Curtis play. Finding it the funniest thing ever-he soon joined the company beginning 18 years of working in NYC and touring all around Europe with The Playhouse of the Ridiculous and La Mama where he had the pleasure of meeting Gabriel Berry. Including work at Theater for a New City, La Mama, Shakespeare in the Park at the Delacorte and Off-Broadway, he counts his association and touring with Hair in Germany and Spain and the various authors and actors he met here and abroad as being some the best things that ever happened to him all coming out of his association with La Mama and the great Ellen Stewart. It’s hard to know where to begin.

DON ARRINGTON first came to LaMaMa in 1970 as a member of Wilford Leach and John Braswell’s performance of “The Only Jealousy of Emer” and Stravinsky’s “Renard,” where he played a tap dancing rooster. The company went on to become the E.T.C. Company of LaMaMa. He first worked with John Vaccaro beginning in 1978 in LaMaMa’s CETA program’s “Juba,” followed by The Judge in Theater for the New City’s “La Justice by Ken Bernard” various roles in William Hoffman and John Braden’s “A Book of Etiquitte,” at LaMaMa; Roslyn Drexler’s “Graven Image” with Mink Stole at TNC, Ken Bernard’s “Le Fin du Cirque” at LaMaMa , and “The Heart that Eats Itself” at TNC. Through meeting Mel Howard, the first producer of the ETC Company tours, he became company manager for numerous international touring dance and music companies throughout the globe. He is also a composer and playwright, including “Allegros!,” “If This Ain’t It!,” “On the Block,” “Without Apparent Motive,” produced at LaMaMa, the old WPA and TNC. He is currently working on a play with music, “Cemetery Beach”.

JOHN BARILLA is an actor,singer, and voice-over artist who was born and raised in the same small town as John Vaccaro, Steubenville, Ohio. He studied theater at Kent State University and has worked as a professional actor for over 45 years. He was a member of the Playhouse Of The Ridiculous from the mid 70’s until it’s final days. He recently performed the musical June Cool Alive at Pangea and is working on the play Prague 1912 which will  be performed at Theater For The New City this fall directed by George Ferencz.

KENNETH BERNARD is an  author, poet and playwright. He has received Guggenheim, Rockefeller, NEA, NEH, NY Creative Artists Public Service, and New York Foundation for the Arts grants. He is the author of eleven books, including the novel From The District File, and Clown at Wall: A Kenneth Bernard Reader. John Vaccaro directed many of Mr Bernard’s plays including The Moke Eater, Nite Club, The Magic Show Dr Mag-ico Monkeys of the Organ Grinder, The 60 Minute Queer Show, Fin Du Cirque.

GABRIEL BERRY was in a castle in Budapest (then a workers’ museum) overlooking the Danube when a voice spoke to her.”Go to New York and be a costume designer” it instructed. OK, she thought. Good idea.  it was late 1978. She got the next train out of town, made her way back to her home in North Carolina, packed her bags and moved to New York. She arrived in early 1979. She moved into a loft on The Bowery sharing space with musicians, dancers and painters. Within a few months she met Ellen Stewart, made her New York debut designing the costumes for Charles Ludlam’s The Enchanted Pig and became the costume designer in residence at LaMaMa E.T.C. A list of artists she collaborated with at this time includes John Albano, Christopher Alden, Ken Bernard, Ed Bullins, Du-Yee Chang, Donald Eastman, Tom Eyen, Maria Irene Fornes, Ron Link, Mabou Mines, Robert MacBeth, Leonard Melfi, Anne Militello, Tom O’Horgan, Robert Patrick, James Rado, Gerry Ragni, Andrei Serban, Elizabeth Swados, Julie Taymor,  John Vaccaro, Mac Wellman and Mel Wong. Companies and venues included Coney Island USA, Dance Theater Workshop,  Danceteria, The Pyramid Club, The Ridiculous Theatrical Company Theater For the New City and ,of course, LaMaMa.

GORDON BRESSACK spent ten years with the Play-House of the Ridiculous playing featured parts in about twenty plays including three European tours, one of which resulted in the entire company being arrested for obscenity. He later went on to become a playwright and a film and television writer earning three Emmy Awards for his work on Animaniacs and Pinky & The Brain. He also won the WGA Award for animation writing. Next month Cargo,  the animated film he wrote with his son, comes out on DVD and the play he wrote and directed, Murder, Anyone? is currently running in Los Angeles.

JOE E. JEFFREYS is a multi-platform performance scholar and drag historian. He has taught Theatre Studies at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts Department of Drama for over fifteen years and is published in encyclopedias, academic journals including TDR and Theatre History Studies and book anthologies. His verite video work has screened at festivals worldwide from Plovdiv, Bulgari to Mumbai, India and museums including the Tate Modern (London), MOMA (NYC), The Museum of Arts and Design (NYC) and as part of the new Whitney Museum of American Art’s opening celebrations. It can also be seen in several award winning documentaries including Robert Oppel’s Uncle Bob, Beth B’s Exposed and Robert Jame’s upcoming Ruminations on the work of Cockette Rumi Missabu. Jeffreys is recipient of funding from the Jerome Foundation and the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council.

AGOSTO MACHADO We have learned over the years of the Coffeehouse Chronicles that he has an intimate knowledge of and connection to nearly every speaker and group presented. Among his favorites he names Jeff Weiss, H.M. Koutoukas, Jackie Curtis, Jim Neu, Charles Allcroft, Chris Tanner and the late Great Ethyl Eichelberger. Plus he does a wicked good impersonation of the late Ellen Stewart…

NICKY PARAISO has been Director of Programming at The Club at La MaMa since 2001 and is also Curator for the twelfth annual La MaMa Moves! Dance Festival running May 18-June 4, 2017. He has been an actor/performer in the NY downtown theater, dance and performance scene since 1979, working with Jeff Weiss & Richard C. Martinez, Meredith Monk & Vocal Ensemble, Yoshiko Chuma & The School of Hard Knocks, Anne Bogart, John Jesurun, Dan Hurlin, Dan Froot, Jessica Hagedorn, Robbie McCauley, Laurie Carlos, Richard Elovich, Fred Holland, and Mary Shultz, among others. Nicky’s one-man shows have been presented at La MaMa, Dixon Place, BACA Downtown, Performance Space 122, Dance Theater Workshop, Pillsbury House Theater (Minneapolis), the 4th Int’l Festival of Cabaret (Mexico City), the KO Festival (Amherst College), Dublin Theatre Festival and the Initiation Performance Festival (Singapore). Paraiso’s awards include a New York Dance & Performance BESSIE Award, a Spencer Cherashore Fund grant, a NY Innovative Theater Award, and a BAX Arts and Artists in Progress Arts Manager Award. Nicky is happy to be part of this celebration of John Vaccaro & The Play-House of the Ridiculous.

LOLA PASHALINSKI is a founding member of The Ridiculous Theatrical Company where, with writer/director Charles Ludlam, she created 17 roles in 13 years.  She received two Obie awards for her work with the company. Since leaving the Ridiculous in 1980, Lola worked extensively Off-Broadway and regionally in productions directed by Lee Breuer, Richard Foreman, JoAnne Akalaitis, Les Waters, Anne Bogart, David Gordon, Neil Bartlett, among others. With her life-partner Linda Chapman, she wrote and performed GERTRUDE AND ALICE: A Likeness toLoving, receiving her third Obie in 2000. Lola made her Broadway debut in FORTUNE’S FOOL with the late Alan Bates. She’s appeared in many films and on television, including most recently EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE directed by Stephen Daldry

CHRIS RAEL has led the world pop group Church of Betty for almost 30 years. He met John Vaccaro through Penny Arcade in the late nineties. The trio became close, traveling to Italy several times in the late nineties/early 2000s. Chris considers John one of the great art mentors of his life. In 2002, Church of Betty released the album ‘Tripping With Wanda’, the title track of which is about John‘s raunchy, feminine alter-ego Wanda Sue Lipshitz. John loved the song, which remains notorious among many of his friends.

RUBY LYNN REYNER of Stage, Screen and Rock & Roll Juke Joints. Her career spans from the 1970s to the present day. Original star of the Playhouse of the Ridiculous, Ruby was the lead in 40 John Vacarro productions including Jackie Curtis’  “Heaven Grand in Amber Orbit”. Ruby is a winner of the Drama Desk Award for John Vacarro’s “La Bohemia, & Emmy Nominee for the HBO Documentary “Finishing Heaven”. Ruby dedicates her performance to the late, great John Vacarro.

TONY ZANETTA worked extensively in the Off Off Broadway theatre of the 1970’s and 80’s in plays by Andy Warhol, Jackie Curtis, Ken Bernard, Roslynn Drexler, Anthony J. Ingrassia ,  Wayne County and Linda Mussmann’s TIME AND SPACE LIMITED.   For a time in the 70’s he toured the world with David Bowie,  managing his  ZIGGY STARDUST  tours worldwide and producing  the DIAMOND DOGS and YOUNG AMERICANS  tours for MainMan Ltd.   MainMan also produced Ingrassia’s ill fated Broadway venture, FAME.  After his rock and roll stint he returned to LaMaMa to work in the PLAYHOUSE OF THE RIDICULOUS with John Vaccaro in THE SIXTY MINUTE QUEER SHOW.  He appeared in revivals of NIGHTCLUB and XXX’S at LaMaMa  and worked with John for the next several years at  LaMaMa  and TNC.   The last play they did together was Roslynn Drexler’s PINEAPPLE FACE  at TNC in the mid nineties. In the Nineties Tony began a career in Set Design an Event Production.  He is currently a Visual Director and Event Producer in Manhattan.

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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