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Playing Underground: A Critical History of the 1960s Off-Off-Broadway Movement (Theater: Theory/Text/Performance) [Paperback]

Stephen J. Bottoms
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

November 20, 2006 0472031945 978-0472031948
"Scrupulously researched, critically acute, and written with care, Playing Underground will become a classic account of an era of hard-won free expression."
-William Coco

"At last---a book documenting the beginnings of Off-Off Broadway theater. Playing Underground is an insightful, illuminating, and honest appraisal of this important period in American theater."
-Rosalyn Drexler, author of Art Does (Not!) Exist and Occupational Hazard

"An epic movie of an epic movement, Playing Underground is a book the world has waited for without knowing it. How precisely it captures the evolution of our revolution! I am amazed by the book's scope and scale, and I bless its author especially for giving two greats, Paul Foster and H. M. Koutoukas, their proper, polar places, and for memorializing such unjustly forgotten masterpieces as Irene Fornes's Molly's Dream and Jeff Weiss's A Funny Walk Home. Stephen Bottoms's vivid evocation of the grand adventure of Off-Off Broadway has woken and broken my heart. It is difficult to believe that he was not there alongside me to breathe the caffeine-nicotine-alkaloid-steeped air."
-Robert Patrick, author of Kennedy's Children and Temple Slave


Few books address the legendary age of 1960s off-off Broadway theater. Fortunately, Stephen Bottoms fills that gap with Playing Underground---the first comprehensive history of the roots of off-off Broadway.

This is a theater whose legacy is still felt today: it was the launching pad for many leading contemporary theater artists, including Sam Shepard, Maria Irene Fornes, and others, and it was a pivotal influence on improv comedy and shows like Saturday Night Live.

Off-off Broadway groups such as the Living Theatre, La Mama, and Caffe Cino captured the spirit of nontraditional theater with their edgy, unscripted, boundary-crossing subjects. Yet, as Bottoms discovers, there is no one set of truths about off-off Broadway to uncover; the entire scene was always more a matter of competing perceptions than a singular, concrete reality.

No other author has managed to illuminate this shifting tableau as Bottoms does. Through interviews with dozens of the era's leading playwrights, performers, directors, and critics, he unearths a countercultural theater movement that was both influential and transforming-yet ephemeral and quintessentially of its moment.

Playing Underground will be a definitive work on the subject, offering a complete picture of an important but little-studied period in American theater.


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Playing Underground: A Critical History of the 1960s Off-Off-Broadway Movement (Theater: Theory/Text/Performance) + Return to the Caffe Cino + Caffe Cino: The Birthplace of Off-Off-Broadway (Theater in the Americas)
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In his elegaic history of the 1960s off-off-Broadway movement, Bottoms focuses on New York’s four leading "OOB" theaters: Caffe Cino, the Judson Poets’ Theater, La Mama and Theatre Genesis. The author, a professor in the Department of Theatre, Film and Television Studies at the University of Glasgow, emphasizes that there was never a core leadership and scarcely a discernible movement, but simply a swelling desire among primarily young people for freedom of expression in the "geographic proximity" of Manhattan’s Greenwich Village and East Village. He cheers the restored importance of the playwright. Featured players in this countercultural phenomenon include playwright Edward Albee, eccentric actress Julie Bovasso, the amiable coffee-house proprietor Joseph Cino, the wonderful Ellen Stewart and her La Mama Troupe. An appendix lists notable productions and events of the period. While this study will be of most interest to older theater lovers, younger fans will also appreciate this comprehensive look at a significant chapter in recent American theater history. Photos not seen by PW.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"Bottoms clears a path through what was always a wildly overgrown grove.... The discoveries he makes along the way force us to rethink our understanding.... Bottoms's book, written with enormous intelligence, dexterity, and passion, should be read by the current generation of radical theater makers....." - Village Voice "Playing Underground... goes to almost archaeological ends to unearth OOB's underpinnings... we get a whiff of the addictive immediacy of The Scene, the sense of something (good or bad) constantly happening.... Freedom, both dangerous and exhilarating, defines Bottoms's prose." - American Theatre "Playing Underground does the great service of bringing these productions to life again, in all their hit-or-miss glory." - Theater"

Product Details

  • Series: Theater: Theory/Text/Performance
  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: University of Michigan Press (November 20, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0472031945
  • ISBN-13: 978-0472031948
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,535,692 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Applause from a participant August 24, 2004
Format:Hardcover
This book is an epic movie about an epic movement. "Playing Underground" is a book the world has waited for without knowing it. New York's off-Off Broadway theatres in the 1960's created the styles that mark Post-Modern art--not only stage plays but films and music as well. I know. I was there. How precisely this book captures the evolution of our revolution! I am amazed by its scope and scale, and I bless its author especially for giving two greats, playwrights Paul Foster and H.M. Koutoukas,their proper, polar places, and for memorializing such unjustly forgotten masterpieces as Irene Fornes' "Molly's Dream" and Jeff Weiss' "A Funny Walk Home." Stephen Bottoms' vivid evocation of the grand adventure of Off-Off Broadway has woken and broken my heart. It is difficult to believe that he was not there alongside me to breathe the caffeine-nicotine-alkaloid-steeped air. The photographs show how we flaunted our youth and imagination in the dark, dusty, often dirty coffeehouses, churches, galleries, basements, and "black boxes" where modern theatre--and so much more--began.

Robert Patrick, author of "Kennedy's Children," "Temple Slave," and "Film Moi: Narcissus in the Dark"
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
Bottoms gives shape to the marginal field of "basement theaters, cafe theaters, hole-in-the-wall theaters, and theaters thriving on rough edges, raw passion, and a fierce sense of immediacy and 'liveness' of the stage event itself and of the audience" which sprang up in the 1960s along with the experimentation in other parts of the culture as well. A Professor in the Department of Theatre, Film, and Television Studies at the U. of Glascow, Bottoms sees the connection between this "off-off-Broadway" theater of the tumultuous and quixotic 1960s and today's popular entertainment. The raucousness of rock concerts, the brazenness of Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction," the provocative live performances, and rap lyrics all had precursors in the "illegitimate" theater of the 60s. Bottom's engaging work is both historical and critical. He cites the artistic and cultural sources while also bringing in the wider social milieu of the time. General themes and developments share space with activities and individuals connected with particular theaters and troupes. "Playing Underground" is a benchmark work of thorough research which goes into the social and political agendas of this theater scene while at the same time imparting its unconventional, often deliberately provocative and obscene, and in the long run, influential performance style.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Time When a new Theatrical Genre Was Born March 29, 2007
Format:Paperback
The Off-Off-Broadway theatre scene in New York City is one of the strong reasons for living in New York City, and perhaps their best times were when they were getting started in the 1960's. This was a time when social changes were afoot in our country. The pill had freed up female sexuality, for most of the decade the Vietnam war was underway, and everything came together in New York. No one knows when it really began, but it came alive at the Cafe Cino. And while the story of Joe Cino and his cafe is told in a chapter, you may be interested in the bigger treatment given in 'Return to the Cafe Cino.'

This book then goes on to describe the growth of the Off-Off-Broadway scene after Cino, new theaters, stronger and breaking into categories, but retaining still the idea of non-commercial, far out theater, in small venues.

In Cino days, actors who were members of the union frequently performed using another name. Now there is a special category of contract and there are more actors working OOB than on the Bib B itself.
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