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Caravan to Oz: A family reinvents itself off-off-Broadway Paperback – August 10, 2014
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And it’s all, or mostly, there, told with humor, love, grace and honesty. From the early “Let’s put on a show!” days in Florida, to the risky transplanting of the whole tribe to New York, to the beginnings of the Theatre for the New City, the family-written and produced shows at La MaMa ETC, the groundbreaking and culture-changing phenomenon of “Hair”, to the founding of the Cockettes in San Francisco, the journeys through Europe, a monastery, and Bay Area communes, to the shattering new reality of the AIDS epidemic and the maturity and mellowing of seasoned performers with an amazing range of talents and accomplishments. They renewed themselves with each success, setback, and new inspiration, began new families and, through it all, retained their devotion to each other. The Harrises were, and are, in and of their times in a way that very few, if any, other families could have been. It’s a remarkable ride through a time that must have looked very different on the inside of the magic mirror, as they were. I found this ride to be enriching as I looked back over the years they describe, and saw those times from a fresh and exhilarating perspective.
The candid pictures and narrations from the Harris siblings is a "how to survive guide" for any hopeful thespian or artist in this new depression era. The memoir answers every question, challenge, and tells it like it is ... behind every TV, IMDB film credit or theater credit there is the day job or in the case of The Screaming Violets: Jayne, Eloise, and Mary Lou - a night job at the coat check at Studio 54.
Besides the nail-biting, high risk-taking for the sake of art making there is tragedy ranging from losing Hibiscus to HIV/ AIDS causes (the renowned performance artist and founder of the psychedelic theater troupe The Cockettes) to 9/11 and its effect on the Harris family and their own survival and need for further reinvention.
Caravan to Oz shares the highs and the "do or die" of the artist's way (... and then some). What is refreshing is that book is full of living and not replete with backstabbing or name dropping of most memoirs. The names that are dropped however throughout the picture packed pages just happen to have graced the lives of Anne, George, Sr. Hibiscus, Walter-Michael, Frederic, Jayne, Eloise, and Mary Lou Harris. A must read for theater enthusiasts, academics or emerging D.I.Y. performers.
Pictured: Ann Harris as Starina, in the family's show "Angels of Light."