from pastelegram.org, June 2011 – April 2014
19-21, 26, 28 June; 5 July 1964Taped Reading by Antonin Artaud and a Play by Michael McClure
American Arts Project
Frank Cotner (Assistant Stage Manager)
Diane DiPrima (House Manager)
Caryl Summers (Stage Designer)
Ronald Curtis (Stage Builder)
George Herms (Stage Builder)
Alan Marlowe (Program Director)
Alan Marlowe (Stage Builder)
John Herbert McDowell (Music Director)
John Dodd (Lighting Director)
Phoebe Neville (Lighting Technician)
Louise Herms (Wardrobe Mistress)
Nathan Barre (Stage Manager)
"I was doing a lot of drawings on butcher paper and I brought them to Los Angeles and sold them during the holiday season, and Michael McClure had written a play that Diane DiPrima was going to put on in New York at the Poet's Theatre, and would I do the sets for it? And because Michael visited in the Redwood Forest. ... And Bruce Conner, there's a lovely little portrait he did of me up there, sixteen million, sixteen millimeters--just straight, no collage elements to it at all-of that house and that life up there.
And so I agreed to do the play, do the sets for the play. To raise the money for the tickets, Jim Elliot went around a cocktail party and got enough to get the family--by now four of us--to New York, and we stayed with Diane DiPrima in the spring of 1964. And they were all doing courtroom drama because of Jack Smith's Flaming Creatures, and LeRoi Jones' Brig and The Dutchman. They were fighting these pornography charges and obscenity charges, and I was kind of twiddling my thumbs. A friend of mine got me a little eight-foot cubicle as a studio in the Lower East Side. But Diane gave me a set of haiku poems that she had written and suggested that I illustrate them. So I began.... I'm twenty-nine and for the first time in New York. I have William Blake sitting on my shoulder and I have all this patience that I'd never had before, and I began to carve illustrations out of cherry and pear wood-nice, wonderful hardwood--and then eventually did the sets for the play.
PAUL J. KARLSRTOM: What was the play?
GEORGE HERMS: The play was the The Blossom, or Billy the Kid. It was a historical drama.
PAUL J. KARLSRTOM: That's before The Beard?
GEORGE HERMS: Yeah. And I didn't see the play until we got on the plane in Oakland to take off. And you open it up and the very first thing it says is, "This play takes place in eternity." So I knew that the sets were cool, at that point. [laughs] It was great working with Diane, and then I also met the dancer Freddie Herko and did, well, sets. It was basically the altar in the Judson church. I put in, created this halo of flames from the altar. "The Palace of the Dragon Prince" was the name of it. And the poet Kirby Doyle sat on this throne, and basically all I did was just put this fire right in the heart of the church.
And '64 was a wonderful time in New York, because there was great jazz going on. You could stand outside the Five Spot and Yvonne Rainer's dancing at the Judson Church. Dance is really just exploding everywhere. I loved the dancers because they were with their instrument all day long. You know, they didn't have to have a studio to go to. ..."
-- George Herms in conversation with Paul J. Karlstrom, Oral history interview with George Herms for the Archives of American Art, December 8, 1993 - March 10, 1994.
"George being primarily an assemblage artist and thinking mostly in three dimensions, it was natural for him to sculpt the entire space at American Arts Project into the set for The Blossom, or Billy the Kid. The play took place around, about, and inside of an exotic, brooding, and oddly humourous art piece. George even made six "Theatre Goers;" an assortment of assemblages that more or less resembled humans and "sat" in the front row. They were the only audience that never failed us, and it was cozy always having the fron row filled before you opened the door.
George made a round oil painting, The Blossom, and a huge sculptural flower from some Hawaii of the Titans--it had these thin carbon typewriter ribbons bursting from its center as pistils and stamens, and gigantic petals made of cloth and wire. And he hung huge paintings all around: flowers bursting out of cunts. Guns bursting out of flowers. To walk into the space was to become part of the piece.
Alan blocked the play so that it happened all around the audience. Toward the end, when Billy the Kid was hunted down and killed, the hunt wove through the entire room. There was a drum crescendo throughout the hunt, which took about twenty minutes. I did the drumming, using what I was given: a partially hollowed-out tree stump and a large stick. [...]
... as an opener we ran an audiotape made for radio by Antonin Artaud, called in English To Have Done With the Judgement of God on which Artaud imprecates, screams, plays gongs, and rumbles his rrr's quite nicely. Allen Ginsberg had given it to me. A kind of nice touch was that Alan Marlowe brought over two enormous speakers from his room and set them up in the front windows of the theatre, so that all of Bleecker Street within a couple of blocks of Gerde's Folk City was treated to the howling of Antonin Artaud each night that the The Blossom was running." -- Diane di Prima. Recollections of My Life as a Woman: The New York Years. New York: Viking, 2001.
To Have Done with the Judgment of God (Taped Reading, 1947)
The Blossom, or Billy the Kid (Play)
Michael McClure (Playwright)
Alan Marlowe (Director)
George Herms (Designer)
Malcolm Goldstein (Composer)
Albert M. Fine (Songwriter)
Garnett Smith (Actor: Tunstall)
Ann Linden (Actor: Susan McSween)
Arthur Williams (Actor: Alexander McSween)
Alan Marlowe (Actor: The Kid)
Elsene Sorrentino (Actor: The Mother)