Last post I wrote about a hitherto unremarked connection between a poem by V.R. Lang and an invented map by the artist Bernard Sleigh, both of whom are probably obscure enough to not warrant the attention, but whatever. As may be obvious from a few of my other posts I have a kind of fascination with minor cultural figures. I’m not entirely sure why that is.
I got interested in V.R. Lang through my involvement with one of the many ad hoc theatre collectives that formed around the Edmonton Fringe Festival back in the 1980s. Our collective was named “Crybaby Killer Theatre” after an old Roger Corman movie. Not a name I liked very much but it did sometimes draw people in out of sheer curiousity.
For reasons that seem totally vague to me now we decided it would be a really good idea to perform the little-known plays of American beat poets in midnight shows to audiences who were sometimes outnumbered by the cast. And for two or three years we did just that, presenting shows by writers like Kenneth Patchen, Susan Rivers, and of course, Frank O’Hara.
Our first production consisted of three of O’Hara’s one-act plays originally written for the Boston Poet’s Theater back in the 1950s. It tells you something that in Edmonton 30 years later these plays were still considered “avant garde,” or anyway among the most avant garde things to appear at the Fringe that year (according to Globe and Mail reviewer Liam Lacey). One of the plays, “Try, Try!” had been written as an acting vehicle for Violet Lang and that’s where I first heard of her.
Well, it was fun. Most of us had multiple roles; I acted and did set design, neither particularly well. I can recall personally holding up a clothesline for an entire performance of “Maud Gonne Says No to the Poet”. I hadn’t tested beforehand whether the supports I’d built would actually hold up the weight of the clothes, which gives you some idea of my set-building chops. And I jumped over an entire page of dialogue during one performance of “Try,try!”, which gives you some idea of my acting. Luckily, avante-garde theatre being what it is, not many people noticed the omission, including some of the cast.
I think the performance of “Try, Try!” may have been the first public exhibition of my paintings, as the flats consisted of two huge abstract works on canvas, both of which have thankfully long since vanished.
I also did graphic design and illustration for the theatre company logo, posters and handbills, a couple of which I’ve reproduced here.
I was pleased to see that some of the old Fringe programs are now online, containing a couple of my spot illustrations. I just wish I could remember why I put a second head on that guy’s backside. And what’s with the antennae?