Ridiculous Theater


Very much an influence to the stage show elements of punk, especially the glitter rock/trash rock scene, was the outrageous underground theater that John Vaccaro, Charles Ludlam, and Tony Ingrassia were doing in the late 60s and early 70s that became known as “ridiculous theater.” Although Ludlum’s work is still performed far more than Vaccaro’s, John Vaccaro is, in the opinion of many, more important to the movement. When people went to see a Charles Ludlum play they were going to see something funny – an irrelevant, slapstick drag show. Nothing was taken to an extent where it would deliberately embarrass the audience. Vaccaro on the other hand wanted to make his audiences very uncomfortable.

“John Vaccaro was way past that. Way, way past that. John Vaccaro was dangerous. John Vaccaro could be very embarrassing on many levels. He used thalidomide babies and Siamese triplets joined together at the asshole. One actor had this huge papier-mâché prop of a big cock coming out of his shorts, down to his knees. He also couldn’t control his bowel movements, so shit was dripping down his legs the whole time and everyone loved it. People loved that kind of visually confrontational theater. And John Vaccaro used tons of glitter, that was his trademark. Everyone wore glitter. The whole cast was always covered with glitter.”

-Leee Black Childers

People had been using glitter for a long time, drag queens especially, but many conclude that the real idea of “glitter” started to take off after Vaccaro came back from a costume-shopping trip to China town with giant shopping bags of glitter in all colors. He encouraged the cast to use it as much as possible. Everyone’s faces were covered with glitter, they had glitter in their hair, actors play the Moon Reindeer in Heaven Grand in Amber Orbit had their entire bodies covered with green glitter. The entire stage would be covered in it and because everyone was constantly moving, dancing, bumping into eachother, and jumping off of things, there was glitter in the air, just floating around. And with the lights reflecting off of this scene, everything seemed constantly in motion with glitter.

Vaccaro used glitter as a symbol of the gaudiness of America. He saw the greats in the history of theater as always epitomizing a concept of “man versus himself.” As Vaccaro put it himself: “Fuck 'man.' I’ve given up on 'man.'” Instead he thought globally. His plays were about the world at large. And glitter was his demonstration of the world’s biggest problems. Of course it was also a pretty stage element but essentially it was Vaccaro’s way of suggesting the gaudiness of America and more explicitly the gaudiness of Times Square in the midst of all of the city’s various problems that most people would rather ignore, hoping they would go away.