A good deal of the gay theatre in New York City is produced under the auspices of two Off-Off Broadway figures – Doric Wilson, artistic director of The Other Side of Silence (TOSOS), 257 Church St., and John Glines, director of The Glines Theatre, 260 West Broadway. To discover something about the past, present, and future of gay theatre, GCN recently interviewed both men. What emerged was an interesting look at the personalities behind gay theatre. It might have been useful to hear what each had to say about the other, but Glines and Wilson declined to make such remarks on the record. The interview with John Glines follows; Mr. Wilson was profiled in a previous issue of GCN.
The Glines, “a forum for the gay experience,” opened to the public in April, 1976.
For John Glines, founding the theatre that bears his name was a logical extension of his broad-cased experience in the visual and performing arts. The soft-spoken native Californian has worked many years in film, television, and theatre as writer, actor, director, translator, lyricist, and technician, doing everything from script-writing for Captain Kangaroo to directing gospel concerts at the New York World’s Fair. When the Glines first began, to ensure that the theatre reflected a solid image, he took on the demanding double role of director and producer. “Nothing went out or was done in the theatre that I was not aware of – from acoustics, to lighting problems, to which outlets work and which don’t. I knew every detail of what was going on, so that we would succeed or sink on the image and spirit I created. It just about killed me, it really did, but it was a damned good way to find out every fucking flaw there was.” Since then Glines has lightened his load by sticking with the more supervisory role of artistic director of the Glines.
GCN: How did the idea of The Glines Theatre originally come about?
JG: I was the administrative director at TOSOS. Before that time, I was a playwright, and a couple of things of mine failed, largely through the fault of the producers. And a play of mine that was well-done a year ago April that I directed, that I had written, that was really a fine piece of work, the producer screwed me on – badly. He didn’t handle publicity, he didn’t do this, he didn’t do that. It was off-off-Broadway, which I was not familiar with, having been in television. I was kind of getting back to the stage. And I said, fuck it, I can’t be this ivory tower artist, where all I do is art and somebody else worries about the money, so I’m gonna goddamn well learn. I’m playing dumb, and that’s just not right. So I saw Lovers, the musical, which impressed me, and I went to TOSOS and asked if I could help out and was made administrative director. I then really got my feet wet in OOB, because that was last summer when the fight broke out with Equity about the new Showcase Code, so I met an awful lot of people in the OOB movement and learned a lot very quickly, because I went to these meetings, and I’d hear Joe Papp talk and I learned how OOB theatres were run. So then the time came when there were things that I wanted to do when Doric Wilson, the director of TOSOS, was doing something else, and I felt there was a spot for another gay theatre – and I was off and running.
GCN: What kind of things did you have in mind that TOSOS wasn’t doing?
JG: Uh, not with this… (points to the tape recorder, which obligingly shuts off for several minutes).
GCN: What was your professional purpose in starting The Glines?
JG: To explore the gay experience, to create a space where that could be examined: what it meant to be gay.
GCN: Where do your scripts come from?
JG: I get them mailed in, people have heard of it, somebody comes by, sees a show, wants to drop something off. There’s one playwright in Canada who has a play I’d like to do. We heard about it through the Body Politic (a gay newspaper).
GCN: Do you have an overflow of scripts?
JG: I have more than we could ever do, certainly. But there’s never an overflow of quality, and quality is very hard to come by, real quality. But I am more interested in doing the flawed play that is daring, that really confronts some aspect of what it is to be gay than I am in doing something fairly well-made and easy.
GCN: So you would be willing to sacrifice some quality in order to explore the gay experience?
JG: Yes, quality as far as the writing is concerned. Like if somebody did an S&M ballet that was really artistic or trying, I’d be fascinated. Someone has got to use that experience, turning it into art and making a statement about it, particularly in the areas of gay life that don’t mean anything to me personally. There’s a lot that goes on I don’t understand at all. I can’t see the eroticism in a lot, and I wish someone would tell me. Not in an essay, but to show it.
GCN: Who chooses the plays you do?
JG: I do.
GCN: What specific considerations do you use?
JG: Well, that thing, the originality, in approach, too. For instance, the next thing coming in is a morality play (A Drop in the Pudding by Paul Vanase). It’s a fairly common story developing the gay person, but it’s done with a speaking chorus, no music. It’s almost like a Greek drama. There’s a two-scene and then the chorus comments, and so on. That’s a very striking way, as opposed to the drawing-room comedy, which is still done on Broadway, and it’s fine. That also has to do with OOB and experimenting with the theatre; that’s what audiences come to OOB for, to see all that quirky stuff. Broadway does the other beautifully, there’s no sense competing.
GCN: Do you consider commercial value and balance in choosing plays?
JG: Commercial value, no. Balance of our own season, yes.
GCN: What do you do with the plays you don’t use?
JG: Most of them at the moment are piled up in the corner of my studio, I’m ashamed to say, because I’m so damned reluctant to write a form letter.
GCN: Do you have any way of placing plays elsewhere?
JG: No. I’d love to get into that. We don’t have the staff for that. I am considering a one-act festival, so many playwrights that I have returned scripts to I’ve asked if they have done a one-act play or if I can do certain scenes.
GCN: Do you have more problems finding directors than playwrights?
JG: No, it’s about the same, but there’s no way to audition a director, which has been a very serious problem in the past.
GCN: Are all the directors gay?
JG: They have been, but they don’t need to be. The thing is to match the script with the director. If I have a Tom O’Horgan, I wouldn’t give him a Lane Baker play, which should be directed by George Abbott. Tom O’Horgan should have Divine – you see what I mean? There are two fine, marvelous directors that I’d like to work with that are straight, but I can’t give them a play that isn’t solid in its gayness. If that is at all debatable, they wouldn’t know what to do with it. If it’s weak only in structure, that could be helped. But if the playwright is at all confused about his gayness, they wouldn’t see it. The Jumping Place, the second play we did, was directed by the author, and the whole cast of seven was straight. We don’t ask when somebody comes here how they swing, only that they commit themselves to the principles of the theatre. In that case, I think the director had to be gay because he was going to have to speak of things they were not very familiar with.
GCN: What are the principles of the theatre?
JG: That it’s a forum for the gay experience. That was an immediate problem with a director that I had to fire – he did not want on the flyer for the show “a forum for the gay experience,” because he thought it would be somehow detrimental and not bring in as many people. That was, like, blasphemy. But that’s the worst thing you can do here – try to straighten the place out. Because then that brings out a tackiness, like something dirty. For instance, the musical Fascination – almost everyone involved with that was gay – was straight out campy, a light fluffy musical, boys bumping their crotches at the audience, and my god it was filled with couples from New Jersey! They loved it, because that’s what they come to OOB for. But there was nothing in the show that tried to tame it down, somehow make it more sellable. That would make it somehow dirty.
GCN: You seem to be totally committed to new scrips.
JG: Well, no, there just aren’t that many, there’s not a large gay literature. No, there’s no point in doing The Children’s Hour, Boys in the Band, Find Your Way Home. Those can be done other places and are done other places. The Glines wouldn’t serve anybody. We did Trevor, a one-act that had been done before, but that was because we had trouble finding women’s pieces – Trevor involved two lesbians.
GCN: Do you have any interest in creating a company of actors, writers, technicians?
JG: No. Staff, yes. But no, the place must respond to the work under consideration. If you have a company, you’d have to start picking the material for the company. But strangely enough, one group that first came here were some women – one of them was a poet, she had read during one of our benefits, and she asked if she and some of her friends could come here once a week and work. They did, and they eventually put a show together which we did one night during Gay Pride Week, Women on Mars, and they all went into a group which came back and did it again. The theatre helped create them – that was a very beautiful thing. The theatre was now inspiring, bringing together, was the catalyst for creation, that dealt with gay experience.
The other thing that is happening is called Something Hopeful, which was conceived by Loretta Lotman. She came in, and she didn’t like The Soft-Core Kid. I said, alright, what do you think should be here? And she jumped at it – she said, OK, I’ll do something, and she did. So that’s what I want to do, to inspire people to do that. If you have an idea, and you have some friends and you come to me and say, John, we have something, can we show it, then probably like them, I’ll give you one night. And if it goes, I’ll give you a weekend. If it goes further, then we’ll give it a whole production. But let it build organically. All I want to do is supply the space and the time. We’ll take care of the problems, you take care of the art.
GCN: Do you have any idea as to what would be the essential elements of the ideal gay play?
JG: No, because my concept of my own gayness is only suitable to me. I get a little uptight when I read a play where the author is arguing something I don’t’ believe at all, but that I know to be a common way of gay life. He’s gotta have a forum. I haven’t seen enough quality gay theatre at all. The stereotypes are very easy.
And that’s another thing, it’s silly for the Glines to do anything that’s already been done – in the gay world, too. I mean, there’s no point in doing a drag show, you can see that in so many bars in town. What I’d like to see is a new self-image developed or at least models, images to live by, so if you’re a kid you don’t think you have to grow up limp-wristed, or you have to dress all in leather, or whatever. These things do come through the artists. If there’s a real deep purpose to this place, it’s that.
GCN: Do you have one play you think is the best gay theatre you’ve seen?
JG: There’s one play I’m excited about that I saw in a reading, Martin Duberman’s new play Kerouac, a fine, fine piece of work. It’s an epic. It was commissioned for Kennedy Center, and they took one look at it and said, oh no, no thank you, no way. The first act ends with Allen Ginsberg going down on Jack Kerouac, so you can imagine But this is a significant and important play. It’s not specifically gay – it has to do with a failed artist, failed because he did not work out his gayness. It destroyed him.
GCN: Between the time you opened in April and now, what kind of lessons have you learned about the way you wanted the Glines to be?
JG: You’re asking me at a strange time, we’ve just gone through a very transitional period. Lately, I’m beginning to re-think the Glines as a gay arts center rather than a gay theatre.
GCN: What’s your sense of the media attitude toward the Glines or gay theatre in general?
JG: We’ve really made no effort to get straight press coverage, and I’m delighted, because we get nice coverage from the gay press. We couldn’t do the flawed works then – they would get into discussions of homosexuality. The theatre isn’t for them, basically. If don’t know if the press helps. My feeling is the old “Say anything you want, just spell the name right.”
Gay Community News, 1976