Category Archives: Gay

Iconic 1960’s dancer Fred Herko leaps to life in Deborah Lawlor’s ‘Freddy’ at LACC

herko

Fred Herko

She knew him in the final years of his life. He shared her apartment months before he died. His memory, and the inspiration his passionate spirit ignited, has firmly gripped her for fifty-three years. Next week, Fountain Co-Artistic Director Deborah Lawlor pays tribute to her gifted and troubled friend with Freddy, her new theatre/dance work opening as a co-production between the Fountain Theatre and Los Angeles City College Theatre Academy.  It runs September 27 – October 14 at the Caminito Theatre.

Even today, no one is sure if Fred Herko intended to kill himself when he jumped out of the window of his friend Johnny Dodd’s Greenwich Village apartment in 1964. The 28-year-old dancer and performer – one of the central figures of New York’s 60s avant-garde and a star of Andy Warhol’s first movies – was high on speed, and possibly LSD.

He was a founder member of the experimental Judson Dance Theater and co-founder of the New York Poets Theater, both famed for their unconventional work, “happenings” and productions, and the manner of Herko’s strange death – leaping naked from a fifth floor window, Mozart on full blast – merely added to his mythology.

Fred Herko leaped from the top floor of this apartment building in NYC.

Herko was born and raised in a blue-collar home. His first two years were spent on the Lower East Side and Brooklyn, before the family settled in Ossining, north of New York, the location of the notorious Sing Sing maximum security prison. His father ran a diner. His mother was a housewife. Herko showed early proficiency in piano and was also a great flautist. He was groomed to be a concert pianist, and attended Juilliard, the prestigious performing arts conservatory.

Forde is amassing material for his biography through those who knew him and memoirs of figures like the poet Diane di Prima, Herko’s great friend; Herko himself left no diaries or letters.

Within a year of starting ballet training, Herko performed with established choreographers like his mentor, the dancer, artist and designer James Waring. In 1962, with figures like David Gordon, Lucinda Childs, and Yvonne Rainer, Herko co-founded Judson Dance Theater, which defined what became known as modern dance – elliptical, pared-back sound and movement with a deliberate lack of linear narrative.

Fred Herko
Herko and Aileen Passloff in James Waring’s In the Mist, 1960. Photograph: Vladimir Sladon/Public domain

“Just as pop artists were proposing that cartoons and trucks could be art,” says Forde, “at Judson they showed dance could be combing your hair, rubbing your thighs together, running on the spot, or barking like a dog. It completely rejected Martha Graham’s narrative dance, and Merce Cunningham’s pure dance.” Herko performed in 16 performances between 1962 and 1964, and six original pieces of his own choreography. He also appeared on Ed Sullivan’s TV show, supporting stars like Rosemary Clooney and Pearl Bailey as a backing dancer.

Away from the stage, Herko was having lots of sex. One of Di Prima’s poems was called, For Freddie, Fucking Again, a diatribe which followed him being late for a restaurant date with her. “He liked hanging out at sleazy bars,” says Forde. “He was extremely aware of his sexual power.”

In 1963-4, Herko hung out with the Warhold Factory posse, “an extremely flamboyant crowd who were unashamed of their sexuality”, says Forde. He had relationships with the son of a wealthy Hollywood family, and was rumored to have been kept by a wealthy member of the De Rothschild family in an Upper West Side apartment. He had a relationship with the poet Alan Marlowe, who was then married to and had children with Di Prima.

Herko was very close to Warhol, and performed in some of the artist’s earliest cinematic experiments. One 40-minute film, Roller Skate, is entirely devoted to Herko, dancing all over New York on one rollerskate. The films features him bleeding and hobbling, but smiling and wearing a YMCA Good Guys sweatshirt.

Fred Herko
Herko as Icarus in James Waring’s At the Hallelujah Gardens with costume by Robert Indiana, February 1963. Photograph: Judith Searle

In his memoir Popism, Warhol said Herko had been taking more and more amphetamines. “He destroyed himself: speed, LSD and marijuana,” says Forde. “Everyone was taking speed at that time. Doctors were prescribing it for slimming pills, kids were using it to cram for exams. People snorted it, mainlined it. Drugs became a problem with Freddie at the end of 1962. He was injecting it.”

Herko was reaching a point where he couldn’t perform. “He was choreographing and teaching, but he realised he had fucked his career up,” says Forde. “Doors were closing for him: he was unreliable, strung out, unpredictable; a once sweet boy had become aggressive and had started disappointing people. He’d also become homeless.”

Warhol said that Herko had let himself into Dodd’s home on 27 October 1964. A former lover of Herko’s, Dodd also did the Judson Memorial Church lighting for performances.

However, Forde says Dodd found Herko dancing on the counter of a diner, out of control. “Freddy was covered with filth, and he was dancing on the counter,” Dodd recalled to Warhol biographer David Bourdon. “He said he hadn’t had any drugs for three days, but he was wacked out and his body was quivering.”

Dodd took Herko to his fifth-floor Cornelia Street apartment. Forde says Herko had a shower, and put on the Coronation Mass by Mozart. Warhol told Bourdon that Herko said he had a new ballet to do “and he needed to be alone. He herded the people there out of the room.”

“He danced naked around the living room. The window was open and at the moment of the Sanctus,” says Forde, “Herko leapt out of the window to his death.”

In Bourdon’s version: “Freddy poured a bottle of Dodd’s perfume into a tub of steaming hot water and took a long bubble bath” – Forde says the tub was too squat for this. “He seemed to cheer up as Dodd, who knew that ‘Freddy was a Mozart freak,’ put a recording of the composer’s Coronation Mass on the phonograph. Herko dried himself, then started dancing naked around the living room, whirling round and round, periodically making a long run toward the front windows. Dodd couldn’t help but wonder whether this was going to be the ‘suicide performance’ that Freddy had been promising his friends for so many weeks. ‘It was obvious that Freddy had to do it now: the time and the place were right, the decor was right, the music was right.’

“Herko made another long run and, like Nijinsky in Le Spectre de la Rose, leaped out an open window, his momentum carrying him almost to the opposite side of the street. He was 29 years old. Several of Andy’s friends heard him lament on various occasions that he had not been there to film it.”

Fred Herko
Herko as Peter Peterouter in Rosalyn Drexler’s musical comedy Home Movies with Charlotte Bellamy as Sister Thalia and Al Carmines as Father Shenanigan, 1964. Photograph: Van Williams/New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

However, Forde doesn’t believe Herko’s was a performed death. As part of a piece he was preparing, he would routinely go up to the gallery of Judson Memorial Church (which has helped organize the 50th anniversary events) and leap off a 20-foot ledge, landing perfectly. “Every ballet dancer has the sense they can fly, and for seconds suspended in mid-air, they do.”

Had he lived, Forde thinks Herko may have formed his own company, a forerunner of the kind of dance Michael Clark became famous for 20 years later. “There wasn’t any figure taking Freddy’s direction in the 60s and 70s. But people said he didn’t have much discipline. One report from Juilliard said he had problems making up his mind. He was making costumes, collage and painting; he was interested in too many things. In combination with the drugs, it led to his downfall.”

Warhol later said, “For the 26 nights following Freddy’s death, the group at Diane di Prima’s apartment met formally to read the Tibetan Book of the Dead … There was a memorial service for him at Judson Church, but so many people showed up that there was another one for him, at the Factory. We showed the three films.”

Now, 50 years later, for Herko’s surviving loved ones, friends and downtown obsessives, the celebratory events in his name aim to accord him his rightful place in the avant-garde pantheon, in what was a too short – but dramatic – life.

Freddy at LACC Theatre Academy More Info/Get Tickets

This post originally appeared in The Guardian

Deborah Lawlor in NY at Festival Celebrating 1960’s Legendary Dancer and Friend Fred Herko

Deborah Lawlor reads a poem at the Freddy conference.

Deborah Lawlor reads a poem at the Freddy conference.

Fountain Producing Co-Artistic Director Deborah Lawlor is in New York this week attending a week-long festival of events celebrating the life of Fred Herko, a dancer and legendary figure in New York’s 1960s avant-garde.  The program is curated by Herko biographer Gerard Forde to mark the fiftieth anniversary of Herko’s death on October 27th, 1964. Herko was a founding member of the experimental Judson Dance Theater and a figure in the Andy Warhol underground scene. When the 28-year-old dancer,  high on speed, leaped naked out a friend’s fifth-floor apartment window dancing to Mozart and fell to his death in 1964, his life and death became legend.

Deborah Lawlor knew Fred Herko well. As a young dancer newly arrived in New York City in the 1960’s, she entered the East Village avant-garde dance scene and grew to know and love the charismatic Herko, sharing an apartment with him. Lawlor is now creating a theatre/dance piece called Freddie, dramatizing his blazing Icarus-like trajectory. Funded with support from the National Endowment for the Arts, Freddie is scheduled to be presented by the Fountain Theatre in the fall 2015.

Fred Herko biographer Gerard Forde and Deborah Lawlor

Fred Herko biographer Gerard Forde and Deborah Lawlor

Even today, no one is sure if Fred Herko intended to kill himself when he jumped out of the window of his friend Johnny Dodd’s Greenwich Village apartment in 1964.

In the coming days there will be a memorial tribute at Judson Memorial Church, featuring contemporaries like the poet John Giorno, and the dancer Gus Solomons Jr who will perform a dance poem in Herko’s memory. A separate symposium will correct, says Forde, “the mythology and misreadings” around the dark-haired, handsome Herko. There will be an exhibition of pictures of Herko performing, and three of Warhol’s films that starred Herko will also be shown.  Continue reading

Fountain Theatre Wins 26 Awards from StageSceneLA For Excellence in 2013-14

The Fountain Theatre has gobbled up 26 Theater Awards from Stage SceneLA for our acclaimed 2013-14 productions of The Normal Heart, My Name is Asher Lev and The Brothers Size. StageSceneLA editor Steven Stanley announced the winners this week after seeing and reviewing 268 productions from September 1, 2013 through August 31, 2014. The overall awards list is long and there are multiple winners in many categories.  All of it demonstrating, as Steven Stanley affirms, that “theater in Los Angeles and its surrounding communities is alive and thriving and quite often simply as good as it gets. “

These 2013-14 Fountain productions received the following awards:

The Normal Heart 

Tim Cummings and Bill Brochtrup in 'The Normal Heart'.

Tim Cummings and Bill Brochtrup in ‘The Normal Heart’.

  • Production of the Year – The Normal Heart
  • Best Director, Drama – Simon Levy
  • Best Performance, Lead Actor – Tim Cummings
  • Best Performance, Lead Actor – Bill Brochtrup
  • Best Performance, Featured Actress – Lisa Pelikan
  • Best Performance by an Understudy – Ray Paolantonio
  • Best Performance, Featured Actor – Matt Gottlieb
  • Best Performance, Featured Actor – Fred Koehler
  • Best Performance, Featured Actor – Stephen O’Mahoney
  • Memorable Performance, Featured Actor – Dan Shaked & Jeff Witzke

My Name Is Asher Lev

Jason Karasev, Anna Khaja and Joel Polis in 'My Name Is Asher Lev'.

Jason Karasev, Anna Khaja and Joel Polis in ‘My Name Is Asher Lev’.

  • Best Production, Drama – My Name is Asher Lev
  • Best Director, Drama – Stephen Sachs
  • Best Performance, Lead Actor – Jason Karasev
  • Best Performance, Featured Actor – Joel Polis
  • Best Performance, Featured Actress – Anna Khaja
  • Best Costume Design – Shon LeBlanc
  • Best Lighting Design – Ric Zimmerman 
  • Best Scenic Design – Jeff McLaughlin 

The Brothers Size

Gilbert Glenn brown  and Matthew Hancock (photo by Ed Krieger)

Gilbert Glenn Brown and Matthew Hancock in ‘The Brothers Size

  • Best Director – Shirley Jo Finney
  • Best Ensemble Cast, Drama
  • Best Choreography, Play – Ameenah Kaplan
  • Memorable Lighting Design – Pablo Santiago
  • Best Scenic Designer – Hana S. Kim

Multiple Productions: 

  • Sound Design/Composer of the Year – Peter Bayne, The Brothers Size, The Normal Heart
  • Best Props Design – Misty Carlisle – Asher Lev, Brothers Size, Normal Heart

Our thanks to Steven Stanley and StageSceneLa for this acknowledgement.  We appreciate and applaud his enthusiasm and support for theatre in Los Angeles.   

For the complete list of StageSceneLA Award winners click here.

Production photos by Ed Krieger

 

 

Fountain Theatre Wins 3 LA Drama Critics Circle Awards for ‘The Normal Heart’ Including Best Production

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Stephen Sachs, Verton Banks, Bill Brochtrup, Tim Cummings, Jeff Witzke, Ray Paolantonio and Simon Levy.

Last night was another memorable evening for the Fountain Theatre, as our acclaimed production of The Normal Heart won Best Production of a Revival of a Play at the LA Drama Critics Circle Awards. Actor Tim Cummings also took the honor of Best Lead Performance and designer Adam Flemming won Best Video Design.

The Award event was held at The Colony Theatre in Burbank and was attended by hundreds of esteemed members from the LA Theatre community.  Representing the Fountain Theatre were Co-Artistic Stephen Sachs, Producing Director Simon Levy, and publicist Lucy Pollak.  Cast members from The Normal Heart included Verton Banks, Bill Brochtrup, Tim Cummings, Ray Paolantonio and Jeff Witzke.

“Our production of The Normal Heart was more than just producing a play,” said Sachs. “It became this powerful, moving and deeply meaningful cathartic event for the many people who came to see it and for all of us who brought it to life on stage.”

The theme for the awards show was “Family”. It was certainly another wonderful night for the Fountain Family.

For a full list of all award winners: click here

Enjoy These Snapshots from the Awards Night 

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Fountain Mail: “One of the most important evenings of theater I’ve had in many, many years”

Stephen O'Mahoney, Tim Cummings

Stephen O’Mahoney, Tim Cummings

Dear Fountain Theatre,

I was going to write a hardcopy letter but decided to use this route instead. Please, if you think it appropriate, pass my comments along to all of the cast members.

As you know, I was in the audience last Friday. Somehow or other I had missed seeing this play up until now. It was and is a very important play in the history of g/l/b/t rights and the AIDS epidemic. As someone who joined his local gay rights organization in Seattle one week to the day after the beginning of the Stonewall riots, I have been very involved with the movement since then. However, given the passage of time, some of my memories of that awful period in my life and the life of this country had dimmed. The superb job you did on the play brought that whole awful period back to me with stunning clarity. I left the theater an emotional mess.

While I am sure that I took away a different experience from others in the audience last Friday, I was happy to see younger people there. Hopefully they came away with some inkling of what we went through then. I had forgotten, over time, the maddening denial of governmental officials as well as members of the press that anything was going on that needed attention. One of the important aspects of that period that the play brought to life was the pain we all felt as our friends died with frightening suddenness. All of these emotions were brought to the audience in a very palpable way.

Tim Cummings and Bill Brochtrup

Tim Cummings and Bill Brochtrup

I do not want to single out any performer more than another for praise as everyone contributed to the effectiveness of the evening. I must say though that Tim Cummings certainly brought all the passion and anger of his character to life very effectively. Bill Brochtrup was a great foil to that anger. His progression in the disease was very effective, especially the makeup he wore at the end of the play. Having had several close friends die of the disease, when he appeared towards the end his appearance caused me to suddenly remember that yes, that was exactly what my friends looked like. Stephen O'Mahoney's portrayal of a closeted gay person wanting to come out but unable to because of his job and background hit the right note. Matt Gottlieb's portrayal of a man trying to be supportive of his brother but also constrained by his professional responsibilities also rang true. Fred Koehler's anguish at the end over his job as well as what was happening in his life as part of the GMHC was heartbreaking. Lisa Pelikan's anger at what was happening and her inability to get anyone to do anything about it rang true. Dan and Jeff and Verton's rolls as important supporting characters were just right for their roles. In short I want to say thank you to all of you. The cast of course are deserving on praise but also the director and the rest of the crew for provided me with one of the most important evenings of theater I've had in many, many years.

I come in to Los Angeles frequently for cultural events as there is nothing here in the desert to equal the quality of what I can see in Los Angeles. This evening was well worth the late-night drive back to Palm Springs. You all are to be commended for doing an outstanding job.

Thank you.

Andrew F. Johnson, Palm Springs, CA 

The Normal Heart Now to Dec 15th (323) 663-1525 MORE 

NEW VIDEO: Acclaimed LA Production of ‘The Normal Heart’ at the Fountain Theatre

NORMAL_HEART_AIDS_Walk_flyer

Enjoy this new promo video for our acclaimed production of The Normal Heart by Larry Kramer. Our exclusive Los Angeles revival directed by Simon Levy has earned rave reviews, overwhelming audience response, and has been extended to December 15th by popular demand.

This promo video was created by our friends and colleagues at the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD).  GLAAD amplifies the voice of the LGBT community by empowering real people to share their stories, holding the media accountable for the words and images they present, and helping grassroots organizations communicate effectively. By ensuring that the stories of LGBT people are heard through the media, GLAAD promotes understanding, increases acceptance, and advances equality.  

GLAAD’s LGBT Los Angeles theater site shares info on plays that bring LGBT characters and plotlines to life that insure accurate depictions of LGBT people and issues.

The Fountain Theatre production of The Normal Heart has been hailed “brilliant” and “outstanding” and a “must-see”. It is highlighted as a Critic’s Pick and is Ovation Award Recommended. Broadway World exclaims, “This production at the Fountain Theatre certainly exemplifies that great theatre is alive and well in Los Angeles.”

The cast features Verton R. Banks, Bill Brochtrup, Tim Cummings, Matt Gottlieb, Fred Koehler, Stephen O’Mahoney, Ray Paolantonio, Lisa Pelikan, Dan Shaked and Jeff Witzke.

MORE 

Extended to Dec 15th! (323) 663-1525 Get Tickets Now!

Post-Show Discussion on “Religion, AIDS and the LGBT Community” this Friday night after ‘The Normal Heart’

Rev. Kathy Cooper-Ledesma

Rev. Kathy Cooper-Ledesma

Continuing its ongoing series of post-show Q&A Talkback discussions immediately following performances of The Normal Heart, the Fountain Theatre will host a conversation on “Religion, AIDS and the LGBT Community” this Friday night, Nov 1st.  Led by Rev. Kathy Cooper-Ledesma of the Hollywood United Methodist Church (aka the Red Ribbon church) and Rev. Joe Shore-Goss of MCC in the Valley, the post-show audience discussion will also include members of the cast and the director. 

Rev. Joe Shore-Goss

Rev. Joe Shore-Goss

The Fountain Theatre is committed to reaching out and serving the wide variety of diverse communities that create the vibrant fabric of Los Angeles. At the Fountain, we encourage our audiences to not only watch a play but also engage in the conversation. Please join us for these invigorating, inspiring and thought-provoking discussions. See our acclaimed and powerful production of The Normal Heart this Friday and stay for the conversation.

The Normal Heart has been extended to December 15th! MORE