Rudi Stern produced light shows for LSD guru Timothy Leary before cofounding the video-making collective Global Village, one of the many video groups that coalesced downtown that included the Videofreex, Raindance, and People’s Video Theater.
By the early 1970s, many downtown artists were taken by video—including playwright Harry Koutoukas, who turned 87 Christopher Street’s fire escapes into a staging area captured by Global Village’s trusty Portapaks. For Suicide Notations, Koutoukas conscripted his neighbor Lisa Jane Persky in her New York debut as an actress. If Off-Off-Broadway opened its doors to nonprofessionals, Suicide Notations was more like Off-Off-Off-Broadway. Persky’s mother let Koutoukas use the fire escape on the front of her apartment for the actors to shout their lines, and other scenes took place on her neighbor James Hall’s fire escape directly above them. Persky played the Girl in Gown—wearing her own exotic long yellow dress with red moons and stars—and Hall was the Sleepwalking Poet. Koutoukas stole the show as Louis XIV, wearing a crown and a gaudy silk bathrobe, complemented with feathers, beads, and glitter. “I didn’t think about Suicide Notations as being in a play,” Persky said. “It was just an off-the-cuff kind of thing—like a Happening, really. We had a dress rehearsal, which was a performance for the street, because we knew we were going to shoot it on video.” It was taped by Rudi Stern, who cofounded Global Village and had previously produced light shows for LSD guru Timothy Leary. When Stern shot it at night, he lit up the fire escapes on all six floors and ran the master switchboard in Persky’s apartment. “My friend on the street,” Hall recalled, “he threw his crutches in front of a bus to stop the bus so we could shoot a scene.” Taylor Mead, Ronald Tavel, and Jackie Curtis were also cast for the video production (though Curtis ended up being a no-show).
From Chapter 28 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore