“I consider Ellen Stewart my honorary mother, and John Vaccaro my honorary father,” Agosto Machado said. “Through both of them, I felt part of a larger group, and a family.” Another member of that extended family was performer Penny Arcade (née Susana Ventura), who first worked with Vaccaro on his 1967 play Conquest of the Universe. “John Vaccaro is the most singularly underrated person in the alternative arts,” argued Arcade. “So much of what went into queer culture came through John Vaccaro, and it was John who first did that kind of rock ’n’ roll theater. There wouldn’t have been a punk scene without John.” Play-House of the Ridiculous shows were literally in-your-face—unrelenting explosions of color, glitter, and noise underscored by social satire. “There was always a strong political undercurrent,” said Ridiculous actor Tony Zanetta. “Kill the king or, you know, mainly kill—kill someone. It was all total insanity and nonsense, but it was really compelling.” Vaccaro fell in love with Bunraku puppet shows and Kabuki theater during his World War II military service in Japan and took these traditional theatrical forms in demented new directions after settling in downtown New York.
From Chapter 16 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore