John Vaccaro’s Methods of Madness

John Vaccaro’s Methods of Madness

John Vaccaro was alternately described as a sort of gnome with an arched, monkey face, a scary owl with raised eyebrows, and a hunched-over troll. “He was very conscious of himself and his bizarre look,” Mary Woronov said. “He was not a handsome man.” But he had a grand sense of his own abilities as well as a maniacal drive, and that combination meant he was rarely easy on those working with him. “John Vaccaro loved to berate his actors and called them all kinds of names,” Caffe Cino playwright William Hoffman said. “Essentially, he loved them, but he didn’t hesitate to push them. He was really talented, although infuriating, because he could be very perverse.” Penny Arcade said, “I mean, Artaud—the Theatre of Cruelty—had nothing on Vaccaro. There would be a moment where John would, in the middle of the rehearsal, just start picking on somebody and would just torture them. I mean, super-psychological torturing, and the whole room would freeze.” During those maddening rehearsals, Vaccaro might lock his actors in a loft all night long or would scream, “If you make a mistake, DO IT AGAIN”—as in, do the entire play over, even if it was four in the morning. Woronov fondly described the director’s “homicidal” antics: “I say homicidal because whenever an actor was late he would close his eyes and say, ‘I killed him,’ ” she recalled. “Every night he hissed in my ear, ‘Do anything you like to them, I want fear in their eyes.’ ” Despite all the stories of Vaccaro throwing tantrums and locking his performers in a loft until sunrise, those around him remained extremely loyal. “With John Vaccaro,” Agosto Machado said, “no matter how difficult he was, we knew we were working with a great artist. I think he might have been more recognized if he was a little more accommodating, but he would have given up his artistry.”

From Chapter 16 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore


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