When the family was living on El Dorado Avenue, eleven-year-old George Harris III (soon to be Hibiscus) hatched the idea to start a family theater troupe after learning that his mother had written two plays in college—Bluebeard and The Sheep and the Cheapskate—that had moldered in a trunk for years. Bluebeard was based on the classic story about the bloody nobleman, but in Ann’s version the wives were turned into furniture, instead of being murdered by Bluebeard. The Sheep and the Cheapskate was a generation gap play that took place in the 1920s and dealt with new ideas about liberty, freedom, and self-expression—topics that grew more timely as the 1960s wore on (the play would later be performed at La MaMa). “There were two ready-made little musicals that Mom had written,” Walter said, “so we put them on in our garage on El Dorado Avenue.” After that, George and his siblings began staging Broadway shows like Camelot. They didn’t have a script for that musical, nor had they seen it, but the kids reconstructed the show based on the liner notes in the original cast recording. “For Camelot,” Jayne Anne recalled, “my brothers put horse heads on the front of their bicycles and did jousting.” Walter said, “We sprayed cardboard with silver paint to make armor. We came at each other on our bicycles and tried to knock each other down.” Little did the family know that what they were doing was exactly what was going on in the downtown’s underground theater scene, a world the whole family would be immersed in by 1964.
From Chapter 7 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore