What Happened at Judson Poets’ Theatre

What Happened at Judson Poets’ Theatre

Happenings and other experimental performances had an impact on the plays that Larry Kornfeld staged at Judson Poets’ Theatre. What Happened wasn’t a play in the traditional sense. It was more of a poem uttered by different unnamed characters, which posed several challenges for director Larry Kornfeld, though he embraced the nonlinear narrative and wordplay. This Judson Poets’ Theatre production included five dancers and four actors—with Al Carmines onstage playing piano—and its use of the space and lighting was quite radical for the time. What Happened featured a protopsychedelic wash of light masterminded by Johnny Dodd, Caffe Cino’s resident lighting genius, who also worked at Judson and other venues. “The pews were taken out, folding chairs were put in, and so we played in every direction, in every corner, every possible way of using that space,” Kornfeld said, describing the upstairs choir loft that overlooked Judson’s open area of worship. “We sat audiences upstairs, they looked down, they sat downstairs, and looked up. Every kind of focus was explored—even two and three foci at the same time. It was an exploration of space.” Bibbe Hansen still treasures her vivid memory of seeing What Happened as an adolescent. “It was absolutely, for me, a turning point culturally, artistically, because it was by nature very experimental and nonlinear,” she said. “And yet it was lyrical and it was lovely and very winsome and captivating.” Hansen was even more surprised and delighted when the piano, which had remained in place throughout the performance, was swiftly moved from one end of the church to the other by the actors and dancers—all while Carmines continued playing. “At every performance from the first performance on,” Kornfeld recalled, “audiences just stood up and cheered at that moment, because they had never seen a piano move like that.”

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Judson Memorial Church
55 Washington Square S, New York, NY 10012