Cultural nuptials


Judson Memorial Church opens its doors to a like-minded theater group

I, the Culture Project of New York Off-Broadway theater, take thee, Judson Memorial Church, to be my lawfully wedded partner, for richer, for poorer, for better, for worse, in sickness and in health …

Or vice versa.

Al Carmines, wherever you are, flap your wings, burst into song and bless this marriage

Culture Project, the producing entity, has the artistic resources and the impetus, Judson Church has the space and the will. They have in common a strong interest in the human condition, democracy and social welfare.

Along about a year ago, Alan Buchman (pronounced Bushman), founder and ongoing artistic director of Culture Project, got tired of being driven pillar to post by unconscionable rents and unreliable landlords. At about the same time, Donna Schaper, senior minister of Judson Church, and Eric Hahn, Judson administrator, began thinking they’d like to have a resident theater company.

“Something like Culture Project,” one of them said to the other. And from that would devolve the union of one of this city’s enterprising production units with the historic church on Washington Square South which — on just one of its many fronts — had contributed its own seminal force 45 and more years ago, first to dancers like Merce Cunningham and Yvonne Rainer, then to breakthrough irreverent anti-mainstream theater.

Howard Moody, the minister then who was a courageous warrior on many fronts, is long retired now. Robert Nichols, the landscape artist and poet who in 1962 started the Judson Poets’ Theater with Moody’s blessing (the only rules: no religious drama and no censorship), was at last report somewhere up in the hills of Vermont. Scattered to the four winds are the playwrights who popped out of nowhere to give the whole thing initiative and juice: Irene Fornes, Rochelle Owens, Roslyn Drexler, H.M. Koutoukas, Sam Shepard, Lanford Wilson, Ron Tavel …

And Al Carmines, assistant minister, the dynamic heart and soul of Judson Theater – as director, playwright, composer, pianist, singer, what have you – Alvin Allison Carmines departed this venue for some other one at a boyish 69 on August 9, 2005.

“I don’t know how [this partnership] will unfold,” said Culture Project’s Alan Buchman. “But I envision a longtime relationship between two organizations that have a social consciousness.” At their previous locations on Bleecker St. and Mercer St., cash considerations had, said Buchman, “caused us to make artistic choices to meet the rent.” He now hopes “to make a company of administrators into a company of artists. We’ll start out slowly.”

From 55 Mercer Street to 55 Washington Square South, which opened where the merger began with a one-night-only performance at Judson on Monday, October 6, of “Emmett, Down in My Heart,” starring Danny Glover; a play by Clare Coss about Emmett Till, the 14-year-old Chicago boy who in 1941 was beaten, tortured, shot to death, and dumped in the Tallahatchie River in Mississippi for whistling at a white woman.

Judson’s Eric Hahn could only have been in diapers to see something by – or at – Judson Poets’ Theater; he was born August 11, 1963, in Newark, New Jersey.

Alan Buchman was a teenager – he was born in this city on VJ Day, August 14, 1945 – but he too never saw anything by the original Judson Poets’ Theater. “Though Edgar Lansbury and I did [produce] an ‘In Circles’ “ – the stunning 1967 piece by Al Carmines and Gertrude Stein – “up at Easr 91st Street.”

East 91st Street, incidentally, the venue before Bleecker and Mercer and Washington Square, was where this theatergoer was knocked out by a 1998 Culture Project adaptation by Will Pomerantz of Christopher Isherwood’s “Prater Violet.”

At Judson, Buchman’s Culture Project will have access to a 450-seat main space – the church’s Meeting Room, or sanctuary – and a convertible downstairs gym and dance space, for 150 to 200 seats. It also has 20-foot ceilings, which Buchman appreciates.

Buchman got the inspiration for the name Culture Project at a dinner with friends.

“It just came to me that the essence of artistic endeavor is a natural resource, like redwood trees or wind energy.”

May the wind blow soft, sweet and strong to give this marriage favor from heaven.