Charles Ludlam

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A LOOK AT CHARLES LUDLAM AND THE RIDICULOUS THEATRICAL COMPANY

Charles Ludlam was a playwright, a director, and an actor. He was the star of his own revival troupe, The Ridiculous Theatrical Company. During a twenty year career. (cut short as he lost his life to AIDS at age 47), he was awarded six Obie Awards , he wrote twenty nine plays and was reviewed by many as a brilliant actor. He studied theatre at Hofsta University and studied and perfected the techniques of the Stanislavsky method of acting. Ludlam’s acting skills included the ability to instill emotion and psychology into his parts. Ludlam considered himself a theatrical revolutionary, he rebelled by looking back to embrace lost traditions and conventions of the past. (Kaufman 168) As an actor he played the parts of both men and women. He felt it more important to portray the part emotionally than to look like the part. When Ludlam filled roles for his productions he casted the person that had a passion and the ability to accurately and effectively portray the character. Many times he casted himself for lead roles, both male and female. Casting was not based on gender or if you looked the part. My research for this paper is a look at the social era of 1960’s to 1980’s, the drag performance of Charles Ludlam and the Ridculous Theatrical Company. I begin with an historical overview of the social and political era of the late 1960’s and gay theatre. I start with the Stonewall riots in 1969 and continue with reviews of Ludlams style of acting focusing on his female roles. The conclusion of my paper and research focuses on the impact Charles Ludlam had on the public in regards to issues such as gender identity. My paper like Ludlam’s plays will have a beginning, middl, and an end. Charles Ludlam viewed “drag” much more complex than just dressing up, he was not just an impersonator or entertainer he was a professional actor. Ludlam performed is parts with passion and felt his parts with the psychology and emotion of the character. Ludlam’s views and contributions to theatre were highly respected, so highly in fact that his obituary was run on the front page of the New York Times! Charles Ludlam’s art of realistic character portrayal guided audiences to consider issues regarding gender identity in addition to being thoroughly entertained.

The alternative theatre movement in the 1960s was a time of turmoil and revolutions of sorts in the United States. Growing protests regarding the Viet Nam War and the draft were prominent, as well the Black Civil Rights movements. At a more subdued level, protests for gay rights were on the rise. The Stonewall Inn a bar in Greenwich Village NYC is considered by some the birthplace of the gay rights political movement (Helbing 35). On Saturday, June 28, 1969 the New York City Police raided, as they had many times in the past, the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar. Instead of the usual orderly evacuation and subsequent arrests, on this day, the police were met with violent confrontation, with gay men and woman protesting for their rights. Drag queens participated and fought like men (pun intended!). Confrontations with the police were common with students, blacks, and antiwar protestors in 1969, but not with homosexuals. (Markus 171) Gay life was becoming more visible during this era and it reached a point where the gay population fighting for their rights began to be noticed. Drag Queen “Sylivia Lee”, who was at the Stonewall that night joined in the riot by throwing coins at the cops, and recalls that the violence escalated and that many fights broke out and a caught on fire! Sylivia reported that it was an exciting time and is quoted as saying, “Well; great, now it’s my time. I’m out there being a revolutionary for everybody else, and now it’s time to do my thing for my own people.” (Marcus 192). News coverage of this event spread like wildfire to the gay communities across the nation. This...
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