4 days ago
Wednesday, 16 September 2009
2976 College Avenue, Open Theater, Berkeley, CA 1965-1966 History
The Open Theater in Berkeley is most famous for debuting Big Brother and The Holding Company, and for being one of the incubators of the Trips Festival, which we have covered elsewhere. Indeed, another blogger discovered a listing in the Oakland Tribune Theater section that listed one of (if not the) first advertisements for "Psychedelic Music" at the Open Theater. Following the lead of this blogger, I reviewed the Theater Sections of The Oakland Tribune for 1965 and 1966, and managed to piece together the brief, but interesting history of the organization. I apologize in advance for any serious Theater scholars who have stumbled across this, as my focus is more on the musical side of the venture.
The Oakland Tribune first mentions the Open Theater on July 21, 1965. Founders Ben and Rain Jacopetti had formed a group called the Berkeley Experimental Arts Foundation "for the presentation and study of new art forms and trends". After opening on September 30, 1965, the Open Theater began presenting shows every weekend, and sometimes on weekdays as well. The first listing above (under the heading Little Theaters, from the Sunday, November 7, 1965 Tribune) was typical of their Fall 1965 offerings. There was new theater on Fridays and Saturdays, and on Sunday they had "Sunday Meeting," a spontaneous meeting. Sometimes music was advertised, as presented by either Ian Underwood or The Jazz Mice, Underwood's trio.
It was the Sunday Happenings that seemed to be one of the precursors to The Trips Festival. According to Charles Perry's 1984 book Haight Ashbury: A History, there was apparently multi-media performances, with lights and nudity (too much nudity for San Francisco's Broadway), music by Underwood and others, an Art Gallery featuring contemporary art, and so on. The bass player for the Jazz Mice was artist Tom Glass, known also as Ned Lamont, and a painting of a huge comic book-style painting of his graced the lobby.
In January, the open theater begins to shift somewhat more towards music. The second (split-up) entry is from the Sunday, January 9, 1966 edition of Oakland Tribune. The Sunday night happening is followed by an apparently musical performance by Day Wellington and The Poor Losers. The next weekend is January 14 and 15, when The Loading Zone and Big Brother make their debuts, in evenings of "rock and roll and theatrical improvisation".
The weekend of January 21-22-23 was the Trips Festival, in which the Open Theater participated. They surely contributed some multi-media, and Ian Underwood's Jazz Mice played the first night. On the Saturday night (January 22), Underwood and others presented an avant garde musical performance. The last day of the Trips Festival, however, the Open Theater has its Sunday Meeting as usual, although perhaps some of the regular participants may have been a little worse for wear.
The last clipping is from the Sunday January 23 edition of the Tribune, noting the Happening, and also upcoming musical events. They are
Thursday January 27, 1966
Ramon Charles McDarmaid and Don Buchla, Movies by Bruce Baille
Don Buchla had constructed the Thunder Machine for Ken Kesey's Pranksters, a sort of electronic percussion device.
Friday, January 28, 1966
Performances by Congress of Wonders and Ned's Mob, introducing new material.
Congress of Wonders were a comedy trio, also regulars at the Open Theater, who did hip comedy and performance art (they later released a few albums). Ned's Mob are unknown to me.
Saturday, January 29, 1966
Rock and Roll dance featuring The Loading Zone
This would have been The Loading Zone's third performance, to our knowledge, the first two having been two weeks earlier at the Open Theater (Jan 14) and then at the Trips Festival (either Jan 21 or 22). The Loading Zone was based in Oakland.
The Open Theater continued to present performances through early March. They presented a John Cage piece on February 4 and 5 (reviewed by the Tribune) and a few other shows. Ian Underwood was now mentioned as the Musical Director, and per the March 12, 1966 Tribune it appears that Ben and Rain Jacopetti had left, and the Open Theater was under new management. However, by the end of March the Open Theater had closed. Ian Underwood said the Theater group was looking for a different space, but it was not to be.