Playing Underground

A Critical History of the 1960s Off-Off-Broadway Movement
Stephen J. Bottoms
The first comprehensive history of Off-Off Broadway


Playing Underground is the first comprehensive history of off-off-Broadway, a theater whose legacy is still felt today. Off-off Broadway was the launching pad for many leading contemporary theater artists, including Sam Shepard, Maria Irene Fornes, and others, and it was a pivotal influence on improv comedy and shows like Saturday Night Live. Groups such as the Living Theatre, La Mama, and Caffe Cino captured the spirit of nontraditional theater with their edgy, unscripted, boundary-crossing subjects. Yet, as Bottoms discovers, there is no one set of truths about off-off Broadway to uncover; the entire scene was always more a matter of competing perceptions than a singular, concrete reality. Through interviews with dozens of the era's leading playwrights, performers, directors, and critics, Bottoms unearths a countercultural theater movement that was both influential and transforming—yet ephemeral and quintessentially of its moment.

Stephen J. Bottoms is the Wole Soyinka Professor of Drama and Theatre Studies at the University of Leeds. He is the author of Albee: Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Theatre of Sam Shepard: States of Crisis.

Praise / Awards

  • "In his elegiac history of the 1960s off-off-Broadway movement . . . [Bottoms] emphasizes that there was never a core leadership and scarcely a discernible movement, but simply a swelling desire among primarily young people for freedom of expression in the 'geographic proximity' of Manhattan's Greenwich Village and East Village. . . . While this study will be of most interest to older theater lovers, younger fans will also appreciate this comprehensive look at a significant chapter in recent American theater history."
    Publishers Weekly

  • "An epic movie of an epic movement, Playing Underground is a book the world has waited for without knowing it. How precisely it captures the evolution of our revolution! I am amazed by the book's scope and scale, and I bless its author especially for giving two greats, Paul Foster and H. M. Koutoukas, their proper, polar places, and for memorializing such unjustly forgotten masterpieces as Irene Fornes's "Molly's Dream" and Jeff Weiss's "A Funny Walk Home." Stephen Bottoms's vivid evocation of the grand adventure of Off-Off Broadway has woken and broken my heart. It is difficult to believe that he was not there alongside me to breathe the caffeine-nicotine-alkaloid-steeped air."
    —Robert Patrick, author of Kennedy's Children and Temple Slave

  • "At last—a book documenting the beginnings of Off-Off Broadway theater. Playing Underground is an insightful, illuminating, and honest appraisal of this important period in American theater."
    —Rosalyn Drexler, author of Art Does (Not!) Exist and Occupational Hazard

  • "Scrupulously researched, critically acute, and written with care, Playing Underground will become a classic account of an era of hard-won free expression."
    —William Coco

  • "Playing Underground . . . goes to almost archaeological ends to unearth OOB's underpinnings; despite a paucity of available archived materials, we get a whiff of the addictive immediacy of The Scene, the sense of something (good or bad) constantly happening. . . . Freedom, both dangerous and exhilarating, defines Bottoms's prose."
    American Theatre

  • ". . . sifts through the ephemera of that movement and vividly recounts its productions. . . . While acknowledging the role that serendipity played in shaping a theater movement that aimed to awaken its audiences to living 'in the now,' he also illuminates the debates--about theatricality, politics, and the relation between the two—that grounded the movement and drove its productions."
    —Scott Saul, Book Forum

  • ". . . a well-researched, critically objective history of the development and ultimate demise of the Off-Off-Broadway movement. . . . His analysis of the contributions of important playwrights and practitioners of the movement—Wilson, Albee, Stewart, Beck, Malina, Fornes, Foster, Shepard, Owens, Terry, et al.—is first-rate; likewise, his analysis of Off-Off-Broadway productions—American Hurrah, Balls, The Connection, Dionysus 69, Futz, Kennedy's Children. . . . Essential."

  • " . . . a benchmark work of thorough research which goes into the social and political agendas of this theater scene while at the same time imparting its unconventional, often deliberately provocative and obscene, and in the long run, influential performance style."
    Midwest Book Review

  • ". . . sifts through the ephemera of that movement and vividly reconstructs its productions. . . . Playing Underground does the great service of bringing these productions to life again, in all their hit-or-miss glory."

  • ". . . likely to set the agenda for discussion of this subject throughout the next few years."
    —Charles Wright,

  • "Stephen Bottoms had given us an important tool for examining [the off-off-Broadway] influence on contemporary theatre. In addition to providing a history of the period, he offers thoughtful and engaging readings of significant plays. Playing Underground is an important contribution to theatre history, enriched with first-hand accounts from survivors of the earliest days of off-off-Broadway."
    Theatre History Studies

  • "Bottoms clears a path through what was always a wildly overgrown grove....The discoveries he makes along the way force us to rethink our understanding....Bottoms's book, written with enormous intelligence, dexterity, and passion, should be read by the current generation of radical theater makers...."
    Village Voice

  • ". . . the finest single volume on off-off-Broadway."
    —Stephen Petrus, New York History

  • Honorable Mention for the Barnard Hewitt Prize, American Society for Theatre Research

Look Inside

Copyright © 2004, University of Michigan. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • 6.125 x 9.25.
  • 448pp.
  • 38 B&W photographs.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Paper
  • 2006
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-03194-8

Add to Cart
  • $24.95 U.S.

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