In the early 1960s, Village poet Robert Nichols asked Al Carmines if Judson Church could host productions of experimental theatre pieces, including his own short plays, for which he had no other venue. Only Café LaMama and Caffé Cino were beginning to present a few new plays in their spaces. Judson Church became the third venue from which "Off Off Broadway" developed. The productions were done on a shoestring and admission was by contribution.
Most plays were presented in the church's balcony space, although some larger productions, such as Theo Barnes' "Antigone" in Kabuki style, used the main Meeting Room. Joel Oppenheimer's "Great American Desert" was the first play produced by the church under the "Judson Poet's Theater" label (Al Carmines insisted on using the American spelling "theater"). Larry Kornfeld, formerly a director at the Living Theatre, moved to the Judson Poet's Theater, where he directed new works by Rosalyn Drexler, Maria Irene Fornès, Diane DiPrima, Rochelle Owens, Paul Goodman, George Dennison, and many others. Guest directors included Jacques Levy, Remy Charlip and James Waring. Choreographers included Dan Wagoner and David Vaughan.
Many of the productions included music, composed and played by the church's associate minister, Al Carmines, a gifted pianist. Among the most notable of these were "What Happened," and "In Circles," both on texts by Gertrude Stein, which became danced-sung-spoken productions under Kornfeld's direction. After its limited run at the church, "In Circles" was commercially produced at the Cherry Lane Theatre.
Numerous other Stein-Carmines-Kornfeld productions followed, to critical acclaim and audience delight. Other Carmines musicals, several of which later had commercial runs, used texts by Maria Irene Fornès ("Promenade"), David Epstein ("Bonus Army"), Rosalyn Drexler ("Home Movies"), H.M. Koutoukas ("Pomegranada"), Ruth Krauss ("A Beautiful Day" - directed by Remy Charlip).
Starting in the late 1960s, Carmines began writing his own musicals, which he called "oratorios," and which used a large chorus of amateur singers as well as professional actors.
Among these shows were "Christmas Rappings," which became an annual holiday event at the church for the next decade; "A Look at the 50s," and "The Faggot," which went on to commercial productions; "The Journey of Snow White" was recorded on video for the Library of the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center, and "Christmas Rappings" which was recorded for CBS's "Camera Three".
The Judson Poet's Theater essentially ended when Carmines suffered a brain aneurysm, which led to his resigning from the church in 1982. Thereafter, other directors staged occasional productions from time to time, but there was not a regular theatre program again until 1991-92, when Ryan Gilliam was employed as a part-time arts liaison; she produced several plays both in the Meeting Room and the gym.
Lynda Leonard Confessore Thesis - In the 1968 Lynda Leonard Confessore interviewed Al Carmines in preparation for her thesis for a Master of Arts at Adelphi University:
Al Carmines and the Judson Poets' Theater (PDF) - In 1974 NYU students Michael E. Colby and Susan Condos interviewed Al Carmines about the Arts Program, The Judson Poets' Theater, The Judson Dance Theater, and the Judson Gallery.
If anyone has information about Susan Condos, please contact email@example.com.
Stephen Bottoms Interviews - In the mid-1990's Professor Stephen J. Bottoms interviewed Rosalyn Drexler, Maria Irene Fornès, Lawrence Kornfeld, and Al Carmines.