Greenwich Village Theater History and its Effects Introduction It has often been suggested that Greenwich Village needs to be discussed within a context of lifestyle rather then any other. This suggestion is perfectly understandable, given the fact that this part of New York is strongly associated with the rise of avant-garde art and theater, in the second part of twentieth century. There were objective reasons why Greenwich Village has always been attracting creative people. Even at the time before it became incorporated in the city of New York, Greenwich Village allowed its inhabitants to lead a dual mode of existence: on one hand they resided very close to the center of Manhattan, which caused them to adopt urbanistic attitudes, on the other, their mentality remained essential rural, because Greenwich Village often served as mental retreat for those who were growing weary of living in the big city. This created spiritual preconditions for the Greenwich Village to become a magnet for the people who were capable of opening their minds to the new ideas. After this, it was only the matter of time, before Village would become a center of artistic activities in New York. In this paper, we will come up with historical retrospective on Greenwich Village, analyze factors that affected the development of artistic ideas in this part of New York, and to establish a metaphysical connection between Village and the rise of artistic non-conformity, as cultural phenomenon. (1) The history of Greenwich Village dates back to 16th century, when Dutch settlers began to colonize Manhattan.
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Despite the fact that in 17th and 18th centuries New York was growing very rapidly, the Southeastern tip of Manhattan Island remained uninhabited, as there were many swamps that made impossible any prospects of farming. However, at the beginning of 19th century, the progress of meliorative technologies enabled this part of Manhattan to be made livable. Greenwich Village has slowly grown into a hamlet and after this; it became one of New Yorks suburbs. In 1828, at the time of epidemics of yellow fever in New York, many citys residents moved to Greenwich Village, because living in the country side would significantly reduce their chances to be contracted with the disease. After many rich New Yorkers had moved to Greenwich Village and thoroughly enjoyed living there, Village began to attract more and more people, from different social strata. Village became the first place in America to be strongly affiliated with cultural diversity, because many newly arrived immigrants would prefer to settle down in Village, as such that had rural charm and remained an essential part of Big Apple.
The article Greenwich Village, which can be found on the site of Bookrags.Com, provides us with an insight on what was the initial reason for the Village to be referred to as melting pot of ideas: The character of the neighborhood changed markedly at the close of the century when German, Irish, and Italian immigrants found work in the breweries, warehouses, and coal and lumber yards near the Hudson River and in the Southeast corner of the neighborhood (Bookrags.Com).
As time went on, Greenwich Village ceased to attract blue collars with the prospects of work. It coincided with Greenwich Village becoming the center of bohemian life in U.S. Nowadays; this word often has a negative connotation. However, at the beginning of 19th century, bohemian lifestyle was very appealing to many people. Artists, actors, architects, poets, and philosophers were being drawn to the Village, because they associated it with their subconscious hopes to have their talent publicly recognized. We can say that Villages bohemian appeal was able to benefit Americas cultural life to a significant degree, but it also provided incentives for many wannabies to start arriving in Village in great numbers, which eventually caused artistic trends, originated in Village, to be thought of within a context of cultural marginalization.
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At the beginning of 20th century, Greenwich Village became a cultural equivalent of contemporary Hollywood, even though that empirical creativeness, on the part of many Village residents, was rarely bringing them any financial dividends. At the time of Prohibition, many New Yorkers associated Village with wild nightlife. In thirties and forties, Village saw the opening of numerous strip clubs, which caused many Bible thumpers of the time to come up with prophecies that Greenwich Village was going to be obliterated by Gods wrath. The fact that God kept postponing his vengeance encouraged more and more free spirits to arrive in Village. Back than, they could well afford it, as renting rates in the area were comparatively cheep. During thirties, Greenwich Village hosted numerous artistic exhibitions.
In 1932, Sculptor Gertrude Whitney Vanderbilt opened a museum, dedicated to modern American art on West 8th Street. Nowadays, the museum serves as New York Studio School, which is considered as one of the most prestigious institutions to study the art of sculpture. Such famous individuals as Joseph Mitchell, Maxwell Bodenheim and Isadora Duncan, also had a Greenwich Village as the starting point of their artistic careers. After Hitler came to power in Germany, Village saw a great influx of Jewish immigrants, majority of which were artists and actors. They brought their controversial perception of art along, which was another reason why, after the end of WW2, Village used to be often referred to as the center of Communist underground in America. However, it was not up until late fifties and early sixties that Greenwich Village started to affect the political worldview of many Americans, because of its strong ties with movement of beatniks and avant-garde concepts of art. In the next part of the paper will analyze the metaphysical aspects of political and cultural non-conformism, as such that have a spiritual roots in bohemianism, as life style.
This will enable us to define the role, Greenwich Village played in forming the artistic attitudes of great many people in this country. (2) The avant-garde vision of art implies that its objective values should not be affected by socio-political realities. In other words, the promoters of artistic non-conformism imply that arts objective values correspond to its purity. This was the main idea behind the philosophy of beatniks, as well as hippies movement. As we have mentioned earlier, even before the outbreak of WW2, Greenwich Village began to attract people strongly affiliated with cosmopolitism, as worldview. Living in the biggest metropolis on Earth, deprived these people of psychological need to be associated with particular social class or nation.
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In its turn, it resulted in such people being increasingly preoccupied with seeking sensual pleasures, because in their eyes, nothing else mattered. This served as a spiritual foundation for the emergence of different experimenting styles, in the field of theatrical performance, music, and art in Greenwich Village, in sixties. It is not by pure coincidence that artistic epiphanies, on the part of beatnik poets in Greenwich Village, came as result of their addiction to LSD. One on the most famous beatniks, Allen Ginsburg used to emphasize that it was the free-thinking atmosphere of Greenwich Village that prompted him to start taking drugs. In his article Remembering Allen Ginsberg, Paul Krassner suggests that Ginsberg really did believe that people need to be taking drugs, in order to become better men: Ginsberg was a pacifist. When he first started taking LSD, he thought that world peace would come about only if President Kennedy and Russian premier Nikita Khrushchev would take acid together (Krassner).
This provides as with the glimpse on how it felt living in Greenwich Village, at the time when beatniks movement was gaining a momentum. According to many people, who witnessed the emergence of beatniks movement, the traffic on the streets in Greenwich Village used to be often blocked by the groups of young poets, who would insist that passing people listen to their poetry. The poetry itself featured an innovative approach to rhyming, when it was often considered as being utterly unnecessary for the poem to by properly rhymed, in order to have a poetic value.
Beatniks used to insist that the true meaning of their poems can only be assessed in the time of enlightenment, induced by drugs. In 1961, another representative of chosen people, who used to promote drunkenness and spiritual depravity, as part of socially appropriate lifestyle, Jack Kerouac, had read his poem Cognac Blues in Villages cabaret Toulouse. The poem instantly became a hit and few years later, it was made into the song. In it, author promotes social alienation, as the ultimate mean of achieving spiritual freedom: When I hear pious Bullshit about Justice and Democracy and I know the hypocrites are lying in their false teeth (Kerouac).
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Apparently, Kerouacs anti-social stance was being shared by many other poets in the Village. They despised the fact that society imposes a certain rules on citizens, because it was being considered as a part of social suppression.
Although, many motives, exploited by beatniks, were socially destructive, it would be wrong to suggest that beatniks poetry was being fully deprived of ideological legitimacy. America in sixties was undergoing a process of spiritual liberation from outdated religious dogmas, which used to define social dynamics in this country, ever since it was being founded. This process was not only sublimated in poetic non-conformism, but was also able to affect the theatrical performances in Greenwich Village. It is during the period of sixties that American dramaturgy was enriched with innovative staging methods. The year 1947 was signified with founding of Living Theatre in Greenwich Village. The name of this theater was strongly associated with exploration of innovative artistic techniques, throughout its existence. During fifties and early sixties, this theatre featured production of experimental plays of such writers as Gertrude Stein, William Carlos Williams, Paul Goodman, Kenneth Rexroth and John Ashbery.
For example, the staging of Goodmans play The Cyclist, in 1960, did not involve the usage of background decorations, which was an essential part of just about any theatrical performance, up until then. The actors, dressed in black, were performing in front black sheet, which ….