Thursday, August 4, 2011

Barbara Garson, Playwright, 70

Barbara Garson was raised in Brooklyn. She went to Berkeley and was a leader in the Free Speech Movement. In 1966, she wrote the anti-war satirical play “MacBird,” which became a nationwide sensation. Garson came back to New York in 1973 and a few years later moved into Westbeth. She has written five plays and three books.

The last bohemians will go out with the last rent control apartments. Every apartment you can afford in New York City has a struggle attached to it.

When I was in high school, the bohemian life in the Village was already a style, a fashion. In ‘62, I went to California. For me, it was 10 years of writing plays and political activity. Then due to our activities, like the Free Speech Movement, it became Haight-Ashbury. What we thought was about life became about lifestyle, hippies with long blonde hair and a stylized way of being free. The Greenwich Village bohemia was much deeper and lasted much longer.

I sold 205,000 copies of “MacBird” and Grove Press sold about 300,000 copies. It was selling at 95 cents and 75 cents. I didn’t become rich. The secret of my success was that I didn’t do anything. People were banging down my door. Oh my god, I was against the cult of personality. I couldn’t waste my time being Barbara Garson. I ran away as far as I could in the political sphere. I went to work at a G.I. coffeehouse, an anti-war coffeehouse, in Tacoma, Washington. The idea was to be away from the world where I was Barbara Garson.

Near Westbeth in the 1970s, there were the trucks where people went to have sex, there were the queers, male prostitutes dressed up as women, in the Meatpacking District. Mind you, that made it completely safe. There were gay guys and their customers. None of them were interested in me.

This building hasn’t produced a density of artists who are critical and supportive of each others’ work. I don’t know why Westbeth never took off as an artists’ community. There are good artists here, but the community part never took off.

I didn’t capitalize on my success. I regret it in only one way. I have a great new play and I don’t even have a play agent.

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