The Theater of the Ridiculous was a radical theater genre that embodied queer, the word and the act, and set the embers of Gay Liberation aflame.
In 1965, actor and director Ronald Tavel coined the term “The Theater of the Ridiculous.” He initially used the term to describe his own productions, but its meaning quickly expanded when he wrote what would become the genre’s manifesto: "We have passed beyond the absurd: our position is absolutely preposterous.” What an understatement!
The genre knocked down the long-revered pillars of theater, and naturalistic acting and classical storytelling were no longer essential to any respectable piece of work. Over-the-top performances, surreal storytelling, and flamboyant sets and costumes defined the theater’s new wild child which sought to shock, disturb, and rattle the pearls of unsuspecting audiences.
Episode Five of the QueerCore Podcast is an oral history that spotlights the genre with Downtown, New York City movers and fixtures Agosto Machado, Tony Zanetta and Ruby Lynn Reyner. These only-in-New York personalities are larger than life performers who built the stage and danced all over it, always sprinkling a pound of glitter with every twirl.
Agosto Machado, a street kid who grew up into a street queen, claims he cannot sing and act—that is irrelevant—transcends the stage and was even at Stonewall Riots, the 1969 rebellion that incited Gay Liberation. Tony Zanetta started in the theater and went onto manage David Bowie during his gender-bending Ziggy Stardust period. Ruby Lynn Reyner was the star of the Play-House of the Ridiculous, one of the theater troupes in the Ridiculous Movement.
With over 150 combined years of performing under their belts, this cast of characters is an all-star lineup who always swing for the fences. They hit every curveball and bat 400.
READ THE PODCAST INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT AT THE LGBTQ HISTORY PROJECT