Earthlight Theater Allan Mann

Earthlight Theater Allan Mann

Earthlight Theater Allan Mann

Earthlight Theater Allan Mann

Talking about Taking Woodstock

Earthlight Theater Allan Mann

Those who have seen Taking Woodstock, the entertaining movie about the Woodstock Music and Art Fair. know that as entertaining as it is, accuracy isn’t always at the fore.

Was there an Elliot Tiber? Yes. Did his parents run the El Monaco? Yes. Was an old barn on that property that Allan Mann’s Earthlight Theater renovated into a theater? Yes.  Did Tiber write the book by the same name explaining his role in the famed festival? Yes

From there,  Ang Lee, Taking Woodstock‘s director, and  writer James Schamus, as any director and writer do, told a story “based on a true story,” but made fanciful and entertaining more than valid.

Lee prominently featured the Earthlight Theater in Taking Woodstock. Nudity and eccentricity are common parts of a movies and cinema often sees their combination as even more attractive.

Earthlight Theater Allan Mann

Allan Mann/California

According to Allan Mann,  he had started The Realization Theater in Los Angeles which led to he being hired as Artistic Director of the Century City Play-house by David Sheehan. Mann also performed with a comedy group called The Committee and taken a film course at UCLA during the summer of 1968.

His film won first prize and he was offered a scholarship to attend UCLA Film School. He thus faced a career decision: whether to start training for a career in film or go back to New York to pursue a career in theater

In the fall of 1968 he returned to New York.

Earthlight Theater Allan Mann

Allan Mann/New York

There he saw performances of Hair, Paradise Now by The Living Theater, The Serpent by The Open Theater and various short pieces by The Polish Mime Theater.

He studied dance with Anna Sokolow and fell in love with Jane Richardson–today, Jane Richardson-Mack).  They went to hear Sri Swami Satchidananda–a name founded in Sanskrit: sat [existence],  chid [knowledge], and ananda [bliss]–speak at the Universalist church. He approached Satchidananda and spoke to him afterward.

Both he and Jane and I became students of his

Earthlight Theater Allan Mann

Earthlight Theater

Mann wanted to form a theater company that had the same energy as he’d experienced with Hair, Paradise Now, and The Serpent.

He and graduated Columbia University and friends there let him use a storefront social club they called Tree House Two.  He and  Richardson auditioned actors and began workshops and rehearsals.

The original members included Sheila Cohen (later Rachel Lovey), Robin Mide, Wendy Blakely, Jean Morris, Dale Picciano, Darlene DiDomenico, Carlos Corujon and his monkey Celeste (the baby in our production of Alice Tripping in Wonder­land), Paul Gloss, Tylar Gustavson, Miriam Iron, Gil Martinez, Steven Smith, Peter George, Sally LoGalbo, and David Starr Klein

Though artistically satisfying, the venture made little money. In April 1969 he saw an ad in the Village Voice. Elliot Tiber was offering summer barn for free if someone turned it into a theater.  The idea of giving the Earthlight troupe a communal experience in the country appealed to Mann.

Paul Johnson, a friend of Mann, drove him to meet Tiber in Bethel, NJ. Tiber’s offer was: build the theater and pay $800 season rent for a nearby six bedroom Victorian .  $200 up front. Mann offered Johnson a house for the summer for $200. Johnson paid.

To select a name for the new company Jane, Robin Mide and Mann threw the I Ch’ing.  It gave them the image of light coming out of the earth: Earthlight.

Earthlight moved to Bethel at the same time that Woodstock Ventures was jumping through legal hurdles in Wallkill, NY in its attempt to put on a rock festival.

Earthlight Theater Allan Mann

Earthlight Performances

Earthlight Theater Allan Mann

The theater opened on June 13. It had five better-known productions to attract audiences, but also drew upon experimental performance techniques: The American Dream by Edward Albee, The Beard by Michael McClureThe Balcony by Jean GenetAlice Tripping in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll as adapted by Mann,  Camino Real by Tennessee Williams and an original production at the end of the season called S.E.X.

It comprised  a variety of short stylized pieces written by Mann and created in collaboration with the ensemble. The idea was that since it was the end of the season the troupe needed to build up as much capital as possible in order to continue. Thus S.E.X.

Earthlight Theater Allan Mann

Woodstock Haze

Some say there were 500,000 attendees at Woodstock. Some say that there was a million surrounding those 500,000 who never got to the festival. Richie Havens said he played on Friday for two and a half hours. Many believe that everyone was high, skinny dipping, sliding around in mud, and that there was one continuous orgy occurring. Others say if you can remember Woodstock, you weren’t there.

Elliot Tiber said he was responsible for bringing Woodstock to Bethel after Wallkill kicked out the venture. Michael Lang disagrees. Artie Kornfeld disagrees with both.

Allan Mann said he spoke to Tiber about getting permission and then contacted Woodstock Ventures to come to Bethel.

Wherever the truth lies, it is true that the Woodstock Music and Art Fair did come to Bethel, did find Max Yasgur, and did have its its still famous festival on August 15, 16, 17, and 18, 1969.

Earthlight Theater Allan Mann

Sri Swami Satchidananda

Woodstock Ventures hired the Earthlight Theater to perform locally before the festival as well as around the festival itself.

Mann says he was instrumental in having Woodstock Ventures invite Sri Swami Satchidananda to open the festival. Artist Peter Max says it was he.

In any case, the opening honors actually went to Richie Havens who played approximately 45 minutes and left the stage to boisterous applause to his improvised Freedom.

Following Havens, Satchidananda spoke with the Earthlight troupe next to him on stage.

Earthlight Theater Allan Mann

Back to California

Earthlight Theatre troupe

Hoping to find a financial backer, the troupe performed their play S.E.X. at the Open Theater in NYC.  That didn’t succeed, so Mann and most of the troupe decided to move to California.

There they received positive reviews after performances of The Kindred. 

As in Bethel, a friend offered them a space in Venice if they’d convert it into a performance venue. Some of the troupe left at that point, others joined. They did the conversion and all continued to go well.

Sarah Lukeman, their booking agent, got them a gig at Northwestern University in January 1970. Chicago. In January!

They went and Larry Kagan of The Daily Northwestern wrote: ““Nearly 1,000 people were baptized Sunday night at Cahn Auditorium, and the medium was neither fire nor water.  It was Earthlight … the best parts of the Second City, The Committee, Hair and the Living Theater are embodied in this young, fluid, and really together company.”

Back to LA for more successes as well as other college gigs. Then cross-country tours.

Earthlight Theater Allan Mann

Live Music

Mann realized that for the troupe and their performance to evolve, he needed to continue to renovate. He decided to invite the band Pure Love & Pleasure to join both as a part of the troupe as well as performing separately.

Earthlight’s success continued.  Sellout performances ensued.

Earthlight Theater Allan Mann

Back to NY

They performed for two weeks at the Gracie Square Theater, on New York’s upper east side.

The New York Times’s Mel Gussow wrote in the November 4, 1970 edition:

The touch of the “Earth light Theater” is gentle…. The audience at the Gracie Square Theater sits in bleachers and on pillows piled on the floor. The actors shake hands with their guests, cozily share pillows, then flow towards a bandstand where a group called Pure Love and Pleasure is pounding high‐decibel rock. The cast is vigorous and attractive, heavy with hair, and wearing jump suits. One warms to these young people and the atmosphere of innocence, and goodwill.

Then Earthlight opened off-B’way at the Garrick Theater on January 20, 1971, received other rave reviews and ran through April, but by this point only four of the original Bethel troupe were still with the company.

Managerial disagreements let to the troupe’s demise. In the end, the only originals were Mann and Jane.

Earthlight Theater Allan Mann

And Back Again

Back to California. With Pure Love & Pleasure also having left the group, Mann teamed up with composer David Cohen. The partnership succeeded until Cohen and Jane fell in love and left Earthlight.

After a reluctant spring tour, Earthlight ended

Earthlight Theater Allan Mann

PS. Taking Woodstock–not!

Mann was not a fan of the movie. He wrote: on the evening of August 28, 2009 I sat in a movie theater and watched my magnificent  Earthlight creation trashed before my eyes and millions of others on the big screen in Ang Lee and James Schamus’ movie Taking Woodstock.  They represented Earthlight in a totally fictitious and ridiculous manner.  I’m not a good enough writer to express what I felt watching that shock-ing insult to myself and all the other Earthlighters who brought the world not only the Woodstock Festival, with Swami Satchidananda, but also some of the most extraordinary theatrical experiences  audiences have ever had anywhere at any time.

Earthlight Theater Allan Mann


And as has occasionally happened with this little Woodstock site, I received this comment on a post in 2020 from Allan Mann:

 We’re planning an Earthlight Revival for animation (from old B&W tapes), stage, book, documentary, Quick Bits for the internet, video recording, song recordings & possible feature.

Earthlight Theater Allan Mann

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