Tuesday, August 24, 2010


CNN producer note

iReport —
S. Rachel Lovey is an original founding member of Earthlight theatre seen in the Director's cut of the Woodstock documentary and loosely recreated in Ang Lee's "Taking Woodstock" She's a stand-up comic, actor, producer, motivational humorist "The Hoping Coping Groping, Laugh & Live" and Improv's Comedy traffic experience, honored and roasted at the Friar's club for her work, seen in t.v, film and of course on youtube. Please Visit her Blog. http://woodstockandearthlightrevisited.blogspot.com

Before the hippies came to Bethel, NY for the Woodstock festival, we were the hippies in Bethel. In the winter of 68, I was working with an off-beat theatre company called Earthlight in a storefront in little Italy, sandwiched between the mafiosos that also had storefronts in little Italy on Mulberry Street. In the spring there was an ad in the paper for a barn that could be converted into a theater in Bethel, N.Y., thus, we became the theatre company that was at the converted barn at the El Monaco Motel, which became the central headquarters (command post you might say) for the original Woodstock Festival. As I remember it we heard that the producers of Woodstock were in trouble with their original location, so we told our landlord, Eliot Tiber about it. He was good friends with Max Yasgur and the rest is history and part of the story loosely re-created in Ang Lee's new film "Taking Woodstock".

Michael Lang hired us to be the "street theatre" at the festival. We were a motley group . Our director Allen Mann, a graduate of Columbia influenced by the Living Theatre, Poland's Jerzy Grotowski , the Committee, Jane his partner, an interior designer and artist of all mediums, Darlene a singer from Canada, Steve, a computer geek even in 1969, rock and roller Rodney was evading the draft, one guy was an ex-con who brought his wife and 3 kids for the summer, Paul, who's the only one I know who's passed on, celebrated his homosexuality but still had time for a moment or two or three for intimacy with the ladies. At one time there were Hare Krishna practicing twins, a Woodstock baby. and even a visiting pet monkey.
A week before the festival, we rehearsed our sketches (theatre pieces) in an empty field of Max Yasgur's and blessed the space that the multitudes would soon fill. I will admit we were under the influence of some magical medicine that I had never heard of before or since. I like to think of it as a distant cousin of LSD...
We were an evolving spiritual group, even practicing yoga. Swami Satchidananda asked us to get on stage with him as he blessed the festival. It is said that he set the tone for the festival; indirectly so did we, we had an obvious "in" with the swami and had already blessed the space a week before.
For some reason we actually designed and made these gold tie-dyed loincloths to wear for the festival, guess it was sort of a tribal thing. We looked like we were naked with big dark sores or mud all over ourselves. We worked in an open space amongst the crowds along with Tim Hardin who seemed quite out of it. Not that I remember that much myself. You know the old saying, If you remember the 60s you weren't really there. One piece was a love-cheer, literally give me an "L," give me an "O". We were a human pollution machine, I played poison in one piece, we used the one word "mine" to show how the world destroys itself and then is reborn. We were saved from being "message theater" because of our joyous and zany movements and attitudes.
We were hearing bits and pieces from the outside world that the festival was a disaster, the rain, the mud, that they had to fly in emergency food, that there was bad sanitation, bad drugs, that we had shut down the freeway and you couldn't get in or out. All the elements of a disaster were there but it didn't happened. It was like that cliche "what if they had a war an no one showed up,." What if we really could go back to the Garden and start the human condition all over again, We were comforted when Wavy Gravy announced "what we have hear is breakfast in bed for 400,000". Maybe we could do it differently. Or maybe this is just a reflection of a former hippie chick longing for the old daze. Sometimes when we talk of Woodstock it's like speaking of the Kennedy era......for one brief shining moment....and of course pychedellics makes everything seem so eternal..
For us it was a chance to be part of a groovy concert, a chance to strut our stuff and be around the big guys and the greatest music, we had no idea that history would ultimately look at Woodstock as the pivotal event of the Counter Culture, that 40 years later we'd still be analyzing the meaning of the Festival of Peace and Music at Max Yasgur's Farm. .
. .

The theatre, as I remember it, was ten minutes from the festival site. The festival week-end that trip took 10 hours. We stayed in a tent or in sleeping bags. In between sets, we helped prepare food/gruel with the hog farm, we were thrust on the main stage during a downpour and we did some kind of Indian chant to stop the rain. We were back stage trying to get next to our icons and I do remember somebody bad mouthing Bob Dylan, and said he really couldn't sing. I remember Richie Havens, the first one up, singing "Freedom" as if he were in a trance.. Joan Baez moved amidst the crowd gathering people to sing their own folk songs, Crosby,.Stills,Nash & Young surprisingly evoked a quiet haunting sweetness that lingered through out the decade and even today, Sly really did take us higher if that was at all possible. Even my boyfriend's moaning and groaning over his 10 hour instead of 10 minute drive did not keep me from being totally swept away by the raw wailing of Janis Joplin and the near crying of Jimi Hendrix's guitar, Soon we'd be wailing for both of them "Don't leave us so soon.....Don't go...Stay!".....They were both gone within the year.
Of course, when everyone slowly left the Festival, this little town of Bethel, we remained for the rest of the summer. We even became part of the clean-up crew picking up the mud fossilized boots, blankets, belts, buckles and suitcases.
Earthlight Theatre was paid $1,000 for performing at the Woodstock Festival. A lot of money in those days. Thank you, Michael Lang, the producer.. We bought a bus painted it with clouds, came to California then did a national tour, and came back to off-Broadway in New York as a musical with Stan Goldstein, the chief of staff at Woodstock being our sound director. It's been said of Earthlight Theatre "Nothing less than pure essential theatre......incisively and with great awareness they glorify humanity," LA TIMES.
The springboard that allowed Earthlight to connect itself to a broader stream of consciousness and humanity,
Rather than remaining an avante-guard group in the early days of So-Ho. We were able to travel all over the country and spread the 60's gospel. Not only "sex, drugs and rock and roll", but we can do better, we are better, we are one.(Ohm).
Ohm, Peace, Good Hashish, Ohm Shanti Boom Boom to the Maharish,
We were all into that old drug trap...What I wouldn't give for a
Good Flashback.!
That's part of my stand-up act. I didn't talk about Woodstock for 10 or 15years after the fact.Maybe I thought it dated me. Hippies disintegrated into grunge)
(making hippies appear to be well groomed) Family members thought I did too many drugs.. Friends thought I did too little. I had always struggeld between normalcy and outrageousness, So I became an eccentric stand-up comic. I finally found my drug of choice in the late 70's, It was caffeine, I have not has a good night's sleep since 1978. Being part of this Woodstock Experience makes me feel historical as well as hysterical.
No matter what events have happened since 69, good and bad: another Kennedy Assassination, racial strife, Vietnam War, the horror of the Manson family, the Nixon tapes and impeachment, Disco, the Berlin Wall torn down, AIDS, the Gulf War, the Clintons, the Clinton/Lewinski debacle, the Bush/Gore debacle, Columbine and other school shootings, 911. The Iraqi and Afghani wars, Gay Marriage, Barach Obama as President, Michael Jackson's death, we are still talking about Woodstock, 40 years later, HAPPY ANNIVERSARY!
S. Rachel Lovey...Formerly known during Woodstock as Sheila Cohen.

1 comment:

  1. I was at Woodstock 1969 just a few days when set up at Bethel....I play guitar & sang with communal musician hippies at time who were from upstate NewYork....it was my summer vacation from RhodeIsland just before going to freshman year at RogerWilliamsCollege, Bristol ,RI I was play orignal tunes almost got on Sunshine Records in Greenwhich Village too!


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