Tuesday, August 24, 2010


Comic S. Rachel Lovey, An original founding member of Earthlight Theater responds to Ang Lee's "Taking Woodstock", and the depiction of The Earthlight Theater Company in the feature film.

I'd been blogging http://woodstockandearthlightrevisited.blogspot.com and bragging about my experience performing at the Woodstock Festival with the Earthlight theatre troupe. I was an original member of the company. For me it was theatrically, spiritually and romantically one of the best experiences of my life. Apparently I was not alone. NYU Washington Square Journal writes; "One leaves Earthlight a little more hopeful, refreshed psychologically and physically....Earthlight offers a common understanding, a beginning."

Although I knew Ang Lee's "Taking Woodstock" had "taken liberties" with the authentic Earthlight story, I was surprised to see how hostile the theater troupe was presented when I went to opening night here in Los Angeles, and my friends had to hold me down as I preceded to yell back at the screen "It didn't happen that way!"

The naked truth of "Taking Woodstock" was not the Earthlight players running around naked and removing their gold robes (it never happened, they always had the lovely tie-dyed gold loincloths on underneath) but the semi-pathetic way this delightful and critically acclaimed theater company was depicted in the movie. The LA Weekly also noticed .."as dumb a depiction of avant-garde thespians as something that Jesse Helms might have concocted." It seemed someone recreating the Earthlight theater in the movie "Taking Woodstock" may have taken that "brown acid" that everyone was told not to take at the original festival and had just not recovered.

Here's some potential rehabilitation and reality checks for Elliot Tiber and "Taking Woodstock's" distorted view of the Earthlight Theater Company;

First of all the Earthlight theater company really did exist. From 1969-72 they were regarded as one of the premier avant-garde theater companies in the country. They started in a store front in Little Italy, then moved to White Lake.

They did not live or do "God knows what else" (as suggested in the movie) in the barn. They rented a 6 bedroom house from Elliot Tiber for $800 for the summer and built a proper and attractive theater with the help of the community that was supposedly so hostile to them. "A joyfully muddy success during the Aquarian Exposition at Bethel," said the local Times-Herald-Record.

They not only espoused the peace and love mantras, they incorporated them into theatrical realities, as well. We were not the viscous parasites begging for a potato as depicted in the movie. "The Earthlight troupe manages to spread joy. light and love in exhilarating amounts." Phoenix Times-Herald-Record.

Here's a classic reality check problem...Mr.Tiber contradicts himself. In the movie "Taking Woodstock" we observe Elliot Tiber reading the paper and telling the Earthlighters that he discovered that the Woodstock Festival had lost it's Walkill site. Yet, in Elliot's original 2 books Woodstock Delirium and Knock on Woodstock p(96), Elliot writes; "The troupe's director was reading the local Times Herald Record. Suddenly he got upset and read the paper to us all. Guys, the Woodstock Festival is being thrown out of Walkill." Of course the troupe's director was Earthlight's own, Allan Mann.

Earthlighters wore gold robes and never threw them off in a hostile manner to expose themselves..We wore gold robes because we were to go on stage with Swami Satchidananda (he wore a gold robe but not the tie-dye loincloths that we had underneath). Our director Allan and first lady Jane had suggested to Woodstock producer Michael Lang using the Swami to set a peaceful and spiritual tone and he took their advice and we connected the Swami and Michael Lang.

In the movie, it shows Earthlight did Chekhov's Cherry Orchard in the nude. We never did Chekhov, nude or otherwise. We did Albee, Genet, Williams, and developed specific exploratory theatre techniques based on the principles of open and living theater, Jerzy Grotowski, the Committee and even Hair.....The Daily Northwestern says "the best parts of Second City, The Committee, Hair and the living theater are embodied in this young, fluid and really together

We were paid $1,000 by the Woodstock Ventures, many of whom including the producer and coordinator would hang out at the theater or the big porch at the house. We performed at the festival site as seen in the Directors Cut of the original Woodstock documentary.

We bought a bus and painted it with clouds. We did 7 US and Canadian tours, had a show in Hollywood and Venice, California for a year and also ran a year off-Broadway as a musical with a Dunhill recording group "Pure Love and Pleasure." We were part of the original "Earth Day" program and at various times opened for musicians like Billy Preston, Bonnie & Delaney and Taj Mahal.

The Los Angeles Times said "Earthlight is nothing less than pure essential theater...incisively and with great awareness they glorify humanity, a reminder of what modern theater is really all about."

After I left the theater I moved to Los Angeles permanently. I just found out this summer that this flower child picture of me has been running in dozens of magazines and galleries over the years . I'm keeping my inner flower child (even my inner hippie bus) intact, I will always be an Earthlight Chick and I am Re-taking Woodstock and the not so naked truth about the Earthlight theater company.

Lovey's blog is http://woodstockandearthlightrevisited.blogspot.com
S. Rachel Lovey is a comic, actor, blogger, and club producer and has been honored and roasted at the Friar's Club and is an original founding member of the Earthlight theatre, who were featured in Ang Lee's "Taking Woodstock".
S. Rachel Lovey can be reached for correspondence and interviews at 310-926-5689 srachellovey@hotmail.com



40 years ago this month a group of hippies took over a field in upstate New York and made musical history

S. Rachel Lovey (Photo: Roy Arenella)
One of the lovely things about getting older is when someone mentions a past cultural or historic event and you can say, "I remember that, I was there."

I find myself on the anniversary of Woodstock—the legendary August, 1969 music festival—in a joyous state. Well, more joyous that I was there and less resentful that it was so long ago. I was not only at Woodstock on the 600-acre dairy farm in rural Bethel New York, but performed there with the Earthlight theatre troupe.

I never spoke much about my hippie and Woodstock days until about 10 to 15 years ago. Maybe I thought it dated me. Family members mistakenly thought I had taken too many drugs. Most of my friends thought I had taken too few. I had always struggled between normalcy and outrageousness, so after Woodstock I became an eccentric stand-up comic. That’s how I found my real drug of choice in the late 70's—caffeine. I haven't had a good night's sleep since 1976. 

I got a reminder of Woodstock in the mid-80’s. VHI was on T.V. and one day I hear this very familiar voice saying, "Give me an L-O-V-E.” I realize the voice is mine and the rest of the Earthlight troupe, and it's the out-takes of the original 1970 Woodstock documentary of the event, which took place in a field in up-state New York. I feel like I am looking at myself in another dimension, another time. The fact that I are wearing tie-dye loin cloth that barely covers my skinny body doesn't help. 

Woodstock 1969 is a different time—Nixon is president, the Vietnam War continues and, as a country, we readily sing along with Country Joe and the Fish. "Now it's one, two, three, four... what are we fighting for?” Assassinations are yet to occur, and we still fight racism, sexism, homophobia, uptight laws and morality.

So when Wavy Gravy from the Hog Farm yells out "What we have is breakfast in bed for 400,000," or Joe Cocker with his disjointed body and raspy voice sing "I get by with a little help from my friends," we feel close. Looking around at Woodstock’s apparent chaos we see what a new community might be. True, there is not enough food, not enough sanitation or first aid, too many drugs, too much mud; but there also is a sense that for these 3 to 4 days of music, people have come together for peace and celebration.

What a party it is. Thirty-two of the best-known musicians in the country are here, in what goes down as one of the greatest moments in popular music history.

In preparation the festival, Earthlight, my theatre troupe, rehearses at the designated festival space. We are fortunate enough to be brought on the main stage with Swami Satchidananda as he blesses the event, bringing some kind of magic medicine to the festival. History says he sets the tone for Woodstock and, inadvertently, so do we.

Earthlight goes on to do "theatre pieces," a somewhat more spiritual version of street theatre in the campgrounds. One piece is a "love cheer," another a human pollution machine—I play poison! We perform "Mine," a theatre piece in which we use one word to symbolically take over the world.

Richie Havens, Woodstock’s first performer, sings "Freedom" as if he s in a trance, channelling the very spirit of freedom. It still gives me a chill 40 years later. Joan Baez not only does her stage set but, if you look closely in the movie, you can see her gathering people to sing folk songs. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young quietly evoke the haunting sweetness that lingers thru the era and until this very day.

Even my boyfriend's moaning and groaning over his 10-mile, 10-hour drive to get to the festival fail to keep me from noticing the raw wailing of Janis Joplin and near crying of Jimi Hendrix's guitar. 

Not much has changed in the four decades since Woodstock. The naysayers still say it's the hedonism, the drug abuse that bring society down, lead to the spread of A.I.D.S., and the lack of respect for authority. 

Yet, before the pre-packaged, pre-hyped events of today, before current celebrity hysteria, the paparazzi, TMZ, and Entertainment Tonight, the Woodstock Festival all those years ago resulted in an amazing “happening” of peace and music. Wow, we were something.

Nowadays I'm always blogging, facebooking and twittering about my hippie and Woodstock experience. As I get older, connecting myself to those years gives me the kind of relevance that rock and rollers have, (even old rock and rollers like the Rolling Stones) and gives me much more credibility with younger audiences, students, nieces and nephews.

Despite the drug extremes of the period I am thrilled to have been a part of that era and have had the privilege of saying, "Woodstock?, I remember that, I was there." •

Earthlight performed for a year after Woodstock off Broadway. The troupe can be seen in the director’s cut of the Woodstock documentary and loosely re-created in Ang Lee's up and coming "Taking Woodstock."

S. Rachel Lovey is an original founding member of Earthlight Theatre, a stand-up comic and motivational humorist. Visit her blog, the at woodstockandearthlightrevisited.blogspot.com. The Tie-Dyed Diaries 


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.