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John Vaccaro and the Play-House of the Ridiculous Papers

Call Number



1959-2005, inclusive


Vaccaro, John
Vaccaro, John (Role: Donor)


8.25 Linear Feet
in 3 records cartons, 5 flat boxes, 4 manuscript boxes, 2 oversize flat boxes, 2 flat file folders, and 1 half manuscript box.

Language of Materials

Materials primarily in English, with some publications in French, German, Italian, and Dutch.


John Vaccaro is an actor and theatrical director who became a primary figure of the Off-Off Broadway and gay theater communities in New York City. The John Vaccaro Papers preserve the items related to Vaccaro's theatrical productions, including scripts, correspondence, photographs, posters and critical notices. Materials date from 1959 to 2005.

Biographical Note

John Vaccaro was born in Steubenville, Ohio on December 6, 1929. After serving in the U.S. Navy from 1951-1955, and receiving a B.A. in English from Ohio State University in 1961, he moved to New York City and became involved in the underground art and film community of the early sixties. After acting in Jack Smith's Normal Love and Flaming Creatures, and performing in the "Happenings" of Robert Whitman and Walter DeMaria, Vaccaro founded the Play-House of the Ridiculous in the summer of 1965. Early collaborators and playwrights in this community included Ronald Tavel, Charles Ludlam and Kenneth Bernard. In 1967, during preparatory work for a production of Ludlam's play Conquest of the Universe, or When Queens Collide Vaccaro and Ludlam came to a disagreement and split into competing companies (Vaccaro retained the Play-House of the Ridiculous; Ludlam founded the Ridiculous Theatrical Company).

Vaccaro's productions were staged at the Coda Gallery, La Mama ETC, the Gotham Art Theater, Max's Kansas City, The American Place Theater, and other Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway venues in New York. In 1970 Vaccaro received a special citation OBIE award. While sometimes performing in and writing the music for his own productions, Vaccaro took his companies on tours of Europe throughout the 1970s and served as director of the Native American Theatrical Ensemble. His theatrical influences include Alfred Jarry, Amiri Baraka, Eugene Ionesco, Charlie Chaplin, Antonin Artaud, and Jack Smith. In addition to the non-professional actors often employed in his productions, Vaccaro is associated with a variety of figures from the New York art and theater worlds, including Taylor Mead, Beverly Grant, Mary Woronov, Rene Ricard, Rosalyn Drexler, Ultra Violet, and Richard Weinstock. Vaccaro has lectured at a number universities and workshops, and has directed performances of his productions for the BBC and Dutch television.

Partial List of Productions (as director)

"Life of Juanita Castro" by Ronald Tavel (1965)

"Shower" by Ronald Tavel (1965)

"The Life of Lady Godiva" by Ronald Tavel (1966)

"Screen Test"/"Indira Gandhi's Daring Device" both by Ronald Tavel (1966)

"Big Hotel" by Charles Ludlam (1967)

"Conquest of the Universe" by Charles Ludlam (1967)

"The Moke Eater" by Kenneth Bernard (1968)

"Monkeys of the Organ Grinder" by Kenneth Bernard (1969)

"Cock Strong" by Tom Murrin (1969)

"Heaven Grand In Amber Orbit" by Jackie Curtis (1969)

"Son of Cock Strong" by Tom Murrin (1970)

"Night Club" by Kenneth Bernard (1970)

"XXXXX" by William M. HOffman (1970)

"Life of Lady Godiva" by Ronald Tavel (1971)

"The Life of Juanita Castro" by Ronald Tavel (1971)

"Persia, A Desert Cheapie" by Bernard Roth & Vaccaro (1972)

"Sissy" by Seth Allen (1972)

"Satyricon" by Paul Foster (1973)

"Elegy for a Down Queen" by Leslie Lee (1973)

"Body Indian" by Hanay Getgoman (1973-1974)

"The Magic Show of Dr. Magico" by Kenneth Bernard (1973-1974)

"La Bohemia" by Vaccaro (1974)

"Workshop of Y.M.C.A." by Gerome Ragni & James Rado (1975-1976)

"The Sixty Minute Queer Show" by Kenneth Bernard (1977)

"Juba" by Lawrence Holder (1978)

"Gulliver's Travels" by William M. Hoffman (1978)

"The Book of Etiquette" by William M. Hoffman (1979)

"The Writer's Opera" by Rosalyn Drexler (1979)

"Derby" by Barry Arnold (1979)

"Vulgar Lives" by Rosalyn Drexler (1979)

"Graven Image" by Rosalyn Drexler (1980)

"Flop" by Seth Allen (1980)

"A Midsummer Night's Dream" by William Shakespeare (1980)

"Starburn" by Rosalyn Drexler (1983)

"La Fin du Cirque" by Kenneth Bernard (1984)

"Transients Welcome" by Rosalyn Drexler (1984-1985)

"Goatman" by Raymond Schanz (1986)

"The Heart That Eats Itself" by Rosalyn Drexler (1987)

"Cara Pina" by Rosalyn Drexler (1992)


The collection is arranged into 4 series. Oversize materials are listed at the end of the finding aid.

  1. Series I: Projects
  2. Series II: Posters and Ephemera
  3. Series III: Photographs
  4. Series IV: Publications
  5. Oversize - Series I: Projects
  6. Oversize - Series II: Posters and Ephemera

Scope and Contents

The John Vaccaro and the Play-House of the Ridiculous Papers contain materials that document Vaccaro's professional theatrical career, ranging from the early 1960s through 2005. The collection preserves Vaccaro's primarily collaborative work, including scripts, notebooks, articles, essays, and correspondence that date back to his early career as an actor in the emerging world of Off-Off Broadway theater in New York. Elements include source material for his productions as well as promotional material in the form of ephemera, flyers, festival programs, posters and postcards. This body of components also includes the work of collaborating playwrights, and material related to the theatrical and Greenwich Village communities of the 1960s, 70s and 80s. In addition, this collection includes professional and personal correspondence, production and personal photography, original illustrations, publications, and a scrapbook. Materials date from 1959 to 2005.


Vaccaro, John

Conditions Governing Access

Materials are open without restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright (or related rights to publicity and privacy) for materials in this collection, created by John Vaccaro was not transferred to New York University. Permission to use materials must be secured from the copyright holder.

Preferred Citation

Identification of item, date; John Vaccaro and the Play-House of the Ridiculous Papers; MSS 321; box number; folder number; Fales Library and Special Collections, New York University.

Location of Materials

Materials are stored offsite and advance notice is required for use. Please request materials at least two business days prior to your research visit to coordinate access.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated by John Vaccaro, 2011. The accession number associated with this gift is 2011.321.

Collection processed by

Colin Torre

About this Guide

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on 2024-02-06 14:21:15 -0500.
Using Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language: Finding aid written in English.

Processing Information

Processing decisions made prior to September 2018 have not been recorded.

In September 2018, unprocessed publications, ephemera, and project files were housed in archival folders and boxes.

Revisions to this Guide

September 2018: Updated by Jasmine Larkin to include unprocessed publications, ephemera, and project files from accession number 2011.321, and edited for compliance with DACS and ACM Required Elements for Archival Description.


Fales Library and Special Collections
Fales Library and Special Collections
Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
70 Washington Square South
2nd Floor
New York, NY 10012