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Medicine Show Theatre Ensemble...

.... is a Company of professional theatre artists dedicated to offering creative alternatives to conventional theatre by creating and presenting works that experiment with languge, music, movement, form and ideas, and meld the strengths of theatrical tradition with innovation. We offer provocative theater for professional theatergoers!

The works are chosen to delight the mind, honor creativity, confound empty convention, encourage active compassion and present the many facets of the American experience within a global community. We are committed to the belief in theater as an art form that inspires, challenges, questions and entertains. This commitment is reflected in our choice of repertory and the multi-ethnic composition of the Ensemble.

Barbara Vann - Artistic Director




BARBARA VANN (Artistic Director, Founder)

Barbara Kutner was born December 12, 1938, in Brooklyn, NY.  She went to P.S.139, JHS 246 (which we named Walt Whitman Junior High School), and Erasmus Hall High School.

(“As a child and teenager,” says Barbara, “I saw performances that remain definitive – Artur Rubinstein in concert, Toscanini leading the NBC Symphony Orchestra, Leontyne Price and Cab Calloway in Porgy and Bess, David Wayne in Finian's Rainbow, everything on Broadway in the early 50's.”)

Barbara graduated from high school in 1955 (and still can't understand why Stevenson didn't win), went to Mount Holyoke College where she audited the Abbey Players' Denis Johnston's playwriting class and performed in his versions of Mary Manning's Finnegans Wake and Les Femmes Savantes.  She also performed at Amherst College (and later directed The Balcony there in the mid 1980's)  One summer she was an intern at UNESCO in Paris; one summer she was the stage manager at the Flat Rock Playhouse in Hendersonville, NC (which congratulated itself for admitting “negroes” to the audience.  There were major riots in Hendersonville in 1959.)  

She graduated from Mt. Holyoke in 1959, and performed in Camden, Maine, that summer, met James Vann, went to California (we all go to L.A. For a while), came back to NY and founded the Theatre at Monmouth (ME) with him (and other Camden participants) and gave birth to their child Regan in September (after the season.)  During that summer Allan Lewis of the New School saw her production of As You Like It and hired her to produce two or three 20-minute scenes a week for his class “Scenes from Contemporary Drama” – beginning with Ibsen in the fall and ending with Albee in the spring.  (“I cannot imagine a better way to learn to direct,” says Barbara.)

At this time she was studying acting with Nola Chilton – whose class included Joseph Chaikin and Gerome Ragni.  So the New School got Joe as Camus' Caligula, Herb Edelman as one of Brecht's gods in The Good Person of Szechuan, and Gerry in The Maids.  She met James Barbosa in her weekly search for good actors.

Then Nola left for Israel because she felt a woman director would never command respect and/or a living wage in the U.S.  (“I tend to agree,” says Barbara.)  Her students continued to work together and shortly morphed into the Open Theater, “founded” by twenty of them in 1962.  Barbara and Jim Barbosa were with the Open Theater for eight years (1962-1970), playing at La Mama, doing anti-war street protests, playing in America Hurrah! In New York and London, touring Europe, appearing in Antonioni's Zabriskie Point and Peter Brook's U.S. (called Tell Me Lies in the U.S.)  They also led extended workshops in London and Aix-en-Provence.  In the early '70s Barbara played Jocasta to Christopher Lloyd's Oedipus at St. Clements.

In 1970, the Open Theater split in two, and Medicine Show was born.  The company first worked in a loft in Westbeth – the first of fourteen spaces – and its first piece was Brecht's Edward II, directed by Ron Faber with Jim Barbosa and Barbara as Mortimer and Queen Anne.

Subsequently her work with Medicine Show has spanned a wide repertory including such stylistically varied group creations as Bound to Rise, for which she received an Obie for direction; the international award-winning Medicine Show: an American Entertainment; Glowworm; Shipping Out; Ain't We Got Fun (a chronicle of the Federal Theatre Project); Sea Island Nightmare, or, That Miserable Matter of Slavery, drawn from the writings of Fanny Kemble, with extrapolations by four living writers; the reworkings of the Ubu plays – Ubu Rides Again and Ubu Takes Manhattan; 2005's distillation of for theatre of James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake (which the New York Times said was "interpreted with imagination and understanding"); and a new translation (hers) of Jean Genet's The Balcony, produced in its entirety in accordance with Genet's wishes in 2007.

Her work in the "standard" repertory includes nine early Cole Porter musicals; numerous works of Bernard Shaw; Him by E.E. Cummings; the Auden/Isherwood The Dog Beneath the Skin; the Weinstein/Bolcom Dynamite Tonight!; her adaptations of Gertrude Stein's Blood on the Dining Room Floor and The Geographical History of America; also Stein's In Savoy and many plays by Frank O'Hara; her translation of the complete Jean Anouilh An Invitation to the Chateau; Henry Fielding's Tragedy of Tragedies, and Kenneth Koch's 1000 Avante-Garde Plays, written for Medicine Show after the staging of his Popeye Among the Polar Bears.

Medicine Show's plays have appeared in the Burns-Mantle Best Plays in America anthology. Vann appears in the Platinum Edition of Who's Who in America: The Avant-Gardes, and chapters of her work appear in volumes on American theatre published in Milan and Prague. When Frank O'Hara's play Houses at Falling Hanging was discovered and printed in the Yale Drama Review in 2005 (first performed under her direction at Medicine Show in 2006), her productions of other O'Hara plays were prominently mentioned.

Vann has taught workshops and master classes at over 80 universities throughout the Unites States and Canada and on five European tours. She also taught longer stints at Smith and Amherst Colleges and Yale and Colgate Universities. She has recently produced a 5 hour Master Class DVD set documenting and demonstrating Open Theatre and Medicine Show exercises which is available to schools, libraries, theatre companies and interested individuals. Inquiries at medicineshow@medicineshowtheatre.org.

JAMES BARBOSA (Founder, d. 2003)

James Barbosa was born December 25th, 1932 at St. Luke's Hospital on 112th St in Manhattan. He and his family (real last name Balboa – changed at immigration) moved to Panama City, FL sometime in the 40s (since I, Barbara Vann, am writing this 10 years after his death, a lot of the dates and places are questionable).

He was mentioned as a “talented young actor” in the Panama City newspaper and then went to Arlington State College. He performed at the Margo Jones Theatre in '51 and '52 and enlisted in the Air Force in '53, where he served through '56 – stationed as a draftsman in Moulins, France – where he rebuilt Vichy, learned French, and studied ballet. He received a National Defense Service Medal and a Good Conduct Medal.

He went back to Texas and performed primarily at the Margo Jones Theatre, The Dallas Playhouse and The San Antonio Music Theatre until 1958 when he moved to New York City and became a treasured employee of the Metropolitan Opera Guild for six years.

He performed at the New School for Vann, and played Witch Boy in Ring Around the Moon in '62. He also was workshopping with the Open Theatre – performing improvisation and short plays at La Mama (then on 2nd Ave) and the Cafe Cino.

He was St. George to Dustin Hoffman's Dragon in the Hallmark Hall of Fame Christmas mumming in 1966 (TV). He also did a musical about Christopher Columbus at the Nyack Playhouse, a musical by the “Open Window” band – Peter Shickele, Robert Dennis, and Stan Walden – at City Center.

In addition, Jim performed Endgame at the Manhattan Theatre Club in 1980, and won an Obie for acting in 1982 for the revival of “Soon Jack November” at La Mama.

>He was in the opening company of America Hurrah in 1966 in New York and then London. We opened The Serpent in Italy and then New York, then toured Europe with “Masks” and “Terminal” and taught an extended workshop in Aix-en-Provence. We split from the Open Theater and formed Medicine Show – the rest is somewhere on the website, I hope.