THE ACID TEST IS HERE
Sunday night, February 6th, the Acid Test began in L.A. at the Valley Unitarian Church. Inspired initially by novelist Ken Kesey, it amounts to a revolutionary concept of the function of the theatre and the relationship of individuals in a society.
Kesey was not here; he has ridden into the hills and will return again when his people call "All free!" As it is, although his group had only been here a day, police were hunting down its distinctive bus under orders to roust it wherever it was found. However, I do not get the impression that Kesey's group is dependent upon any one person to do its job nor that it's distracted by persecution.
When I asked Lee Quarnstron, one of the central group, if they began the performance with any set format, he answered, "'Freak freely' is our motto; as long as you hurt no one. We groove together. To repeat any procedure or method is to play an old game. We want to play new games."
Their first performance in L.A. was indicative of their methods. The floor of the room was littered with musical instruments, creatively dressed people, tape recorders, movie projectors, pieces of colored material... The walls and ceiling relentlessly changed color and images; my eyes were caressed and assaulted by random juxtapositions of shapes and colors. It appeared to be an integrated aesthetic fantasy controlled by some masterly yet casual hand.
Then two people, obviously not performers, rose and began playing with a large sheet of cellophane during a particularly beautiful musical session. By really digging what they were doing, they entertained all who watched. Events were moving in harmony despite their seemingly random development. The experience demanded each person to add honestly and creatively. By forsaking your anxieties and bullshit, you surrender yourself to the room and achieve a height of involvement equal to the sum total of all exposed potential in it.
Poet Neil Cassidy went out on an hour's worth of fascinating word salad over a mike while interferometric Del Close began casting magical and ineffable colors onto a wall, directed only by his spontaneous explorations of what he was doing. Hugh Romney began a monologue like an incantation while watching a film being shown on another section of wall. Dick Webster beat his gongs whenever some musician's sound enticed him; musicians tastefully tried musical possibilities until all were in the same place at once. A girl ran in a circle, stopping sporadically to dance enchantingly. Free Press editor Art Kunkin rambled over to a still projector and jiggled the image on the opposite wall for five minutes before I realized he wasn't part of the performing group.
Frightening, insane, chaotic? I suppose the answer depends on where you're at. To me, what went down was a recapture of an experience Man hasn't given himself the simple luxury of since he left his cave. It was a unification which insisted on confident naturalness. There were no distinctions between roles and functions and identities - only good people tripping out on their mutual creative expression and free exultation. I'm sure someone must get his head in a bad place during one of these performances, but it would be impossible to keep it there among such good vibrations.
Quarnstron later told me that all these experiences will ultimately be organized into a movie. The show I came to watch is a show in which I am a performer. To be passive in this experience - as in any other - is to deny myself my own capability.
The Acid Test will be here about two weeks and is currently seeking a place to live, work, perform. The central group works all day on their maze of tapes and films and plays all night to radiate epiphanies. The Free Press and your local grapevine will let you know where and when the next Acid Test will be.
Ralph Gleason, in San Francisco (where the group successfully performed for some three months) has described their efforts with Dylan's lines about Mr. Jones: "Something is happening here, but you don't know what it is." Quarnstron describes them in the paraphrase, "THIS is what's happening here." The difference in tone is crucial: the Acid Test warmly welcomes all who come to it cleanly, clearly, totally. Their Yes is open and unqualified; they say No only to negatives.
Is this a nihilistic Hedonism or a new attempt to achieve fulfillment in a world of increasingly maniacal rigidity? I suppose the answer depends on how up-tight you are, how certain you are of your own validity and stature.
(by Paul Jay Robbins, from the "Happenings" column, Los Angeles Free Press, 11 February 1966)