Contemporary Gay American Poets and Playwrights: An A-to-Z Guide

By Emmanuel S. Nelson | Go to book overview
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Tom Smith


Charles Busch was born on August 23, 1954, in New York City. He grew up mesmerized by the theater, often skipping school and convincing house managers of Broadway theaters to allow him to go up on the stage and sing. He attended Northwestern University, rarely getting cast and too shy to volunteer in acting classes. While coming home on vacations, he was exposed to 1970s experimental theater performed by The Performance Group and Charles Ludlam’s* Ridiculous Theatrical Company. He then began to take independent studies in playwriting at Northwestern. There he performed his first self-authored work, a solo piece in drag influenced by the work of Charles Ludlam. Finding freedom and artistic expressiveness in gender illusion, Busch graduated and moved to New York.

Not knowing how to go about starting his own theater, Busch traveled around the country performing solo pieces for the first eight years of his career. He often supplemented his income with various odd jobs, including a stint as a sidewalk sketch artist. College friend Ken Elliott directed many of Busch’s early pieces. By 1984, tired of traveling and wanting something more permanent, Busch convinced Theatre-in-Limbo owner Michael Limbo to let him mount a play. Limbo agreed, and in a two-week period Busch wrote and produced his long-running hit Vampire Lesbians of Sodom. The play was a huge success, and in 1985 Busch and Elliott, as producers, moved the play to the Provincetown Playhouse, where it played for five years, becoming one of the longest-running nonmusicals in the history of off-Broadway.

Busch’s company of actors from Vampire Lesbians of Sodom eventually became the resident company of the Limbo Lounge, performing a new show every three weeks, all written by Busch. The plays were consistent in theme and tone,


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