Willem Dafoe was a founding member
The Group’s seven founding members included Elizabeth LeCompte (who has directed all of the Group’s performances), Kate Valk (who performs in The Town Hall Affair as Jill Johnston), the late actor and writer Spalding Gray, and Willem Dafoe, who you may know from other projects as diverse as Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist, Mississippi Burning and the original Spiderman. Watch a clip of Dafoe performing The Hairy Ape below.
They’re known for experimental and innovative theatre techniques
The Fluxus movement was all about incorporating art into everyday life, democratising it and creating art out of normal objects (like a playable cello constructed out of TV sets). The Wooster Group took this experimental cross-media approach into the theatre, using acting techniques like anti-naturalistic acting (children playing adults, etc), and making use of live streamed and recorded video to complement the action onstage. (The Town Hall Affair features projected footage from the documentary it's based on, Town Bloody Hall, as well as Normal Mailer’s film Maidstone.)“The result,” The New York Times wrote, “is not a linear play at all but a kind of mixed-media collage, something unique in the theater; like a Bosch or Dali canvas come to life.” Incidentally, you won’t find full footage of any Wooster Group performances online – they favour short, abstract cuts of video under two minutes long. Watch a trailer below for The Wrong Guys, a 1997 film by The Wooster Group that exemplifies this cross-media approach.
They’re all about original texts or radical adaptations of classic theatre texts
The Group debuted in 1975 with a series of improvised pieces based on autobiographical stories, objects and images sourced by actor and writer Spalding Gray. “We began to structure it like a piece of music (concern with rhythm), like a painting (concern with light and colour), and like a dance (concern with movement),” Gray said. In the Group’s 42 years they’ve produced 21 theatre pieces, 12 film or video pieces and five dance works. Many have been based on autobiographical stories from members of the collective, while others have used classic theatre texts like Chekhov’s Three Sisters, Phèdre and The Crucible as starting points for new work.