Originally posted on October 30, 2017
by Gannon Reedy
Originally posted on October 30, 2017
by Gannon Reedy
Originally posted on October 27, 2017
by Dan Mozurkewich
What you might not know is that most of human history has been lost. The Human genome has remained the same for 200,000 years. Early civilizations were founded along rivers and coasts 10,000 years ago, as the official record would tell you. But that leaves tens of thousands of years that we have no record of. As our planet warms and cools, as glaciers form and crumble, the sea level has risen and fallen dramatically. Perhaps records of early human life lie beneath the ocean, washed away by centuries of erosion. It is a theory so simple that anyone could be capable of producing it, yet the scientific establishment insists on placing the advent of civilization at 10,000 years in the past, and not more.
Dr. Arthur T. Waller was a man who disputed this paradigm. Professor of Archeology at the University of Maryland, Dr. Waller was one of the sole voices in his field advocating further investigation into potential prehistoric human civilizations. Leading an intrepid crew of 6 similarly convicted scientists, including an archeologist, a geneticist, a retired navy officer, and a psychiatrist who had been barred from practice due to his controversial studies on ESP, he began exploring underwater caverns off the coast of Mexico in the year 1974, with the goal of uncovering evidence of prehistoric remains or dwellings. Funding this expedition was Australian Billionaire Geoff Warrington, who inherited his father’s mining empire when he unexpectedly died in a helicopter crash in the outback in 1968.
A series of dives turned up nothing, but still Dr. Waller was convinced that the answer to his questions lay in the Gulf of Mexico. Three expeditions were eventually made from 1974-1976, with Dr. Waller’s relationship with Warrington grew more and more strained, as Warrington grew more and more dissatisfied with the lack of concrete discovery. However, in 1976 the Pre-Indus Exploration Association happened upon a singularly unique discovery. In an underwater cavern off the Yucatan peninsula, Dr. Waller’s team removed 7 artifacts, completely plain-faced 5 foot long cylinders, composed of an unknown material, deeply black and metallic but spongy to the touch.
Returning to the University of Maryland, Dr. Waller began his efforts to have the artifacts examined and carbon dated. Despite there being no markings or indications of any kind, he was convinced that the artifacts were of human make, possibly dating before the advent of civilization. Premature testing, however, indicated a carbon age of over 7 billion years—predating the formation of the planet earth. The material was unidentifiable, appearing to be a complex metal alloy only deemed possible under vacuum conditions. However, before further testing could be completed, the FBI shut down the University of Maryland Carbon Dating Laboratory, seizing the 4 artifacts Dr. Waller provided for research (1 was in the possession of Geoff Warrington, who had been eager to take possession of any product of his contributions, while the other 2 were in the possession of ESP specialist and ex-psychiatrist Dr. Earl Kotsiopoulos. The results of the expedition and the carbon dating were branded as an elaborate hoax and scientific fraud, and were quickly forgotten. Dr. Waller himself was indicted on several counts of possession of child pornography that had been seized from his home, and he died in prison the following year as the result of fast-acting Leukemia.
Dr. Kostopulos found himself under federal scrutiny many times during the following years, including several search and seizures of his home and offices, but the artifacts were never found, and for the time being no charges were ever brought against him. His professional research, debunked and disregarded by the scientific community at large, continued under the patronage of Mr. Geoff Wellington, and branched into the administration of synthetic hallucinogenic drugs in an attempt to unlock latent psychic powers. In 1979, 1 week before the FBI raided his research compound in Nevada for the 3rd and final time, Dr. Kostopoulos fled the country and assumed a false identity, continuing his research in secret in Australia.
Kostopulos, now going by the name Rick Bishop, had a breakthrough studying the artifacts. He found that, with the correct cocktail of psychoactive hallucinogens, humans became capable of “reading” the artifacts. When present at the time of ingestion, these incredibly powerful substances would produce visions and the subjects would begin to speak in gibberish, with the common recurrence of certain words, such as “Azzhreth” and “Egg”. However, the only substances powerful enough to produce replicable results were permanently debilitating to the point of death. Warrington and Bishop began abducting the homeless, runaways, and addicts from the streets of Australia, and experimenting on them in a secret underground facility. With the help of early computers, algorithms were created to try and decode the ramblings of the victims.
Bishop and Wellington came to believe that the artifacts actually contained instructions—instructions left by a cosmic being named Azzhreth, who had visited this dimension some 7 billion years ago and left an “egg” in orbit around the infant planet, an egg which was feeding upon the psychic energy of conscious population- that had perhaps guided evolution to produce organisms capable of radiating psychic energy, much as how humans breed cows and pigs to be fat and produce succulent meat. The “Egg” was the size of a small moon, it orbited earth according to a physical laws that were undefinable under any current notion of physics- it did not exist in this dimension, but rather one adjacent to our own, and a different kind of gravity holds it in place, and as the moon exerts influence upon the tides of water, so too this egg exerts its influence upon the tides of thought.
Rick Bishop knew that current technology would not be enough to locate the portal to this dimension and to enter it, for that he would need cognitive imagine software powerful enough to create replicable images of the visions of his victims, driven mad by the intense synthetic substances he was feeding with them with. But there was another directive unscrambled from their frenzied chants—that the egg would birth the child of Azzhreth—that Azzhreth’s child would possess a power befitting a deity, that his birth would signal the transformation of reality and the irreversible distortion of this dimension. That the artifacts were amplifiers, transmitters relaying the signals through space towards Azzhreth’s spawn, and that the mortal who could use these amplifiers to bring about the hatching of the egg would be greatly rewarded—rewarded beyond his wildest dreams.
But Rick Bishop would need to bide his time, proselytize others to his cause, infiltrate youth culture and distribute drugs that would prime the priests and priestesses of his church, perhaps one day, a child would be born that could communicate with the other dimension without being driven to madness, perhaps enough humans could come together in festival, and feed the spawn of Azzhreth with a nutritious mix of psychic energy- nutritious enough to perhaps trigger the awakening.
Originally posted on November 3, 2016
by Malvika Jolly
For the upcoming weeks, Mary Shelley dramaturge Malvika Jolly will be guest posting here with all manner of dramaturgical research and documentation that goes into bringing our play to life! Here you will find short essays, photos & video from the rehearsal process, and other tasty tidbits to help us flesh out the social, political, and performative landscapes of “Mary Shelley Sees the Future”. This is part three in the series.
Midway through Mary Shelley Sees the Future, there is a scene in which Mary Shelley, for a few brief moments, encounters her husband Percy Shelley (or the specter of Percy Shelley) in Gaslight Coffee Roasters (You know the one— the one that juts out like a peninsula on the corner of Milwaukee and Fullerton). It is a packed Friday afternoon 200 years after their era, Percy Shelley is dead via shipwreck, and he also has no place to sit.
So they share a table.
This scene is one of the moments of the play that transcend the “realism” of the play (as much realism as can exist in a play that hinges on a time warp, that is). It is unclear whether this man is what he at first appears to be— simply a disgruntled hipster with an antiquated name (“Percival”)— or if he is who he, moments later, metamorphoses into: Percy, the poet. And also Percy, the soft-voiced husband who asks her, tenderly, How does she like it here? Has she had time to at least take in the view? And, is she here to stay?
At the emotional sweet-spot of this scene, he responds to each of Mary’s questions with a chorus of “My dear, it is your choice”. At this moment it feels crystal clear that he is what he appears to be. But let’s unfold the implications of this: is Percy Shelley on his own journey, playing hooky from death and traveling through time to track Mary Shelley down? Or is he a kind of spectral spirit possession, occupying the body of some unsuspecting 21st century kid for a few moments in order to commune with his wife, across time and across the grave? Or is he— as he himself suggests— all a figment of Mary Shelley’s vast imagination? A hallucination that we, the audience, are privy to as well?
MARY: How did you get here?
PERCY: The same way you did or I might not be here at all I might be in your head
MARY: (whispers) You are dead
PERCY: I am poetry You, of all people, should know That is how I wanted to live on
It is the kind of magical-realism that causes you to hold your breath.
This scene, this whispered conversation, hovers gently a few feet above reality. When watching it in Sunday night’s show, I noticed the audience growing still, especially silent as they watched Dan Mozurkewich transform before their eyes. This rupture-in-realism infused the minutiae of every gesture, every syllable, every breath, every tick: each one signifying worlds more than it might’ve a moment before. It is as if the moment onstage existed in a bubble or void: caught at a point of precipice, the intimacy of the meeting is wholly puncture-able… and should not exist.
In the early weeks of rehearsal while discussing the eeriness / dissonance of this scene, someone brought up an interesting theory: We know that Mya dabbles in a variety of experimental drugs… So wouldn’t it be plausible that the psychological and chemical traces of those hallucinogens might still be swimming around in her synapses, even when Mary Shelley is occupying her body? It’s not uncommon for hallucinogens to cause flashbacks, after all. Wouldn’t it make sense if Mary, experiencing the world through the perception and the brain of a drug addict, might experience the world with a sometimes-tenuous hold on reality?
I won’t try and tell you that this is unquestionably true, or unquestionably false. After all, a strange kind of cognitive dissonance is the very lifeblood of the whole enchilada! (And by enchilada, I mean play). However, I do think this theory bursts open a whole bunch of incredibly fascinating and amusing pathways of speculation!
Right off the bat, it provides a “scientific”, “realistic”, or “secular” explanation and arguable premise to what is definitely the most “unrealistic” ingredient of the play: time-travel. (Or time-travel paired with a body-swap).
But why wouldn’t we want a play (and especially a play as fun and saucy as this one) to be a tad unrealistic, unscientific? Improbability is the key world here. And improbability tells us much more about a work of literature or art these days than simply whether or not it is realistic.
As the novelist Amitav Ghosh explains in his book The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable:
“Probability and the modern novel are in fact twins, born at about the same time, among the same people, under a shared star that destined them to work as vessels for the containment of the same kind of experience.”
One of the greatest transformations of modernist literature came with the decision that literature should be plausible. Whereas before, the question of whether or not a work of art was “believable” was simply not a question that popped up in one’s mind— works of literature and drama could be absurd! Fantastical! In fact the entire point was, in some ways, the telling of tall tales— in the late 19th — early 20th century, suddenly, whether the work we are experiencing is “believable” becomes very urgent. Plausibility conveys authenticity.
Consider, also, that we are re-hashing the age-old debate between The Romantics (Percy Shelley, Lord Byron, Trelawney, and the gang) and the rationalists of The Enlightenment (of whom Mary’s father William Godwin was a part).
What this time-travel-hallucinogenic-theory accomplishes is to push what was previously un-explained— the time-warp is explained only in passing as Mary Shelley’s “wish on a star” moment, and as a decision the 21st century Mya probably had time to prepare for, but no more is said— firmly in the direction of believability. The time-warp may not be “realistic”, per say, but it is certainly closer to center in the gradient in a continuum of probability.
It also allows us to hold onto the wonder and… preciousness… of the transformation, and not compromise that moment.
Freaky Friday also uses a device to explain & instigate a body-swap. It arrives innocuously as an un-tasty fortune cookie… What I think is really novel about Olivia’s play is that she presents us with no easy explanation, instigator, or device, and so we are left to hypothesize about experimental drugs, stars-wished-upon, etc. Furthermore, from this discussion about time travel and its causes, we can unpack more questions: about Probability, Realism, and Magic, how time works in this world.
And— what exactly are the rules of engagement in this world Olivia Lilley has created?
As food for thought, I’ll leave you with Amitav Ghosh’s meditation on the consequences of improbable events and “strange happenings” in prose, and the cursed genres within serious literature:
To introduce such happenings into a novel is in fact to court eviction from the mansion in which serious fiction has long been in residence; it is to risk banishment to the humbler dwellings that surround the manor house— those generic outhouses that were once known by names such as “the Gothic”, “the romance”, or “the melodrama”, and have now come to be called “fantasy”, “horror”— and “science fiction”.
Malvika Jolly loves all things gender-bending, time-warped, & body-swapped. She tweets @dinnertheatrics
Originally posted on October 23, 2016
by Malvika Jolly
For the upcoming week, Mary Shelley dramaturge Malvika Jolly will be guest posting here with all manner of dramaturgical research and documentation that goes into bringing our play to life! Here you will find short essays, photos & video from the rehearsal process, and other tasty tidbits to help us flesh out the social, political, and performative landscapes of “Mary Shelley Sees the Future”. This is part two in the series.
~ ~ ~
Here is an introduction— a family portrait— of the Wollstonecraft sisters and their progenitors. In our last post we covered Mary Shelley’s mother Mary Wollstonecraft; today we will tackle polymath William Godwin and his eldest step-daughter Fanny Wollstonecraft… Buckle up!
~ W I L L I A M G O D W I N ~
William Godwin was, in many ways, the child of the French Enlightenment, drawing many of his most fundamental ideals from the rationalists of the movement. He was a historian, an essayist, and a novelist (and for a period in his second marriage he co-wrote many a children’s primer on biblical stories), and had a lasting impact on British literature and literary culture. He wrote what is widely seen to be the first mystery novel or thriller (Things As They Are; Or, The Adventures of Caleb Williams which, moreover, is a scathing attack on the aristocracy and systems of privilege). He is best known for his Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, which is a text of political philosophy published during the French Revolution and outlines a kind of non-violent anarchistic society… an idea that 20th century sociologist and critical theorist Habermas picked up and adapted into his own work. It was this text which made him so popular and so cherished by the Romantic Poets (Coleridge, Wordsworth, Shelley, and so on)
After the death of his wife, he chose to publish a very tell-all biography of Mary Wollstonecraft, titled Memoirs of The Author of A Vindication of the Rights of Women, which definitely takes the prize for the longest book-title. In his book, he revealed all sorts of things about Mary Wollstonecraft, including the details of her two suicide attempts, all of her lovers before their marriage (including Gilbert Imlay, father of her now-outed illegitimate child Fanny!), and so on. This book completely killed his reputation, and he lived out the next decades as a recluse, hiding under the weight of his reputation.
Two or three years later, Godwin left young Mary and Fanny under the supervision of his friend and playwright James Marshall and traveled to Ireland. I’m not sure how long he was gone for— in some places it is described as only a summer, and in others it appears to be much longer… It is interesting to note that in her semi-autobiographical novella Mathilda, Mary Shelley describes the protagonist’s father leaving her in the care of a friend as he embarks on a trip (and writing her the same indulgently sweet letters Godwin wrote to his daughters) and not returning until she is well into her adolescence!
~ F A N N Y I M L A Y ~
I could not find a reliable portrait of Fanny— to be honest, she was kind of a lifelong forgotten child, and it is not unlikely that there may have never been a portrait of her made. In place of an image of her, I’ve included this copy of a letter she wrote to her sister Mary and brother-in-law Percy Shelley in 1816, after they ran away to the sunshine and bohemian idylls of “The Continent”. On this escapade, the pair took along the 16-year old youngest Godwin sister Claire, but neglected to invite Fanny, leaving her behind at home to deal with the very dysfunctional and complicated household they had escaped. In this letter she is writing from Godwin’s home in London. He has permitted her to write in the margins and unused spaces of his own (rather bad-tempered) letter to Percy Shelley. Doesn’t that just paint a portrait, of her very soft and tragic life?
~ ~ ~
Fanny Imlay is the textbook definition of a life in the margins. Or, perhaps, for the crisis of identity that comes from being put in the corner your whole life? At various points in her life she also went by the names “Fanny Wollstonecraft” and “Fanny Godwin”. Though she and Mary Wollstonecraft lived very happily together with Fanny’s biological father Gilbert Imlay— and, in fact, to protect Mary Wollstonecraft in France at the time, he claimed that he had filed them for marriage and that they were lawfully husband and wife, an illusion of propriety that fell apart very quickly— he did leave both of them (dishonored woman and illegitimate infant) alone and impoverished, in the midst of the French Revolution.
After the Scandinavian trip she went along on during infancy, Fanny was returned to London. Soon after, Mary Wollstonecraft fell in love with William Godwin and, marrying him, brought three-year-old Fanny into the family they build together.
After the death of her mother, Godwin had his publisher contact Fanny’s biological father Gilbert Imlay, seeking out the next guardian in whose hands he could put the now orphaned child. However, he was unable to find a home for her, and so Fanny was left under the care of the rather unfeeling Godwin— and his new wife Mary Jane Clairmont, who resented Godwin’s children from his previous marriage. The Godwin household during this era has been described as a kind of house on fire, becoming an increasingly uncomfortable and tense place to live.
The fact that both her sisters ran away— and chose to leave her behind!— was an enormous wound to Fanny. Her exclusion from their “summer of love” was made only worse, I’m sure, by the fact that Fanny— not Mary— was the first love interest Percy Shelley had in the Wollstonecraft sisters! Being passed over not only by her suitor (who eventually moved on to her middle sister Mary) but also by her biological sister Mary, who chose not to bring her along but did choose to invite their youngest (and not even related to them!) sister Claire was only salt in the wound. My goodness!
In the rather pathetic letter above, wherein Fanny writes to her sister and now brother-in-law in the margins of Godwin’s letter, she pleads— and then tucks her pleading into the polite affections of a doting aunty:
“I endeavor to be as frank to you as possible that you may understand my real character. I understand from Mamma [Mary Jane Clairmont] that I am your laughing stock— and the constant beacon of your your riposte satire. I am very glad to hear that little William is so very much improved. Kiss him again & again for me.”
During her Scandinavian tour, Mary Wollstonecraft wrote of her infant daughter: “I dread lest she be forced to sacrifice her heart to her principles, or her principles to her heart”, describing exactly the double-bind “predicament of the 19th century woman without means”.
At the age of 22, she took her cue from her deceased mother and successfully committed suicide by drinking laudanum.
After her death, Percy Shelley wrote the following poem titled “On Fanny Godwin” in her honor:
Her voice did quiver as we parted,
Yet knew I not that heart was broken
From which it came, and I departed
Heeding not the words then spoken.
This world is too wide for thee.
And— ever the pragmatist— William Godwin writes Mary Shelley this letter urging her to say nothing to anyone of her sister’s death, in order to avoid scandal.
His opening line: “I did indeed expect it.”
Malvika Jolly loves all things gender-bending, time-warped, & body-swapped. She tweets @dinnertheatrics
Originally posted on October 17, 2016 by Malvika Jolly
For the upcoming week, Mary Shelley dramaturge Malvika Jolly will be guest posting here with all manner of dramaturgical research and documentation that goes into bringing our play to life! Here you will find short essays, photos & video from the rehearsal process, and other tasty tidbits that help us flesh out the social, political, and performative landscapes of “Mary Shelley Sees the Future”. This is part one in the series.
In the Runaways’ newest production, we delve into the interior worlds of one of the 19th century’s most radical— and scandalous— families. Visionaries and early drafters of many of the political and literary ideas we hold so dear— Feminism! Anarchism! Raising daughters as humans! The modern thriller! The gothic! The dystopian science fiction novel!
At the same time, the Godwin/Wollstonecraft family was subject to all the notoriety, accusations, and bad-reputation that, it would seem, comes folded into the alternative lifestyle.
By consequence, the characters that populate playwright Olivia Lilley’s play arrive already deeply interconnected by the threads of scandal: teenage sisters conspiring their escape, suicide, poverty, elopements, serial marriages, dalliances, and numerous love affairs (past, present, and to come) all within the same incestuous circle, illegitimate children, abandoned lovers, group sex, and the ghosts of children lost and miscarried.
In her time-traveling epic, playwright Olivia Lilley chooses to hone in on the two sisters Mary Shelley and Claire Clairmont and their (delightfully cross-cast) parental figure William Godwin. Together, the two Wollstonecraft sisters navigate a world of harsh propriety and rigid social conduct as women who have returned to mainstream society and find themselves painted scarlet.
But wait! We can’t forget Mary Wollstonecraft, mother to Mary Shelley. Nor should we forget the eldest Wollstonecraft sister, Fanny Imlay (whose story is diffused into Claire’s in our play). Both are characters who— though technically absent from the world of our play— still hold a palpable presence.
Here is an introduction— a family portrait— of the Wollstonecraft sisters and their progenitors.
~ M A R Y W O L L S T O N E C R A F T ~
“A brilliant star in her firmament”, describes Moyra Davey in her film/essay on Mary Wollstonecraft and her daughters The Wet and the Dry.
“…A brilliant star in her firmament, a passionate, early advocate of women’s, children’s, human rights, and an enlightened defender of truth and justice: a radical.”
Mary Wollstonecraft was born in 1759 (exactly ten years after Goethe!) and the themes of her future work were crystallized, in many ways, by three things:
First, her family’s dire poverty; she eventually supported herself and her six largely uncared-for siblings with her writing.
Second, the profound gender-based violence she encountered from an early age, from her father Edward John Wollstonecraft who, in fits of drunken rage, would beat her mother— an experience that would impact Wollstonecraft so much that in her teenaged years she apparently would sleep lying over the doorstep to her mother’s bedroom in order to keep an eye out.
And third, her incredibly close and collaborative friendships (first with Jane Arden, then with Fanny Blood) which created the nurturing environments of literary and philosophic thought that would create Mary Wollstonecraft the radical, the feminist.
Over the course of her life, she wrote many texts, but most prominently A Vindication of the Rights of Woman which makes arguments for the equality of the sexes, the significance of women to the nation as the educators of its future generations, why reason and emotion should work hand in hand, and specific plans for the education of children.
In Olivia Lilley’s play, when the current-day, Logan Square dwelling, student-loan-flouting, experimental drug-using Mya— having traveled through time to 1822 England— finds herself standing on Mary Wollstonecraft’s grave delivering a kind of eulogy, she says:
“Thanks For writing all that Literature With Godwin About how to raise a daughter as a human being Rather than a daughter”.
What she is referring to is Wollstonecraft’s first published work Thoughts on the Education of Daughters.
Moreover, Wollstonecraft also wrote on the French revolution, as well as novels that criticized the patriarchal and— in her opinion, antiquated— institution of marriage, citing, in particular, its negative consequences on women.
In short, Mary Wollstonecraft was a straight thug.
“She went to Paris to witness the revolution, and lived to tell of the bloody terror of 1793. She was a woman with enormous intellectual capabilities and savoir-faire.”
(Writes Davey— whose prose is so clean and so crisp that I can’t resist citing large chunks of her phenomenal essay and film The Wet and The Dry.)
“…But she also suffered from depression, and broken-hearted over the rejection by her lover, Gilbert Imlay, drank laudanum. In an attempt to revive her he offered a mission of travel to Scandinavia to investigate one of his murky business affairs.” Perhaps because she thought that staying, at the very least, in contact with and necessary to her love might lead to the ultimate success of their love affair, or perhaps because she needed the money, or perhaps just for wanderlust— she set off.
In 1795 she set off on the dangerous ocean voyage— with her two-year-old daughter Fanny (whom she had with baby daddy Gilbert Imlay), and a French maid.
Says Davey: “Like Goethe on his travels to Italy, Wollstonecraft wrote letters to Imlay chronicling her observations and emotional responses to the landscape and peoples of Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. Her heartbreak is softly intimated in the letters, but mostly she reflects and reports with a journalist’s eye on the native customs: a feather bed so soft and deep it is like “sinking into the grave”; children swaddled in heavy insalubrious layers of flannel; airless homes heated with stoves instead of fires…”
(Later on, she composed these letters into the book Letters Written During a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. It was published in 1796 and made her extremely popular. Her future husband William Godwin remarked that if any book was designed to make a man fall in love with its author, this was it!)
Her second suicide attempt took place shortly. Only five months after the first botched laudanum attempt, she returned to London and, having confirmed that Imlay had a lover, jumped from a bridge after having walked up and down the street in the rain, so that that she would jump in rain-soaked clothes. She anticipated, correctly, that this would make her descent just that more quick.
She was saved by a boatman, and soon after came into the company of William Godwin, whom she married within the year (despite the fact that neither of the two really believed in marriage!). Despite not getting along at first, they ended up deeply in love.
The story goes that the night before she went into labor with her second daughter, Mary Wollstonecraft read Goethe’s novella Sufferings of Young Werther aloud with her husband. The next night she gave birth to the child who would grow up to become Mary Shelley. However, the delivery was “botched, the placenta did not descend, and a doctor’s unwashed hands reached into the womb to tear it out”.
As the character Mya in our play also acknowledges, there is a tragic irony to Mary Wollstonecraft’s death during childbirth, given her own enlightened advocacy of simple hygiene and non-intervention in the care of infants and mothers. “…Suspicious of doctors, she was a believer in wholesomeness and common sense in an age of superstition and quackery.”
Malvika Jolly loves all things gender-bending, time-warped, & body-swapped. She tweets @dinnertheatrics
Originally posted February 21, 2016
by Gannon Reedy
From March 24th through March 27th, The Runaways Lab Theatre will be presenting The Doing Drugs And Dying In Space Ritual: a psychedelic compilation of fourteen short plays of depraved psychedelia. In honor of this momentous occasion, The Runaways is proud to present a true-life account of The D’dyas Space Cult, its history recorded here for the first time.
I asked Laura how a person might contact Tom. Laura said that at the party he made a point of giving his email out to everyone, and that he’d been talking about how he’d never had one until recently and was pretty excited about it. Apparently, Tom had been living off the grid since the early nineties.
I shot him of an email asking more about the cult, and was shocked when I received his response within the hour. We made plans to meet at his house three days later.
After about an hour of driving to Santa Cruz, I pulled off the freeway onto a dirt path. Following his emailed instructions, I drove another twenty minutes into a remote clearing of in Santa Cruz forests.
Tom lives in a small, sturdy house that resembles a Lincoln log cabin. It’s surrounded by a crummy fence: a bunch of posts in the ground linked together by string. (I still wonder what that fence was intended to keep out.) There were a couple chickens wandering around the front, and I could see he had a pretty active garden peeking around the back of the cabin.
There was were no phone lines, wires, or any of the hallmarks of connected society. Asked him how he answered my emails so quickly. Apparently from time to time he drives his truck into town for the local library’s internet connection. Luckily for me, my email got to him right as he logged on. Otherwise, he told me he keeps the house lit and warm with a small generator he has rigged up on the side of the cabin.
I sat on Tom’s couch (really more of a cushioned bench) and drank mint tea, trying to keep things comfortable, making easy introductory small talk. Tom was distracted, clearly nervous, his eyes never managing to hold on anything for more than a few seconds. Periodically he would stand up and look out the window, imitating a casual glance, but clearly to reassure himself we were not being watched.
At one moment early on, Tom picked up a copy of the Best of The Doors double CD from his cluttered coffee table and put it into a 90’s era boombox plugged into the wall. As the baseline for “Break on Through” kicked in in, he asked me what I thought of the band. I swallowed my hatred of The Doors and said “Jim Morrison is a genius.” Tom nodded with approval. “I’ve always been attracted to the free ones, I guess.” He said. Then he asked me if I wanted to see a picture of Frank Golbotti.
He walked to the back of the cabin and brought an old photo album. He opened it to the first page, revealing a photograph of a formally dressed couple in their 50s or 60s sitting on a float with an American and a Swiss flag painted on the side. I tried to take a picture, to that Tom slammed he book shut and screamed: “What the hell are you doing?” He told me that if this man was identified as Frank Golbotti, we’d both be dead. That statement struck me as overdramatic, but I wanted a good interview. I complied.
I asked him if I could at least sketch Golbotti’s face for reference. Tom agreed to the compromise. I only had a few minutes to sketch – as rough as it is, I’ve included it here:
Frank Golbotti, founding leader of the D’Dyas Space Cult, is pictured here with his wife Arlene Golbotti. He wears a suit, a dark hat, and thick rimmed glasses. This photograph was taken at a Swiss Pride Parade in 1962, two years before the first official convergence of D’Dyas.
I moved to turn Tom’s hostilities and learn what he knew about Golbotti before he was high speaker of the cult.
There’s not a lot we know about Golbotti before the beginning of D’Dyas, and frankly, it’s little dry, so I’m going to try to address it and move to the cult happenings a succinctly as I can:
Frank was born around 1915 in the San Joaquin region of California to a family of Swiss immigrants. He was born with a case congenital cataracts, and for the rest of his life he wore large, thick lensed glasses that magnified the size of his eyes. It can be assumed that his family was of some means, because he was well educated during a period of great economic turmoil. Around 1933, he married Arlene Matheson. Around 1938, he obtained an MFA in physics, possibly from the University of California. In 1939 Arlene gave birth to their daughter, Samantha Golbotti. He attempted to join the army to fight in World War II, but was denied for his vision impairments. He claims to have spent the time either designing bombs or researching airplane engines – accounts differ. In 1955, the Golbotti family moved to Santa Cruz County
By all accounts he was known in the first fifty years of his life as a quiet, thoughtful man of a conservative temperament and a doting affection for his wife and daughter.
Golbotti’s quiet life changed drastically when he met self described “burnout loner” Kramer St. John in 1962.
As sparse as information as I can find about Golbotti, he’s practically Abraham Lincoln compared to Kramer St. John – no photographs, no written documents. If it weren’t for the accounts of four different ex-D’Dyas cult members, I have guessed St John was figment of Golbotti’s imagination. I asked Tom if he had any photographs of Kramer. Tom didn’t, so I asked him to sketch a picture of him from memory. This is what he drew*:
Kramer St. John lived a fast and heavy life from the get-go. He was born around 1940 in Milwaukee to a single mother. At the age of 14, he ran away from home, hitchhiking all the way to Laguna Beach, California. From there, he spent the next 10 years making his way up the California coast to Santa Cruz. He was a voracious surfer, and treated the sport as a communion with god.
“In the crest of the wave, at the moment when the momentum of the wave overtakes the board and two possibilities suddenly come into existence: one is the hanging on, one is falling off. And some of these waves, some of these beaches, to fall would be death, flat out. Obviously, I hang through and stay on, but I don’t surf for the ride – I surf for that middle moment. That is the moment I commune with my god, that is the moment I commune with death.“
– Kramer St John**
The other ex members of the D’Dyas cult described him similarly: that he was effusively charismatic with an off kilter and nervy energy. He was also known for making massive claims about his exploits and adventures. He claimed he once murdered a drifter for can of pork and beans. He was also fond of telling people about how he’d been a human Guinea pig with Project MKUltra, the CIA’s illegal LSD experiments. From a smaller personality, these would be totally implausible, but from Kramer, nothing was impossible.
Kramer met Golbotti answering a classified ad for a lab assistant. Golbotti’s longtime assistant had found a job opportunity in San Fransisco. The two met at an Italian coffee shop, where their conversation turned from introductory formalities very quickly. Kramer told Golbotti that he considered interviews to be bunk and that they are inessential for giving the information needed to know a man.
“I was looking at him and I said to him, ‘the purpose of this interview is to find out if I’m smart enough, right? Smart is the capacity to learn and I got that in spades, so there’s nothing for you to decide here.’”
– Kramer St. John**
Kramer announced that he was unsure of Golbotti’s character and that this interview was more for Golbotti to convince Kramer that of his own character. Kramer slammed his elbow on the table, challenging Golbotti to arm wrestle saying: “The only way you can tell the nature of a man is combat, and I’m sure as hell that I can beat your ass.”
Golbotti accepted Kramer’s challenge and won him with little effort. Kramer was stunned: here Kramer was, a young man soundly trounced by this fifty-something stranger. Golbotti must have been equally impressed, because from then on Kramer served full time as Golbotti’s lab assistant.
The two became close very quickly. They would have long philosophical discussions, lasting from their arrival at the lab to the end of the work day. They had a rooted similar outlook on life, but were opened by the other’s opposite tendencies: Golbotti’s pragmatism and Kramer’s brutality. Kramer challenged Golbotti to be more than introspective, to engage physically with the world around him. Likewise, Golbotti encouraged Kramer to turn his intensity inward, to become more thoughtful and his actions calculated.
In spring of 1964, after the lab had shut down and they were the only ones present, Kramer offered Golbotti a tab of acid. Accepting the challenge, Golbotti took it. Golbotti described the trip as a harrowing, surreal experience:
“I saw a space shuttle. It was long and made entirely out of human flesh. I saw it floating in silence for a moment, then it exploded. At first, the flames (which did not burn triumphantly, but rather coagulated with ferocity) thrust out in silence. Then a single, punctuated cluck, the same sound you might make if you clucked your tongue. It was a horrible experience. And yet I was sure I was witnessing total power.”
– Frank Golbotti
Golbotti returned home from the lab at 4 am and recorded everything he’d seen in his journal. He referred to the flesh spacecraft as “The Prophet,” and the clucking sound first as “the Dedias,” then later as “D’Dyas.” Golbotti defined “Dedias” that night as “the echo of power.” He would come to consider every one of his psychedelic trips as the effect of this “echo of power.” This unknowable power would become a major focus for the space cult.
The trip was such an affecting experience that Frank went on to take psychedelics with a great frequency. From that week until the end of his life, Frank would trip three to five times a week, always under the supervision of Kramer, who would later become the first speaker of D’Dyas.
Kramer soon started tripping alongside Golbotti, and often would act as a confrontational force, rather than a reassuring presence. On many accounts he would grab Golbotti by the lapels and scream into his face “Justify your existence.” On a few occasions, fights broke out between the two. Arlene was no doubt horrified when Golbotti returned home those nights, dried blood around his nose and his suits torn and scuffed.
After one such trip turned to violence, both Golbotti and Kramer were sitting on opposite sides of the lab, tending to their wounds, still tripping. Golbotti stood, wrote something down in his notebook and turned to Kramer.
“I see it now,” Golbotti said, “The nature of life is simple. There is everything, and there is nothing. There is nothing and there is more.”
This would become the rallying cry of the D’Dyas space cult: “Nihil Et Amplius: There is nothing and there is more.”
After that day, Golbotti and Frank would invite people from their circles of friends to join them in these psychedelic excursions. This collection of intellectuals and beach bums would become the first acolytes and speakers of the D’Dyas space cult.
When I asked Tom why he drew him in a speedo he told me most of his memories of Kramer were of him walking around the compound in his underwear.
** Quotes obtained from minutes of D’Dyas meetings 1964 – 1965
Originally posted on February 9, 2016
By Gannon Reedy
From March 24th through March 27th, 2016, The Runaways Lab Theatre will be presenting The Doing Drugs And Dying In Space Ritual: a psychedelic compilation of fourteen short plays of depraved psychedelia. In honor of this momentous occasion, The Runaways is proud to present a true-life account of The D’dyas Space Cult, its history recorded here for the first time.
I was introduced to the D’Dyas Space Cult on a trip to Northern California last July. A family member (we’ll call her Laura) told me about a recent high school reunion she’d attended. Her graduating class of 1965 made a habit of meeting up once a year for the last four years, so she knew everyone at the gathering pretty well— except one attendee. We’ll call him “Tom.” She hadn’t seen him since she was seventeen years old; tuns out past fifty years had changed him considerably. He spent the whole night with an uncomfortable smile on his face, hardly saying a word. His hands shook so badly that he dropped a glass of wine on the host’s carpet. He apologized profusely, poured himself a new glass, and promptly dropped it on a different carpet.
Laura noted that as an adult he was strikingly different from the boy she’d known in high school. By her description, he’d been the proverbial “bad boy”: he’d bothered adults with his defiance of social norms, and won over the kids with his charisma (and access to marijuana). He’d worn paisley shirts with the first four buttons undone, and plain black boots perpetually spattered with mud. Sometimes he’d take his father’s Oldsmobile and drive Laura and her friends around. He’d show off by smoking his father’s cigarettes and expounding passionately about his life as a self-proclaimed “outsider.”
Talking points included the clarity tripping on LSD had given his life, the brutal truth of Machiavelli’s The Prince, and, most notably, the teachings of local spiritualist Frank Golbotti.
But near the end of Laura’s Junior year, Tom vanished. His disappearance caused a huge stir in the community. Students were questioned, search parties were organized, but no one, not even Tom’s closest friends, had a clear indication what had happened to him. In the months before his disappearance he’d been distant, avoiding social interactions and taking any opportunity to spend time away from people, presumably alone and tripping.
His disappearance had left Laura heartbroken. She’d fostered an unrequited crush on Tom. The last interaction she had with him before the party was signing his yearbook in ’64, weeks before his disappearance. She’d written him a long, earnest message, hinting at her feelings. His message to her was more succinct, though cryptic. When I saw what he’d written, I got chills. Surrounded by the crisp, clean penmanship of the other students, his stands out as perverse, nervy, and spider-like: somewhere between a childlike scratch a prophetic scrawl.
“NIHIL ET AMPLIUS
Four days later, I sat in Tom’s living room, in a house he built with his own hands— situated in a clearing far displaced from humanity. He brought me a cup of mint tea that he held with both hands.
Since reading this entry in Laura’s yearbook, I have been consumed by the history of D’dyas and its founder, Francis Andrew Golbotti.
I wasn’t anticipating writing the history of The D’Dyas Space Cult; I am neither a historian nor a writer by trade. Considering the nation’s love of weirdo cults and their disastrous fallouts, I assumed the information would be easy to find online. To my surprise, my searches turned up nothing but shadows of D’Dyas’ influence.
It has been brutally difficult to eke out a narrative from this source material. I’ve interviewed a number of its members, past and present. All requested anonymity, much to my frustration. However, I must respect their wishes. It’s strange – even people who only had a passing encounter with the cult or with Golbotti have been profoundly affected, seemingly convinced that speaking about it publicly would lead to a horrible fate. The truth of the history of D’Dyas is elusive in nature.
To that point: I have noticed that when discussing the supernatural or strange, there tends to be a knee jerk reaction of cynicism, eye-rolling condescension, and demands of proof or scientific validity of spiritualist claims. People are inclined to feel skeptical of things that cannot be proven. That’s a good, healthy impulse.
Unfortunately, the nature of the history of D’dyas is nothing but questionable claims, gossip, and hearsay. It is one of the rare histories undocumented by the internet era: its relics and artifacts exist solely in the physical realm, in overexposed photographs, in hissing tape, and in the stories of its shell-shocked former members. Most of what I’ve discovered is based on accounts from sources that are likely not entirely reliable. I wish I could give more clarity to their wild claims, but unfortunately I lack the resources. However, what drew me to this cult was never the facts, but the feeling, the philosophical promise, and the pragmatic psychedelia of its worldview.
To those skeptics, I invite you to put yourselves in the place of these D’Dyas initiates (or acolytes) and consider what would bring a person to seek out a similar cult. Embrace those feelings, and open yourself to the promise, the fear, and the ecstasy of The D’Dyas Space Cult.
Nihil et Amplius,