When American metaphysical religion appears onstage, it most often manifests in the subject matter and dramaturgies of experimental theater. In the artistic ferment of the 1960s and 1970s counterculture, theater-makers looked both to alternative dramaturgies and alternative religions to create radical works of political, social, and spiritual transformation. While the ritual experiments of European avant-garde artists like Artaud and Grotowski informed their work, American theater-makers also found inspiration in the dramas of Gertrude Stein, and many of these companies (the Living Theatre and the Wooster Group, most notably) either staged her work or claimed a direct influence (like Richard Foreman). Stein herself, though not a practitioner of metaphysical religion, spent formative years in Cambridge, Massachusetts, at Radcliffe under the tutelage of William James. Cambridge, at the turn of the twentieth century, was a hotbed of spiritualism, theosophy, alternative healing modalities, and James, in addition to running the psychology lab in which Stein studied, ran a multitude of investigations on extrasensory and paranormal phenomena. This article traces a web of associations connecting Ralph Waldo Emerson, Transcendentalism, and liberal Protestantism to Gertrude Stein and landscape dramaturgy to the midcentury avant-garde, the countercultural religious seeking of the 1960s and 1970s, and the Off-Off-Broadway movement.
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