From Buffalo to San Francisco
After years of working in theater in the Buffalo area, NY City, and Toronto, Joseph Krysiak felt like making a move. In 1969 he packed his belongings into a truck and moved to San Francisco with his wife Judith and a cat. Judith took a job at a Nob Hill hotel and Joe perused the newspapers looking for space to rent for a new theater.
Joe heard about Project One and went to check it out, but it was full and there was no space for a theater, but he got the idea of making his own project in a different building. He found the 499 Alabama building which rented for $10,000.00 a month, around 2.5 cents a square foot, but, he needed a $3,000 deposit to close the deal. He met Susan, a former Navy engineer, who and had saved some money for a sex change and she agreed to finance the deposit.
Joe set up the 499 Alabama Corporation to handle the account. He rented space in the building to other artists for six cents square foot, which, in retrospect, he realizes was a mistake. He should have charged more.
Although he originally took out the lease with the intention of building a theater, Joe first had to cope with the monstrous task of cleaning and remodeling the space for his theatre to live. So he turned himself into a construction manager, locating and organizing large shipments of construction materials.
He cut a 0% interest deal with National Gypsum for delivery of sheetrock which he sold to the tenants at costs, and found a source for metal studs and 1 X 12 pinewood shelving. The pine was used to cover large portions of the creosote-soaked floors. Some people tried a surface scraper on the floor but it was a long and cumbersome job and the extra layer of wood worked best to keep the oil from seeping to the surface.
Susan was a great partner in many ways. She used the crane to unload big pallets of sheetrock, metal studs, wood and other materials into the theater bay from the Florida Street truck dock, and then got the elevator humming.
Soon after he procured the lease, Joe started to collect tenants to pay for the place and ended up with a strange assortment of characters: the hoarder C-Ray, Black Sheep Press, fabric artists, theater and circus performers, leather workers, painters, sculptors, jewelers, photographers, cinematographers, artists of all stripes and colors, famous and infamous, and Dan Brown, a house-builder.
Dan Brown's House-Building School
Dan wanted space to teach house-building techniques by building a house on the property. At first he wanted to build the house outdoors, then he decided to build it in the big theater space. He built it, de-constructed it, and built it again, until the fire department made him take it down for good, but not before the school had attracted a group of talented artisans and tradesmen in the construction industry as tenants, who repaired the heating system, kept the plumbing and electricity flowing and the elevator humming. Not only talented and artistic people were attracted to Project Artaud.
Unfortunately, there were scores of crazies walking in the unlocked doors as well. There was one really weird young guy, they was later discovered to be on elephant tranquilizers. He would get up in the middle of the night and run around chasing people with a ax. It took a while to get rid of him because the cops would have nothing to do with him. Finally they managed to get him into a hospital.
Joe and his team of managers, attempted to hold weekly tenant meetings to allow everyone some semblance of participation in running the place. Not many people came to the meetings, but, of course they then complained about the way things were handled.
Joe attempted to get back into his theater work when he met Ferlinghetti, who called to rent the theater for a poetry reading he was producing with Yevtashenko and Broshenski. This became a huge deal, with international attention which put Project Artaud on the map. The fire department came to investigate and freaked. No way could they have huge numbers of people in that space with no fire exits, etc. Mayor Agnos intervened and told them to “find a way”. The only way the fire chief could figure it out was to station fire engines on all four sides of the building. So the first big event at Project Artaud, was staged with fire engines. The relationship with Ferlinghetti became very important to Joe. When left Artaud Joe started City Lights Poetry Theatre with Lawrence.
The notoriety from the Ferlinghetti event brought other events producers out of the woodwork. After the non-profit Project Artaud Corporation was set up, one of the members with the Ant Farm brought the heir to the “Piggly Wiggly” fortune, who produced one of the biggest free events ever ever staged in San Francisco. They set up huge inflatables, hired Sun Ra and advertised free food. During the height of the hippie movement in San Francisco in the 1970s, anything free was popular and this was way too big.
Everyone at Artaud watched in awe as the public streamed in and did the kind of weird things the public does. The immensity of that event caused many to want to scale back on the public image. In 1971 there was a big fire in Noel Perentti’s Dance Studio resulting in a considerable amount of damage to annex section of the building. Even though there were fire sprinklers in that part of the property they were not turned on. When the insurance company offered a $10,000 settlement, the non-profit Project Artaud used the money for a down payment to purchase the property from Pacific Pipe. They were only too willing to unload what was considered a white elephant onto the backs of a bunch of hippie artists.
Public exposure brought problems with the local Latino community. Gangs were coming onto the property attacking people. There was a stabbing incident in the parking lot, when a tenant struck back in self-defense. Some members of Artaud feared retaliation and armed themselves.
Fortunately there was no escalation in violence and the neighborhood thugs got the message that all the hippies were not peaceful willing victims. Other matters of concern and stress were making Artaud less of a picnic for Joe and Judy. There was a strange guy in the parking lot who wanted to rent the theater space for a church, which Joe objected to. Joe was having issues with a splinter group of second floor tenants, who didn’t like the way management was operating. Collecting rents from poor people had always been a problem, but it was getting worse. Meetings he conducted with the concerned parties were unproductive.
Joe needed a break. He was overworked and tired of fighting to keep it together. Even though he had not found anyone to turn the project over to, he took off to the Redwoods for a week to cool down and relax. The longer he stayed away the better he felt. By the end of the week Joe thought he was ready to face it again, but, as he drove up to the building the old pains and anxiety returned. He knew it was time to bow out of the construction phase and go back to his theatre roots. Some time ago Joe had realized that the huge theater space was He had was inappropriate for his intimate style of theatre, so he hooked up with Lawrence Ferlinghetti, started City Lights Poetry Theatre, and left Project Artaud to fend for itself.
The Early Years
When Joe was studying graphic design at University of Buffalo in upstate New York, he was enamored of a female modern dance student who invited him along for a play she was auditioning for. He said, “Why would you want to be in this play, these people are awful.” She dared him to try and see how much better he could do. He took the dare and won a part, discovered he loved the stage. The play was “On the Town” by Leonard Bernstein.
Prior to acting Joe had a stutter. Once he went on stage the stutter went away. He became very serious about theater, studying in Toronto and at the New York City at Actors’ Workshop. There he met people who invited him to the San Diego Shakespeare Festival in 1965. He got his first taste of Hollywood types and he found them to be superficial. He returned to Buffalo started directing so he could perform the pieces he wanted to perform.
Mac Mahoney operated a small coffee shop in Buffalo called The Green Sleeve which he sold to Joe. After running the coffee shop with musicians and poets performing for a while Joe decided to tear it down and rebuild it into a small theater with 70-80 raked seats. He produced, directed and designed sets the way he envisioned them.
Joe’s work caught the eye of other producers and he was offered shows at the Albright Knox Gallery, where he was hired to direct some of the shows the wanted by Ianesco and contemporary Spanish and German playwrights. He stayed as long as the material interested him, them left. Offers started coming in from all over and grants as well.
Some important university people who invited him to a theater after party and he brought along the mixed race cast of the show he was working with at the time. The host was furious, and called him into a room where he screamed at him for bring uninvited guests, and insisted that they leave. Joe calmly left the room, gathered the troupe, told them to drink one more drink and then they would all get up and leave in unison. That is what they did. He later found out he was being courted for a position at the university. Needless to say, he failed that test.
Joe prefers to start projects, but day to day routine is a killer for him. When he was in the army in Germany during the Korean war, Joe was sent to code school and trained in typing translations on the mill. As long as it was a challenge he was fulfilled by it, but once it became routine he lost interest.
Creative Life in Massachusetts
Today Joe lives a creative life outside the theater with his wife Mimi in the Berkshires in Massachusetts. Mimi is a distinguished upholsterer and runs a successful shop. Joe helps with a little wood finishing, loves to cook in his recently remodeled kitchen, take care of the house, play with the dogs, feed the thousand of birds that depend on him every winter, work out at the gym and play golf.
Joe feels that he experienced the hottest theater from the 1960’s to 1975 and doesn’t care much for the derivative shows that are going on now. His biggest passion is astrophysics and cosmology. He reads avidly, doesn’t accept the big bang theory, and yearns for more positive thinking on the whole creative process.
As far as Joe is concerned, anything you do for money is a job and you should like what you do with your time rather than chasing after money.