On his death in 1987 The New York Times said that he was "one of the most innovative and prolific artists in the theater avant-garde" (Kaufman, 1), but Charles Ludlam was not so easily categorized as the gender-bending, sex and drug-filled plays of the Theater of the Ridiculous would suggest. He was more complex than appears at first glance, and one of his most successful plays, Bluebeard, does not involve cross-dressing. This paper will examine how Ludlam created the Theatre of the Ridiculous through his writing and performing and how, in a paradoxical fashion, he also moved beyond such easy genre-definitions into his own unique form of theatre. Ludlam was openly gay before it was easy to be so, even within the theatre, and yet he dismissed the idea of a "gay community" in famous San Francisco comments (Kaufman, 1). In the same way, he invented a particular kind of theatre, but steadfastly refused to be limited by it.
Ludlam was born and raised on Long Island and discovered his penchant and talent for acting in high school. He wore his hair long during he Fifties, before it was fashionable to do so and was even more-or-less openly gay at the same time. Thus started his life-long tendency to buck conventional standards and be a complete individual. His acting was regarded as so ludicrous as a teenager that some amateur companies refused to cast him, not because of a lack of talent, but because he had too much talent and was perceived as being potentially damaging to other actors (Kaufman, 3). This was a tendency that meant that he essentially had to create his own theatre on graduating from Hofstra University with a degree in Theatre in 1964.
Camille might be regarded as "quintessential Ludlam because it has elements of so many different theatrical references" (Busch, 1) As Busch continues, the play is, in one sense at least, a compendium of Ludlam's huge theatre knowledge, with references to Wilde and Ibsen, among others. This bricoleur type of writing style - taking material from wherever the playwright feels there will be valuable material without considering whether it makes a logical whole, is the essential element of Ludlam's craft.
In a sense this type of playwriting, and the performance that comes from it, has its origins deep in the history of theatre. From Aristophanes' commentary on his contemporary politics and the Tragedies of the day (Brockett, 12) to Commedia Del Arte, and to much of performance art there is a long tradition within theatre of piecing together a work from the "garbage of popular culture and recycling it into something rather golden and perhaps garish" (Busch, 1). By "garbage" there is no attempt to apply a qualitative value to the material, but rather to suggest that on their own, these odd allusions to specific moments, performances, sections of plays and even specific words would amount to little. It is within the context of a rounded performance that they become something of value.
In Camille Ludlam takes a well-known story and uses it for his