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Albee will help celebrate off-off Broadway's rise

"Everybody was young, enthusiastic, and bright-eyed. Nobody was famous. There was no jealousy."

Edward Albee recalls New York's alternative theater scene in the late 1950s and early '60s as an inspired time.

"It was a wonderful time to be involved in the arts," the playwright says by phone from Montauk, N.Y. Albee recalls "learning about the avant-garde theater, learning from European playwrights like Ionesco and Genet, seeing new American work being done by theaters congenial to them. Not only theater -- in those days the arts were very inventive and exciting. Things hadn't become so commercial and middlebrow."

The nascent off- off-Broadway movement exploded in Greenwich Village and the East Village in the '60s. The gritty one-acts that sprang up in the back rooms of bars and other tiny spaces displayed a freedom of topic and style eons away from the bright lights on Broadway.

"It was a bunch of young creative people, in some cases, gifted people, who gravitated to New York City in the early '60s -- writers, singers, actors," says Phoebe Wray , who directed and acted in some of those productions. Joe Cino ran Caffe Cino , a West Village coffeehouse. "He allowed people to sing, read poetry, and , when people asked him, to put on shows," Wray says. "A lot of us saw those plays, and said 'I can do that, too.' It was a very exciting time."

Plays by Albee, Sam Shepard , and Lanford Wilson found homes off- off-Broadway. Ellen Stewart's theater company, La MaMa ETC , was a powerhouse of activity.

In the last four years, there's been a surge of interest in this fecund time. Three books have been published, says Wray, who teaches theater history and cultural history at Boston Conservatory. And she has masterminded a retrospective event, "A Place to Say Something: A Celebration of the Off-Off-Broadway Movement of the '60s, " next Thursday through Sunday at the Conservatory.

Albee will speak when the celebration kicks off Thursday night with a reception and book launch of "Back to the Caffe Cino," a collection of plays produced at the Cino between 1959 and 1967. Albee will be on a panel with other playwrights from those years, including William M. Hoffman , Robert Heide , and Michael McGrinder , as well as George White , founder of the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center. (Wilson, originally scheduled to take part, has withdrawn because of scheduling conflicts.)

On Friday, five one-act plays will be presented by Conservatory students, followed by a discussion with playwrights. On Saturday, the 50-year-old Living Theater will present a workshop of the company's techniques, resulting in a short improvised play. That evening brings a panel on historical perspectives and anti-establishment and gay theater, followed by four more plays. And on Sunday, three more plays, including one by Wray, will be performed.

The time is ripe for such a gathering, she says. No one is getting any younger.

"That's why we need to get them together now," Wray says.

At the Boston Conservatory Zack Box Theater, 8 The Fenway. Free, but tickets are required: 617-912-9222 by Tuesday, then 617-912-9144.

Enticing theatergoers
Theaters are dreaming up new ways to get warm bodies into those seats. Broadway Across America -- Boston, the folks bringing "Altar Boyz" here, ran an ad in local media outlets inviting patrons to text message a special number to get a $20 discount through Ticketmaster for two performances this week (they're now over). It's a marketing initiative that press representative Ann Sheehan says will also be used for "STOMP" and other shows.

For the first time, the Huntington Theatre Company has also offered a money-back guarantee for new subscribers. If they didn't like the first two shows, they could get their money back. The company is happy to report that so far, no one has taken it up on the offer. The American Repertory Theatre has a similar guarantee.

Nelle Harper Lee's Pulitzer Prize-winning classic, "To Kill a Mockingbird," will be presented at Roxbury Community College tonight through Nov. 11. Marshall Hughes and Robbie McCauley direct. At Media Arts Building, 1234 Columbus Ave. Tickets: $5-$10. 617-541-5381. . . . "Wrestling With Angels: Playwright Tony Kushner," directed by Academy Award winner Freida Lee Mock , will have its Boston premiere as part of the 18th annual Boston Jewish Film Festival with one screening , Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Museum of Fine Arts' Remis Auditorium. Former Globe theater critic Ed Siegel will introduce, and cinematographer Bestor Cram will speak. Tickets: $9-$10. 617-369-3306; 866-468-7619; . . . Actors' Shakespeare Project's "Hamlet" has been extended through Nov. 17 at the Strand . "Sammy!" which traces the development of Gandhi into a world leader, plays tonight only at John Hancock Hall. Tickets: $37.

(Correction: Because of incorrect information supplied by the Boston Conservatory, the Stages column in Friday's Weekend section had an incorrect title for the book "Return to the Caffe Cino.")

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