Who is H. P. Lovecraft?

Who was H. P. Lovecraft? Theater Pub Co-Founder Stuart Bousel, who adapts and directs his classic story The Dunwhich Horror has the answers (thanks in large part to Wikipedia):

H. P. Lovecraft was born on August 20, 1890, in Providence, Rhode Island. He was the only child of Winfield Scott Lovecraft, a traveling salesman, and Sarah Susan Phillips Lovecraft, who was a direct descendant of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630. In 1893, when Lovecraft was three, his father became acutely psychotic in a Chicago hotel room while on a business trip and was taken back to Providence and placed in Butler Hospital, where he remained until his death in 1898. After his father’s hospitalization, Lovecraft was raised by his mother, his two aunts, and his maternal grandfather. All five resided together in the family home. Lovecraft was a prodigy, reciting poetry at the age of three and writing complete poems by six. His grandfather encouraged his reading while his mother, on the other hand, worried that these stories would lead to conditions similar to her husband’s. Lovecraft was frequently ill as a child and due to his sickly condition and his undisciplined, argumentative nature, he barely attended school until he was eight years old, and then was withdrawn after a year. He read voraciously during this period and became especially enamored of chemistry and astronomy. He produced several hectographed publications with a limited circulation beginning in 1899 with The Scientific Gazette. Four years later, he returned to public school at Hope High School.

His grandfather’s death in 1904 greatly affected Lovecraft’s life. Mismanagement of his grandfather’s estate left his family in such a poor financial situation they were forced to move. Lovecraft was so deeply affected by the loss of his home and birthplace that he contemplated suicide for a time. In 1908, prior to his high school graduation, he himself claimed to have suffered what he later described as a “nervous breakdown”, and consequently never received his high school diploma (although he maintained for most of his life that he did graduate). This failure to complete his education (he wished to study at Brown University) was a source of disappointment and shame even late into his life. In 1919, after suffering from hysteria and depression for a long period of time, Lovecraft’s mother was committed to Butler Hospital just like her husband before her. Nevertheless, she wrote frequent letters to Lovecraft, and they remained very close until her death on May 21, 1921, the result of complications from gall bladder surgery. Lovecraft was devastated by the loss.

Lovecraft wrote some fiction as a youth but, from 1908 until 1913, his output was primarily poetry. During that time, he lived a hermit’s existence, having almost no contact with anyone but his mother. This changed when he wrote a letter to The Argosy, a pulp magazine, complaining about the insipidness of the love stories of one of the publication’s popular writers. The ensuing debate in the magazine’s letters column caught the eye of Edward F. Daas, President of the United Amateur Press Association (UAPA), who invited Lovecraft to join them in 1914. This reinvigorated Lovecraft and incited him to contribute many poems and essays. In 1917, at the prodding of correspondents, he returned to fiction with more polished stories, such as “The Tomb” and “Dagon”. The latter was his first professionally-published work, appearing in The Vagrant (November, 1919) and Weird Tales in 1923. Around that time, he began to build up a huge network of correspondents, including Robert Bloch (“Psycho”), Clark Ashton Smith  and Robert E. Howard (“Conan the Barbarian”).

A few weeks after his mother’s death, Lovecraft attended an amateur journalist convention in Boston where he met Sonia Greene. They married in 1924, and the couple moved to Brooklyn where Greene owned a hat shop. Initially, Lovecraft was enthralled by New York, but soon the couple was facing financial difficulties. Greene lost her hat shop and suffered poor health. Lovecraft could not find work to support them both, so his wife moved to Cleveland for employment. Lovecraft lived by himself in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn and came to dislike New York life intensely, a sentiment he sublimated in the short story “The Horror At Red Hook.” A few years later, Lovecraft and his wife, still living separately, agreed to an amicable divorce, which was never fully completed. He returned to Providence to live with his aunts during their remaining years.

Back in Providence, Lovecraft lived in a “spacious brown Victorian wooden house” at 10 Barnes Street until 1933. The same address is given as the home of Dr. Willett in Lovecraft’s only novel, “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward”. The period after his return to Providence — the last decade of his life — was Lovecraft’s most prolific. In that time he produced almost all of his best-known short stories (“The Call of Cthulhu”, “The Thing on the Doorstep”, “The Dreams in the Witch-House”, “The Haunter in the Dark”, “The Dunwich Horror”, “The Rats in the Walls”, “The Shadow over Innsmouth”, “The Shunned House”) for the leading pulp publications of the day (primarily Weird Tals), as well as longer efforts, such as the stream of consciousness novella, “At The Mountains of Madness”. He frequently revised work for other authors and did a large amount of ghost writing, including “Under The Pyramids” (also known as “Imprisoned With the Pharaohs”) for Harry Houdini. Despite his best writing efforts, however, he grew ever poorer. He was forced to move to smaller and meaner lodgings with his surviving aunt. He was also deeply affected by Robert E. Howard’s suicide. In 1936, Lovecraft was diagnosed with cancer of the intestine, and he also suffered from malnutrition. He lived in constant pain until his death on March 15, 1937, in Providence.

Lovecraft was listed along with his parents on the Phillips family monument. That was not enough for his fans, so in 1977 a group of them raised the money to buy him a headstone of his own in Swan Point cemetery, on which they had inscribed Lovecraft’s name, the dates of his birth and death, and the phrase “I AM PROVIDENCE”, a line from one of his personal letters. Though only a modest success in his lifetime, interest in his work has progressively escalated with every passing decade. Iconic American authors Stephen King and Joyce Carole Oates list him as a principal influence on their work and British writers Clive Barker, Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore also consider him to have had a profound affect on their artistic visions. Film-makers John Carpenter, Guillermo del Toro, Stuart Gordon and Daniel Gildark have all tried their hand at interpreting his work to film and Jorge Luis Borges wrote “There Are More Things” in memory of Lovecraft. Heavy metal bands Black Sabbath and Metallica both have numerous songs referencing Lovecraft’s work, as does the best-selling game “World of Warcraft”. The Necronomicon, Lovecraft’s invented spellbook of the damned, has become so iconic in pop-culture that claims to its actual existence continue to this day, ironically make the most famous book Lovecraft ever wrote, one that has yet to be written.

The H. P. Lovecraft Festival begins October 18 with The Shunned House. Join us again on October 19 for three Lovecraft shorts and finally on October 25 for The Dunwich Horror. All shows are performed in the Cafe Royale Bar (800 Post St, San Francisco, at Leavenworth). 8pm curtain. Admission free.

‘Wilde Card’ Deals an Ace. Lovecraft Looms for October

Wilde Card stormed by on September 20 with clashing swords and clinking glasses, and Theater Pub’s got something even more sinister in mind for Halloween – three adaptations of stories from the master of horror, H.P. Lovecraft.

The H. P. Lovecraft Festival begins October 18 with The Shunned House. Join us again on October 19 for three Lovecraft shorts and finally on October 25 for The Dunwich Horror. All plays are presented radio play style, adapted and directed by local writers.

All shows are performed in the Cafe Royale Bar (800 Post St, San Francisco, at Leavenworth), 8pm curtain. Admission, as always, is free.

Sara Judge on Music for Wilde Card

In preparation for Monday’s WILDE CARD, singer-songwriter Sara Judge shared some thoughts about her work and composing music for the event.

Like many other people in this world I am a songwriter. I’ve been writing songs for as long as I can remember. What makes songs different from poems is, not much, you sing them. When I was in second grade I carried around a composition book and wrote songs down as they came to me and I sang them into the air. I numbered each one and I remember the day I reached 16. It seemed like such a high number—the kids at school were impressed. Some early titles include Paradise (“a place where you want to be”), and Witchy Wind (“leave me alone witchy wind”). In the fourth grade I’d apparently found most of these early songs to have been so juvenile and embarrassing that I ripped the pages out of my book and threw them away, leaving only songs 1, 4 and 7. If only I still had those cruelly discarded songs. What does a second grader, a third grader write about?

Of course today, so many years later, I really actually make songs with guitar and perform them. The process is much the same. The wind or the sun or a thought demands attention—“grab a pen,” or “record this!” and I write or sing whatever comes out, usually simultaneously on guitar and vocals. From there, I look at the words, I listen to the recordings of the melodies and I massage and rewrite and contemplate so that something true is expressed. My songs always come from me, through me.

This was the first time I’ve attempted to turn words that have come through someone else into music and melody. It felt clunky and almost as if I was cheating on someone. I looked through Wilde’s poems trying to find the ones that resonated with me. I’d never read any of Wilde’s poems before, although I knew him as a playwright—most famously The Importance of Being Earnest.

So I chose the poems. They seemed so structured, so formal and kind of antiquated (not in a good way).  I forced myself to start working on the guitar part for “By the Arno.” Something clicked and this little classical-like arpeggio piece started rolling out. Next, add “lyrics.” Once I lifted the words from the page and began singing them, I felt as though I was meeting Oscar Wilde, the man, for the first time. These words were so true, so deeply conscious and sensitive, emotional. These words, like my own, came from his heart. And suddenly, becoming so intimate with them, made them even more beautiful to me. I could see source, the heart, and I could feel the motivation, the subtleties of emotion, as if I’d written it myself. In the process, I gained a deeper understanding of my own compositions, my own poetry and my own lyrics. (And if it’s not taking too much away from Mr. Wilde, you can listen to some of them at www.sarajudge.com.) I hope you enjoy the performances. Above all, I wanted to keep it simple and let the words be clear, so that you could feel as though you were reading these exquisite poems to yourself.

-Sara Judge

WILDE CARD, which features performances of Oscar Wilde’s The Florentine TragedyLa Saint Courtesan, and original music by Sara Judge inspired by the writer performs once and only once on Monday, September 20 at the Cafe Royale Bar (800 Post, at Leavenworth). Admission is free, with a suggested donation. Performance begins at 8pm.

Wilde Card One Night Only, Monday

San Francisco Theater Pub is back with a witty vengance this Monday with WILD CARD. Two amazing, rarely performed short plays by Oscar Wilde, original music inspired by his writing, a sword fight in a bar, a beer on tap – what more can one ask for? Be there to watch Theater Pub deal another ace.

WILDE CARD, which features performances of Oscar Wilde’s The Florentine TragedyLa Saint Courtesan, and original music inspired by the writer performs once and only once on Monday, September 20 at the Cafe Royale Bar (800 Post, at Leavenworth). Admission is free, with a suggested donation. Performance begins at 8pm.

Stuart Bousel on Oscar Wilde

In preparation for our September WILDE CARD event, director and producer Stuart Bousel had this to say about the man, the work, and working with the man’s work.

Oscar Wilde- brilliant, egotistical, tragic- is one of those historical/literary figures whose interest and appeal never seems to fade- something Wilde himself would have been happy to know, considering his penchant for extravagant parties, flashy clothes and double-edged wit. The man aspired to not just create art, but also to live art, creating a very dramatic- and very public- persona that made him the toast of the London social circuit before becoming one of the Victorian Age’s blackest of black sheep. He believed deeply in art for art’s sake, beauty as an end unto itself, and never doing anything in bad taste or cheaply if one could help it. Though before the press and audiences he espoused scandalous philosophies such as atheism, homosexuality and amoralism, he was also a surprisingly humane and compassionate man who believed one could appreciate ideas one didn’t believe in, extoll the lifestyle of the rich without turning one’s back on the poor, and love deeply and truly to the point of sacrificing one’s self entirely to sustain the joy of another person’s existence. He was a romantic at heart, even as he helped bring about the end of romanticism. He saw the value in almost anything, so long as it was done in a way that enriched the tapestry of the larger world.

Wilde’s early work is marked by soaring, florid language and an almost comical melodramatic flair to the personalities he explores: women who love to the point of murder, men who are devoured by their own emotional hysteria, scathing wits and ascetic intellectuals, deeply superstitious and plebeian commoners, terrifyingly holy and untouchable religious icons. He was particularly fascinated by the conjunction of the beautiful and the cruel- whether that cruelty was found in the blind vanity of an adulterous set of lovers, like in The Florentine Tragedy, or in the exacting nature of divine perspective the requires one to abdicate all earthly pleasure to achieve sublime grace, as in La Saint Courtesan. His works are simultaneously over the top in their twisting verbal acrobatics of descriptions and details, and simple in their presentment of human emotions as essentially uncomplicated but often too powerful to be controlled. His characters often do and say outrageous things and yet somehow also come off as helpless and vulnerable, his point being that even the wisest and strongest of us are often reduced (or elevated, depending on your view) to vitriolic children when gripped in the strong claws of passion, desire, despair and wonder.

The two pieces we have chosen for theater pub are ones that are rarely performed. Though The Florentine Tragedy- which according to legend Wilde never completed because he lost the original draft in a taxi coach- has in the last fifty years become a staple of one-act collections, La Saint Courtesan is only finally achieving the recognition it deserves as a thematic and stylistic pre-curser to Salome. Both pieces make for excellent introductions to the world and style of Wilde- a genius whose output was tragically cut short in part by the prejudices of the time, but also by his own hubris and failure to control his own passionate nature. Becoming the very type of person he so frequently chose to write about, Wilde was ultimately able to achieve his goal of living life as boldly as a work of art. Unfortunately, the story of his life became more tragic than romantic.

WILDE CARD, which features performances of Oscar Wilde’s The Florentine Tragedy, La Saint Courtesan, and original music inspired by the writer performs once and only once on Monday, September 20 at the Cafe Royale Bar (800 Post, at Leavenworth). Admission is free, with a suggested donation. Performance begins at 8pm.

Pint Sized Are Downed. Now It’s Time To Get Wilde.

After three sold out performances, THE PINT SIZED PLAYS have come to a end. This was a big one for the San Francisco Theater Pub – the biggest houses, the largest number of collaborators, and, far in a way, the most beer consumed. All in all, a resounding success for a theater operating out of a bar.

But next month we’ve got our eyes set on something Wilder, in a manner of speaking. In WILDE CARD, Theater Pub C0-Founder Stuart Bousel will direct two rarely produced shorts by Oscar Wilde – La Saint Courtesan and The Florentine Tragedy – accompanied by original music from Sara Judge inspired by Wilde’s writing. Internationally celebrated as a paradigm of wit and wisdom, Theater Pub is excited to share an often overlooked side of Wilde’s genius in a cordial bar atmosphere. There will also be, for the first time in Theater Pub history, a sword fight in the bar! Huzzah!

The performance is one night only Monday September 20, 8pm at the Cafe Royale. It would be a tragedy to miss it. Drink is the curse of the working class. Wilde is the gift of the Theater Pub.