|Address||31 Cornelia St|
New York City
Caffe Cino was an Off-Off-Broadway theater founded in 1958 by Joe Cino. The West Village coffeehouse, located at 31 Cornelia Street, was initially imagined as a venue for poetry, folk music, and visual art exhibitions. The plays produced at the Cino, however, became most prominent, and it is now considered the "birthplace of Off-Off-Broadway".
Beginnings and early productions
Joe Cino was born into an Italian-American family, and moved from Buffalo, New York to be a dancer in New York City. After ten years, he used his $400 in savings and opened the "Caffe Cino Art Gallery". Initially, Cino encouraged his friends to hang their artwork on the walls. That led to poetry readings, which led to staged readings and eventually to productions of plays.
During the early days of the Cino, plays were produced on the floor. A makeshift 8x8-foot stage was later created using milk cartons and carpet remnants. Productions were initially limited to 30 minutes, and the audience could stand anywhere. The space was only 18x30-feet, and audience members often perched atop the cigarette machine. Admission was one dollar, and audience members were offered a coffee and an Italian pastry along with the show.
The fire (1965) and Joe Cino's death (1967)
On Ash Wednesday of 1965, a fire destroyed the interior of the Cino. The building's structure was not affected. A new lighting system had recently been installed, along with the fireproofing of the Caffe's ceiling, which prevented the fire from spreading to the rest of the tenement building. The official cause of the fire was a gas leak, but some suspected that Cino's lover set the fire. The community raised money by staging benefit performances while the Caffe was closed for renovations. Ellen Stewart, founder of La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club, offered Cino and his staff a space to continue Caffe Cino productions on Sunday and Monday nights at her theater.
The Caffe Cino was an incubator for first-time directors, playwrights, actors, and lighting or set designers. Many continued to work in stage, screen, or both after the Cino closed. Notable contributors include:
- Steven McElroy (December 7, 2001). "Portal to Off Off Broadway's Early Days". The New York Times. Retrieved April 9, 2018.
- Natasha Frost (February 9, 2018). "The Gay Coffeehouse Where Off-Off Broadway Theater Was Born". Atlas Obscura. Retrieved April 9, 2018.
- Dusica Sue Malesevic (December 2, 2015). "'Magic Time' at the Caffe Cino". The Villager (Manhattan). Retrieved April 9, 2018.
- Tony Ortega (September 10, 2009). "Caffe Cino Goes Up in Smoke". The Village Voice. Retrieved April 9, 2018.
- Caffe Cino on La MaMa Archives Digital Collections
- 75 pages of captioned photos from/relating to the Caffe Cino (plus links to other photos and print, audio, and video interviews with Cino people)
- on YouTube
- Caffe Cino exhibit at Lincoln Center (1985)[permanent dead link]
- New York Innovative Theatre Awards
- Doric Wilson on the Caffe Cino
- 1961 recording of Doric Wilson's "And He Made a Her" (introduced by voice of Joe Cino)
- Michael Smith on the Caffe Cino.
- Donald L. Brooks' Cino play
- William M. Hoffman's video interviews with Cino people (interviews #13, 14, 15, 16)
- Richard Bucks' reviews of six off-off-Broadway books
- Robert Patrick's history of the Cino
- James Gossage photographs, 1965–1975 Billy Rose Theatre Division, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts
- Robert Patrick papers, c. 1940–1984 Billy Rose Theatre Division, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts
- Photograph of 22 off-off-Broadway playwrights (1966)
- Photograph of Cino interior in 1961 and photograph of Cino interior in 1967
- Observations on "Warhol People" at the Cino
- Robert Patrick's Village Voice interview about the Caffe Cino (May 2009)