Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Billy J. Harbin


Often considered the first off-off-Broadway theatre, Caffe Cino opened in December 1958 on a quiet street in New York's Greenwich Village. As proprietor Joseph Cino later explained, his goal was to provide a venue in which friends could enjoy coffee, conversation, and artistic events (including lectures, art displays, poetry readings, and play readings). Because of their popularity, the play readings quickly developed into fully-staged performances and supplanted all other artistic endeavors. By the early 1960s, the Caffe offered a demanding production schedule, with performances at 9:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. every day and additional performances at 1:00 a.m. on the weekend; a show typically ran for one or two weeks. In the summer of 1960, the Caffe produced James Howard's Flyspray, probably the first original work performed there. Shortly afterwards, the performance of original works virtually replaced that of existing plays, and the Caffe became an important venue for nurturing new talent. Young playwrights whose early works appeared in the Caffe include Lanford Wilson, Sam Shepard, David Starkweather, Doric Wilson, Robert Heide, H. M. Koutoukas, Tom Eyen, Robert Patrick, William Hoffinan, and Claris Nelson; directors who honed their skills in the Caffe include Marshall Mason, Ron Link, Andy Milligan, and Robert Dahdah; actors who gained early experience (and sometimes their first roles) in the space include Hope Stansbury, Shirley Stoler, Matt Baylor, and Bernadette Peters. By the time it closed in 1968, one year after the suicide of Joseph Cino, the Caffe had introduced dozens of new theatre artists, explored new management techniques, helped popularize the use of camp in theatrical productions, and become one of the first theatres to offer frequent productions by and about gay men. Caffe Cino's influence has been extensive, affecting the direction of avant-garde performance, infusing mainstream, commercial theatre with new energy and talent, and contributing to the emergence of a specifically gay theatre. This dissertation explores the history of the Caffe within the context of several significant cultural battles of the 1960s, with particular attention given to New York's effort to control or close coffeehouses, often the social and intellectual centers of the counterculture.