TOM MURRIN BIO

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Tom Murrin graduated from local Universities, L.M.U. and U.S.C. Law School, and practiced law in Beverly Hills. He then moved to New York in the mid 60s where he received his Masters of Law at N.Y.U. and began writing plays for off-off-Broadway theaters.

In New York he became a member of the first generation of La Mama playwrights (La Mama, E.T.C., founded by Ellen Stewart). He wrote four plays performed through La Mama: “Hung,” and “Roommates;” and “Cock-Strong” and “Son of Cock-Strong,” produced by John Vacarro’s Playhouse of the Ridiculous. He also wrote songs for other Playhouse of the Ridiculous productions: Jackie Curtis’ “Heaven Grand in Amber Orbit” and Vacarro’s “Persia: A Desert Cheapie,” as well as authoring “Myth (or Maybe Meth)” a two-act play, directed by Ed Setrakian, performed at the Andy Warhol Theater.

In the early 70s, Murrin relocated to Paris, where “Cock-Strong” was being staged at the University of Paris (as well as Belgium and Amsterdam). There he began acting in plays at The American Center and, in 1973, moved to Seattle where he became a full-time performer and was invited to join Para-Troupe, an experimental dance/theater group led by Alex Soul Dancer.  During this time, he met Johanna Went, a Seattle resident and novice actor, who joined Para-Troupe in 1974.

With Para-Troupe members, Murrin created and performed “Balloon Theater,” in which performers wore greasepaint and glitter make-up (in the tradition of the Playhouse of the Ridiculous). The group developed shows from workshop games and exercises performed in artist’s lofts, at parties, and on the streets. Para-Troupe performances relied heavily upon improvisation and could be compared to “happenings”. The shows invariably ended in a celebration with Murrin postulating the idea that “Performance is anything done with purpose and style”.

In 1975, Murrin had the idea of “Dwarf Theater” (“theater that doesn’t get in your way”) and led five members of Para-Troupe down the West Coast, performing at colleges and universities, then through Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.  After playing New Orleans, the remaining members of Para-Troupe returned to Seattle, while Murrin and Went continued eastward, performing their two-person shows throughout the summer on an almost daily basis, at schools, art galleries, and outdoor events in Florida, Baltimore, New York City, Syracuse, and in Canada, in Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto.

Murrin and Went created “Trash Theater,” which entailed choosing a location, putting on make-up, and doing a completely different show each time. Performances were based on theater games, improvising dialogue, and using a multitude of found objects as props. Performing “outside the walls” of traditional spaces gave them the freedom to select their audiences and allowed the audience members to walk away at any time. Audience participation, while infrequent, was at times exhilarating, and in a few instances harrowing.  At times, the police would end the show. Murrin and Went were featured in an article New York Drama Review (June, 1976), in an issue devoted to “alternative theater.”

In 1975, Craig Olander, another veteran of Para-Troupe in Seattle, joined Murrin and Went in Los Angeles, and the threesome began performing at venues such as the Garden Theater Festival, April Fool’s Night at the Fox Theater in Venice, and the Roxy on Sunset Boulevard. Murrin re-named the group “The World’s Greatest Theater Company.” In 1976, they toured across the United States, and later that year, traveled to Europe and performed in London, Amsterdam, and Frankfurt.

In the fall of 1977 the group disbanded, with Olander returning to Seattle, while Went remained in Los Angeles, and launched her significant and ground-breaking solo career which took her into numerous punk rock clubs and performance venues over the next two decades. Murrin, traveled to Japan and began a tour of shows through major cities including Tokyo, Hong Kong, Manila, Calcutta, New Delhi, and Bombay.  He performed his 100th show in Bombay in April 1978, and continued on to Athens, Paris (where he performed a week of shows outside the recently completed Pompidou Centre), London, and winding up at the Edinburgh Festival, Scotland.

He returned to New York in the fall of 1978 where Bill Hart, manager of the co-op art gallery Razor, in Soho, allowed him to store his collected trash props in the gallery basement, and invited him to perform in front of the gallery on weekends. Tom has been living and performing in New York ever since.

After traveling around the world, finding, using, and eventually discarding objects from many different cultures and societies, Murrin concluded that in performance any object could be a worthy conceptual tool. He then began performing under the name “Tom Trash,” and continued to do street shows. His La Mama pedigree guaranteed his acceptance as a practitioner of alternative theater, but he was also getting gigs in rock clubs opening for bands. The punk scene was just starting at that time in New York, and his brand of theater was considered “punk.” His friend Jane Friedman, who managed Patti Smith and John Cale, began to include Murrin in Cale’s shows in New York, and on tour dates in California. When Cale did his annual run at C.B.G.B.’s (culminating on New Year’s Eve), in 1978 and ‘79, Murrin performed on the bill.  He performed at other Lower East Side clubs, such as the Pyramid, Club 57, at Max’s Kansas City, and at the Mudd Club.

When Murrin was scheduled to open for John Cale at the Waldorf in San Francisco in 1979, Friedman described his act to the club’s booker as “funny.” He asked what Murrin did, and she told him that Murrin’s show was a very fast-paced, quick-changing, chaotic big mess on stage, complete with sight gags, visual puns, surreal masks, costumes, and fake bloodletting. The booker replied, “That sounds a little alien to us.” Friedman, who never really liked the name “Tom Trash” said, “Why don’t you bill him as The Alien Comic?”  Murrin has performed under that name ever since.

In New York, by the early 1980s, performance art had become well-entrenched in pop culture. Murrin first saw Stuart Sherman doing street shows, on West Broadway; and saw Paul Zaloom perform at the Kitchen. In addition to his club shows Murrin also did pieces at off-off Broadway theaters, like La Mama and Theater for the New City. At that time, Jane Friedman was the booker for Irving Plaza, and had Murrin open for such bands as X, Pere Ubu, The Stranglers, and James Brown.

In the early 1980s, Murrin met and influenced NYC performance artists Jo Andres, Mimi Goese, Lucy Sexton and Annie Iobst, [the latter two of whom became the group, DANCENOISE]. Murrin had been performing full moon shows since his days in Seattle - every full moon night, wherever he happened to be, he staged a comic ritual to Luna Macaroona, the moon goddess, thanking her for help and guidance - so he and the four women threw loft parties and performed together every full moon night.  Together the five became The Full Moon Crew, and with the production help of Bill Schaffner, they put on the “Full Moon Spectacular” shows at P.S. 122. Tom would perform and do the introductions. DANCENOISE, Andres, and Goese would do their separate acts.  Ethyl Eichelberger, John Kelly, or Steve and Mark (Steve Buscemi and Mark Boone, Jr.) were some of the guest acts and the evenings became legendary.  Murrin has produced many other Full Moon shows, at other venues around New York, and he continues to do his own Full Moon salutes to Luna Macaroona on the day/night of a full moon.

In the early and mid-80’s Murrin performed regularly at 8 B.C. (on East 8th Street, between Avenues B & C). Cornelius Conboy and Dennis Gottra ran the club and they succeeded in bringing together an eclectic array of artists and performers.  At that time, the Lower East Side was the hot bed of the visual art scene, with new galleries opening weekly, and there was always new art on the 8 B.C. walls. Annie Golden debuted slides of her early work there.  Each night there would be a performance or theater act, and a band, and it became a meeting spot for visual artists, performance artists and musicians.  Some guest artists include Popo and his gold-painted Butoh dancers, Eric Bogosian and The Butthole Surfers.

At the nearby Club, Chandalier, run by Uzi Parnes and Ella Troyano, Murrin often set up  Full Moon shows with Karen Finley and Harry Kipper on the bill. 

Also, DANCENOISE hosted shows every Wednesday night at King Tut’s Wah-Wah Hut, across from the Pyramid, where Full Moon shows often took place.

This was a “golden era” for performance in New York. Franklin Furnace generously supported the fledgling performance artists by giving them a week in residence. Darinka was another club that offered a venue for performers and bands.  A little later Ellie Kovan started Dixon Place in her apartment on East 2nd St., and hosted such acts as Reno and James Godwin. 

Murrin often returned Los Angeles to perform in some of Johanna Went’s shows, and has performed at various L.A. venues including L.A.C.E., the Anti-Club, Joe’s Bar, in addition to productions by Theatre Carnivale.

He has been the “Holiday Host” at La Mama for ten years, producing and performing in holiday shows, four times a year, introducing to La Mama audiences to downtown acts, such as The Blue Man Group and The Five Lesbian Brothers, and individual performers such as Holly Hughes, Lisa Kron, Ethyl Eichelberger, and David and Amy Sedaris. Murrin has averaged 50 shows a year, for over 20 years and has received two New York Federation of the Arts grants, one in 1984 and the other in 1994.

In 1993, Murrin toured the U.S. covering twenty cities with Pere Ubu, Gun Club, and Orangutang, for Virago Records. In the mid-90s, during an Alien Comic show at Dixon Place, the character “Jack Bump” made his debut and became the Alien Comic’s “alter libido and evil twin.” Since that time, Jack Bump sometimes comes out at other Alien Comic shows, completely uninvited, and invariably, his performance turns rude and salty.

Between 1999 and 2004, under the name of Jack Bump, Murrin has penned five “bad taste sex comedies,” at various downtown venues, all directed by David Soul. These include: “Sport-Fuckers” (about middle-aged, Christian swingers), which had two separate productions at Theater for the New City;  “Dick Play” and “Butt-Crack Bingo”, both done at La Mama; “Deviants Arise”, at Galapagos; and “Full Moon Super Bowl Tits”, at Little Theater at Tonic.

Murrin continues to perform, and teaches two-week workshops at La Mama, after which there is a night of performance in The Club at La Mama.  He has written for PAPER magazine for the past 16 years, covering the performance and stage scenes, writing about actors, dancers, playwrights and directors, and upcoming performance and theater works.

Tom wishes to thank Tom Patchett and Laurie Steelink of Track 16, and their competent and friendly staff, Cindy, Cesar, Earnest and Chris for their help in the installation; but most especially he wants to thank his long-time friend and original performing partner, Johanna Went, who thoughtfully and professionally curated Tom’s exhibit at every step along the way.