Demetrius Toteras

The mythical figure of Demetrius Toteras and the reality of the man behind the mask is an extraordinary story; his personal history is simply profound and is far too immense to do him justice in a single web page, so a brief paraphrasing of the highlights of his career is offered here, along with a personal narration from Tad Baker.

A battle-field veteran and POW of the Korean War who volunteered at the age of 14, Toteras would return home to America adrift and confused but determined to follow his passion: the study of the Classics. He soon married his childhood sweetheart and enjoyed a few short years of familial bliss until her untimely death in an auto accident, an event which irreparably altered Toteras' life. After her death, he moved between America and Europe, where he came under the influence of Gypsies in Spain, immersing himself in the study of theater, philosophy, martial arts and Flamenco guitar, becoming within a few short years a master of the art and a developing theater director with his own original work. In Spain, he'd been exposed to the Absurdists, including Jarry, Genet and Artaud, and developed a great love for experimental theater; his first formal play, an audacious audience-participation event set in San Francisco in which he planned to use his working replica California-style single seat gas chamber, constructed using diagrams smuggled out of San Quentin (where he was later incarcerated!), was mere days from opening night when he received word the play had been banned, his theater closed and he was forbidden from performing anywhere in the city. Undaunted, Toteras determined he would next head to England, with its ancient theatrical tradition, hoping he would be more readily received.

 

By then, Toteras had understood that the traditional scripted play with its line of separation between actor and audience was a thing of the past, so he embarked on a series of volatile unscripted audience-participation events which immediately rocked all of London. Toteras soon became notorious for producing some of England's most offensive -and memorable- plays. Returning to the states in the late Sixties, he was arrested after being framed for a crime he did not commit but, unwilling to violate his ethos and become a dreaded snitch, he took the rap and was sent to prison for 2 years, where he famously penned his most controversial play, based on his time incarcerated in San Quentin, "Sunday They'll Make Me a Saint" (New Generations, 1972). Upon his release, Toteras spent much of the 70's traveling the world with his gas chamber, performing and holding observances and events in over 60 countries until he returned to the States and purchased some rural property in Sonoma County, California, where he would erect his hand-built Mediterranean-styled home over the course of the next several years.

 

Enter Tad Baker:

 

“I met Toteras when I was living on a Christmas tree farm in western Sonoma County, right across the street from where he was painstakingly creating his home. What began as a casual afternoon conversation with two guys smoking dope soon evolved into me becoming a devoted student of this enigmatic and brilliantly talented man, who became known to me as 'Jimmy' or 'The Master', for Toteras, one of the kindest, most generous yet fiercest men I have ever met, was simply a giant who soared far beyond his peers, earning an international reputation as one of the most daring experimental theater directors of the 20th Century.

 

Once I recognized my great fortune, I determined to reap from him what I could, becoming his principle student and remaining with him for over 10 years, during which time he profoundly influenced nearly every aspect of my life. I would soon travel with him and his gas chamber across Europe and Asia, studying capital punishment and experimental theater along with the Classics while gaining an understanding of how people in groups think, act and are motivated. In between the times we were not out on the road, my studies continued and, on my own and with the members of the N.C.C.C., I began performing both studio-theater pieces and live, spontaneous stage events on a small scale.

 

In 1988, Toteras retired at last from his grueling travels but felt I was prepared to the degree that I could begin performing real work, under his direction and continued tutelage, of course. Soon enough, through audience-participation events like the San Francisco Farting Contest, Pindaro's Belly Pageant and Uncle Tad Baker's Loon Show, we'd brought true absurdity to the stages of San Francisco like no one had seen before, and The School of Absurdity earned the reputation as the most absurd and courageous experimental theater group in America.

 

Toteras was one of the most well-read and articulate philosophical minds of his era, with an amazing catalog of provocative and compelling thoughts that I knew very people had ever heard. Sitting at his feet all those years changed my life in immeasurable ways, and yet, in the winter of 1992, I just knew it was time we parted ways and I left my mentor, to strike out on my own and test myself in the world-at-large. As so often happens, soon enough, with a small family of my own and having moved across the country, we lost touch with one another. Toteras, in the years after I left his side, focused his energies on teaching Flamenco and his voluminous writings, producing a work of profound depth in 1996, The Rape of the Sleeping Wife, which, in my view, stands alongside both Jarry and Rabelais for its vast contribution to the field of absurd literature; Toteras had few if any modern parallels or contemporaries and a review of this monumental work will reveal that glaring fact.

 

We finally re-connected years later, when his health was, sadly, fading due to Parkinson's disease, yet we shared some of the most lovely and heart-warming times of my life until his disease overwhelmed him in 2009, but his work and his amazing, enthusiastic spirit live on...”

Few video recordings of Toteras in his teaching element exist, yet the School is proud to offer a 4 set volume of lengthy and informal conversations between Toteras, Baker and fellow students Ken Kunst, Tom Bosque and R. Roberti as they discussed the theories behind and some of the essential tasks they would be faced with in performing the First Annual San Francisco Farting Contest. These 4 recordings are only available to life-time members, but we have included a free 28 minute sample from these sessions for public review.

 

The 28 minute clip is a sample from one of the most important archived recordings in the history of experimental theater, taken on three different Monday nights out of a series of 12 sessions from February to April, 1989, and leading to the 1st Annual San Francisco Farting Contest on April 21, 1989.

 

In his study at his home along with his students, Tad Baker, Ken Kunst, Tom Bosque and R. Roberti, along with Bron Godfrey from Nine Muses Press, Toteras evoked the creation of the 1st Annual San Francisco Farting Contest from a group of amateur experimental theater/general-mayhem-and-outlawry devotees and guerrilla dope growers. Toteras coaxed Baker and his group to produce their best creative efforts with the few resources -including intellectual- at their disposal.

 

In these video sessions with Toteras, you'll hear The Master take on a vast array of topics relating to the production of this epic event and the Theories of Absurdity supporting it. Toteras laces his informal, street-level conversation with poignant and profound philosophical observations, along with colorful -even crude- anecdotes from his own rich life as a lawyer, flamenco guitarist living with Gypsies, battlefield Korean War veteran, world-renowned experimental theater director, expert in the Classical and particularly Pre-Classical periods of Greece, and Master of Pataphysics pare excellence!

 

These recordings, taken on consumer-grade VHS, are glimpses into the causal, thoroughly human, gently fierce, enthusiastic style of this, one of the world's great absurdists. Toteras is at once delightful, guttural, base and explosive, but modest and always a gentlemen and always brutally honest in those things that matter. He is in every way Greek, and yet a true original on a level the world seldom produces. We are proud to present these rare and priceless recordings from the Master of the School of Absurdity, Demetrius Toteras and the 1st Annual San Francisco Farting Contest!

 

28 minute promo featuring Demetrius Toteras and the theories behind the Farting Contest:

More on Demetrius Toteras and the San Francisco Farting contest: Theories and Practicum:

 

Demetrius Toteras is the mastermind behind the 1st Annual San Francisco Farting Contest heard in these timeless audio/visual recordings from 1989. Listen to Toteras as he develops the argument for the validation of the Imagination and the many underlying theories at work in this extraordinary piece of experimental theater. Toteras' history as one of the 20th Century's great Directors of Absurdity is clear, as he lays out the argument for why Farting 'is the last great taboo left to Mankind', and shows why the actual Farting Contest was neither disgusting nor in poor taste but a masterful working of a Classical theme, broaching the taboos of Humanity in a dignified and enjoyable manner. In his fluid, enthusiastic and hilarious style, Toteras traces the development of Absurdity as a philosophical system, and eloquently argues the call for an unscripted and immediate form of Theater.

 

You'll hear Toteras' students pushed to their intellectual limits by his probing and inquisitive demands for excellence. These 4 recordings are filled with unexpected and original Toteras witticisms and insights, and are sure to both entertain and instruct. Hear Toteras at his best as he explains and explores the principles of understanding, explaining and performing Absurdity. His discussions on his masters, Alfred Jarry and Antonin Artaud, are invaluable, refreshing and illuminating.

Toteras Audio

 

Though Toteras is now gone, and the amount of actual documents and material from him is in too short supply (a copy of his landmark work, The Rape of The Sleeping Wife, by Nine Muses Press, can be purchased by going here: www.9muses.com), the School of Absurdity had the forethought to record many of Toteras' Monday night teaching sessions, one-on-one dialogues and causal group conversations.

 

There are 3 sets of recordings available:

 

The Virtues and Vices of Modern Man, The Art of Living, and Manhood and the Making of Heroes.

 

The Virtues and Vices of Modern Man shows Toteras at his intellectual best, as he discusses the present and future existential states of Modern Man, his strengths and weaknesses and how he does, does not, and can participate with Modern Woman.

 

The Art of Living sees Toteras dealing with important personal issues with relevance to men, articulating critical concepts about how to live your life with dignity, grace and a high sense of ethics, along with the confidence and intellectual tools to be able to understand and make the changes necessary to gaining control of your relationships, as best as that is possible.

 

Manhood and the Making of Heroes is perhaps one of the most gripping and heart-wrenching accounts of a battlefield war veteran to be found anywhere today. Toteras opens with his views on the so-called 'heroes'  returning from duty in the Middle East, then goes on to relate his unbelievable experiences leading up to the first battle of the Korean War at Osan, of which he was a front-line participant, and his views on what real Manhood is and what it takes to achieve.

The School of Absurdity is offering a 23 minute sample from Toteras' The Art of Living for your review. These are some of the themes you'll hear:

 

On Change: 'everything is subject to change'; Deliberate change vs Cyclical change; "Women want a man to change but to what?"; women are tired of men and their wants; love is about being sweet every minute to women; sexual slapping; women want a man who feels; on Veterans and Feeling; on Plato, the 1st psychologist; on the Theogony and Hesiod; "politeness is offensive for what it hides"; "it's the man who makes the woman and vice versa"; on Muslim men and women as their property; the Phd finding gism on his bedsheets; on Darwin's quest  to understand Man's emotions; on the differing feelings and emotions towards women and females.

23 minute sample

   from Toteras'

The Art of Living

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