La MaMa during Fourth Arts Block Festival. Photo via gvshp.org
The theaters in and around Times Square have incredible architecture and history, but for almost sixty years, there has been another incubator for plays and performance making history and influencing the Great White Way far south of 42nd Street.
The Off-Off-Broadway movement started around 1958, when a young Italian-American gay man opened up a cafe where he and his friends could get together and share poetry, music and art. Eventually those friends started writing and performing plays in the Caffe Cino, which got the ball rolling on an entire theatrical movement.
The Off-Off-Broadway movement still thrives today.
Caffe Cino, a small café that was at 31 Cornelia Street in Greenwich Village is widely recognized as being the first home to the Off-Off-Broadway movement. Joe Cino was a retired dancer who opened up the storefront as a cafe in 1958 as a space for his artist and poet friends to congregate. Many of these plays had homosexual themes and the theater became a space for the gay community to meet. Plays were performed multiple times a night and many of the playwrights who premiered work at Caffe Cino would also develop work at other theaters. Caffe Cino longer exists but you can read more in the book Caffe Cinno: The Birthplace of Off-Off Broadway.