John E. Wulp

Dec 06, 2018
John Wulp

Vinalhaven — John Edwin Wulp died peacefully in Rockport Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018. He was 90 years old.

John’s playwriting, producing, set design, photography and painting spanned 50 years of New York and Off-Broadway theater. Born in 1928 in New Rochelle, N.Y., to Franklin and Ida Wulp, John earned a bachelor's degree from Dartmouth College in 1950 and attended the Yale School of Drama. Shortly after his discharge from the military, one of the plays that he wrote while a Marine was optioned for Off-Broadway production and its performance in 1958 earned him a Rockefeller Grant for Playwriting.

John’s exuberant and resolute emergence into early-1960s New York theater lead him to collaborations with vanguard artists, including Louise Nevelson, in 1961, for his first role as director with "Red Eye of Love," a musical he co-wrote with Arnold Weinstein, and for which he received an OBIE Award for directing; Frank O’Hara in 1962 for O’Hara’s one-act play, "Try! Try!"; Robert Rauschenberg in 1962 for Kenneth Koch’s "The Construction of Boston"; and James Waring in 1962 for John’s "Madrigal of War." John also prodigiously photographed his two years in New York. The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts acquired John’s photography collection in 2016.

John started the Nantucket Stage Company in 1973, after having moved to the island in 1963, notably producing "Dracula," whose hugely successful reproduction in New York in 1977 earned him a Tony Award for Best Revival. While on Nantucket, John also rediscovered the exhilaration of painting that he had found as a boy. Ranging from portraits to landscapes to abstracts, John completed an untold number of paintings over 45 years with the same intense precision that he brought to theater.

The success of "Dracula" brought John back to New York for nearly a decade of productions and the beginning of his drama teaching. For his set designs for "Crucifer of Blood" in 1978, he received a Drama Desk Award, a Los Angeles Drama Critics Award, and a Tony nomination. John helped found New York University’s Playwrights Horizons Theatre School in 1980, producing with students many works of personal pride until he departed in 1994 to live on Vinalhaven.

Though North Haven had no theater when he was offered a job teaching drama in the school there in 1995, John brought national recognition to the North Haven Community School with his thrilling and exacting productions. In 2001, he conceived and produced the musical "Islands," which he toured in New York and in Maine with its cast of exclusively Vinalhaven and North Haven residents.

A 2003 PBS documentary, “On This Island,” chronicled the creation of "Islands"; that year, John also published an eponymous autobiography. His final production on North Haven was "Red Eye of Love" in 2013, with Pop artist and Vinalhaven resident Robert Indiana designing the sets; John brought the play to New York a year later. In 2016, he published his poetry in "Cormorant Time."

Fighting lifelong discrimination and 20 years of severe health concerns in his later life, John’s relentless creative vision carried him through an odyssey of self-revisions. “I now know that death is the only true end to this work,” John said, mirroring the steely charisma that he broadcast to those who were willing to bring as much of themselves to his productions as he unflinchingly did. Much of John’s diverse work is viewable online at JohnWulp.com.

A memorial celebration for John will take place on Vinalhaven in summer 2019. Friends who wish may make a donation in his memory to the Waterman’s Community Center, 12 Main St., North Haven, ME 04853; or to the Islands Community Medical Center, 15 Medical Center Loop, Vinalhaven, ME 04863.

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