Incubator Arts Project to Close July 1

The Incubator Arts Project at St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery, which took over Richard Foreman’s Ontological-Hysteric Theater space several years ago, announced this afternoon that it will shut its doors for good on July 1. It marks the end of another chapter in this space as a prime location for avant-garde theatre — long before the OHT began its tenancy, the same space was the home of Theatre Genesis, which premiered Sam Shepard’s first plays, among others, back in 1964.

I enjoyed many evenings at the IAP over the past several years and offer my best wishes for the future to everyone who has been associated with it. The full press release is below:

As of July 1 2014, the Incubator Arts Project will close its doors at St Mark’s Church. It has been a long and wonderful ride in support of emerging work, dating back in some form or another to 1992. This room has had a long history of art warriors before then; we were not the first and we dearly hope we won’t be the last. We made the decision to end our lease and cease further productions, thereby releasing the future of the room. We wish nothing but wild success for our dear friends at St Mark’s, the Poetry Project & Danspace. We know that St Mark’s will be able to provide information about the future at the appropriate time.

In our humble opinion, the conversation is not that we’re closing or why–it ended like most things do, the timely result of a series of good intentions. The conversation we want to have is about what we now know. Let’s not forget all we earned along the way: the artists we fueled, the conversations we sparked, the history we honored, the accolades the work received, the grills we overflowed, the beers we drank, the companies founded, the companies shattered, the great VIP equalizer (our crappy folding chairs), the electric ghosts we wrangled, the honesty we encouraged, that charming AC unit, the riff raff we kicked out of the yard, the old as hell gear we kept running by some magic, the lure of inventive catwalk design, ever creative column use, the artistic freedom, and the comps with a wink. “No, Danspace is downstairs,” “Yes, Poetry Project is still here,” “No, Richard does not work here any more,” “Yes, this is still a functioning church,” “No, actually we’re the Incubator Arts Project–” and we had a hell of a time.

And we’ve learned this much: Go make your work. Stop being a dick. Be a seriously good person to everyone in that room spending any of their time to make your crazy fever dream a reality. Because none of us HAVE to be there and many of us won’t be soon due to circumstance or choice, so be the best you can while you’ve got the mic. No one is getting famous or paying off their MFA from this pursuit of happiness, and we’ll all fight so it can be otherwise, but in the meantime be one of the good guys. Maybe try to show up to a stranger’s show once in a while. Theater only works if you show up. Spaces only thrive if you empower them with your strongest work.

So let’s strike this show and make room for the next one. See ya at the Starr, the Brick, Dixon Place, The Kitchen, New York Live Arts, Abrons Arts Center, HERE, PS122, New Ohio, Roulette, Cloud City, Silent Barn, the Stone, the Chocolate Factory, Soho Rep, the Invisible Dog, La Mama, NYTW, Coil, UTR, Prelude, Irondale, Danspace, Poetry Project, and any number of places that we’ve neglected to mention and any number of places that will pop up to continue this work in the future.

It’s been good.

Thank you to everyone who supported us along the way, bringing their work or filling a seat or lending a hand. We will never ever be able to fully express our gratitude and respect to the fantastic and ferocious Mimi Johnson who is the only reason we could make that initial leap and stay as long as we did. Last but not least, a final, huge, unending thank you to Richard Foreman who had the bright idea to leave the kids alone in the room.

- The Incubator Arts Project

Reading Richard Foreman

The books of a dramatist: Richard Foreman's loft.

The books of a dramatist: Richard Foreman’s loft.

During a conversation last week, one of my friends jokingly suggested that it was time to consider a renaissance of “closet drama,” the form of written drama intended first and foremost to be read, not staged. The tradition of closet drama has a long history and not a few monuments itself: the tragedies of Seneca, John Milton’s Samson Agonistes, Goethe’s Faust, Karl Kraus’s The Last Days of Mankind, and, most peculiarly, Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night, to name a few. While in the years since their composition these closet dramas have after all come to be staged with varying degrees of success, in an odd sort of way these were bastardizations of the original explicit authorial intent.

Flip the coin and we have the much more common condition: that we read plays originally written to be staged. The technique of reading drama is in many ways quite different from that of reading poetry or fiction: it calls upon a reading imagination informed by what we know of theatrical practice, a stage and the four walls of the theatre, the staging technology, an assumed audience present for the experience of the work. Challenging enough within the confines of the realistic and naturalistic genres that have held the stage in the last century or so: but then, what of avant-garde dramatic texts? How must we re-orient our reading disciplines to experience these texts, to confront or open ourselves to their possibilities as both performance and literature?

The question is particularly acute in the case of Richard Foreman, a dramatist first, a designer and director second. Over the nearly 50 years of his career, his practice of mise-en-scene has tended to overshadow his accomplishments as a writer of drama, especially since critic Bonnie Marranca grouped him along with Robert Wilson and Lee Breuer as practitioners of what she called a “Theatre of Images” — intentionally foregrounding the visual and theatrical rather than the reading experience of their drama. Fair enough to Foreman the designer and director, but arguably handing shorter shrift to Foreman’s texts.

And, in a variety of collections beginning with the 1976 Plays and Manifestos, edited by Kate Davy for NYU Press, the plays are there to be read, as conveniently as one can read plays by Neil Simon; yet most of the critical work devoted to Foreman’s career has neglected the plays as texts to be read and subjected to an individual reader’s scrutiny. Whatever his concerns about his theatrical practice, Foreman has labored to produce these collections for the hands of the reader in a study, preparing them carefully for publication, annotating his original texts with stage directions that indicate his own approaches to staging these texts. Indeed, by far the majority of the polemics and writings in Foreman’s The Manifestos and Essays relate directly to his practices of writerly composition.

“Following the lead of contemporary French theorists, I find it most productive and illuminating to regard the written text of the playwright as the ‘deposit,’ the ‘tracings’ of what obsessed him as an individual,” Foreman wrote in the program notes for his 1981 production of Moliere’s Don Juan at the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis.1 Though Foreman was describing his approach to a dramatic text as a director, the same approach is valid for a reader’s approach to a dramatic text as well — every reader, in a sense, his or her own director, “visualizing” a text within the context of a “theatrical” frame of mind, in a way, quite different from a novel or a poem, as I mentioned above. So one can, as a reader as well as a director, trace Foreman’s own obsessions through his primary dramatic texts, considering the relationship of form to content, of genre and perspective.

And in a sense one has to, if one is to gain a perspective on Foreman’s dramatic accomplishment as a whole. For Foreman’s first Ontological-Hysteric play, Angelface (1968), indeed we have nothing except the text: no photographs from this first production exist, and very little ephemera with the exception of what may be lying about, out of the reach of the general public, in the NYU Fales Library collection. As Foreman’s career progressed photographs of his original productions become more common, but of his early work only Ernie Gehr’s 1972 film of Sophia:The Cliffs (which appears on this DVD from Tzadik) provides anything more than a hint of how Foreman as director approached Foreman as dramatist.

The two dramatists who had the greatest impact on Foreman in his early career were Gertrude Stein and Bertolt Brecht, two of the great Modernist dramatists, perhaps the greatest — one from the United States, another from Germany. They shared little else except a profound distrust of the theatre and the drama as they found it. Between Stein’s conception of the landscape play and Brecht’s conception of what has variously been called a “distancing” or “alienation” effect, Foreman found a third way for drama, informed also by the work of the avant-garde American filmmakers who managed to find their way into the casts of most of these early productions. But time has not yet caught up to Foreman as it has to Stein and Brecht, both of whom have had extensive critical eyes cast upon their dramatic texts as literature.

Reading a Modernist dramatic text can be as daunting as negotiating a Modernist theatrical performance (or Modernist prose or poetry, for that matter), but is worth the trouble for all that; it still has the ability to produce insights about our condition, much as King Lear can produce these insights in a reader who has never set foot inside a theatre. I can testify that Foreman’s Angelface is a meaningful reading experience, for example, quite apart from its status as a work intended for theatrical performance. Could it be, then, that in neglecting the work of these dramatists as published, as written texts to be read, we are also neglecting one of the most promising arenas for the exploration of drama itself, a closet drama or otherwise?

I’ve often considered writing a much longer essay, or even a book, covering Foreman’s oeuvre as dramatist. Certainly there’s primary material enough: more than 50 plays alone for the Ontological-Hysteric Theater, many of them published, inviting such an approach to Foreman as, first and foremost, a writer. Stephen Parker’s recent biography of Bertolt Brecht is tellingly subtitled “A Literary Life.” This characterization could never cover Foreman’s career as a man of the theatre in toto any more than it covers Brecht’s — despite what I’ve said above, Foreman’s contribution to the arts of scenic and sound design and direction in the theatre also invite sustained criticism and study, of course. But without considering Foreman’s creative life as a literary one, we have a fatally incomplete picture of his accomplishment as an artist.

Endnotes
  1. Richard Foreman, edited by Gerald Rabkin, A PAJ Book from Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999, p. 88. []

Howard Barker, at home and away

the_fortyA hearty break-your-legs to David Ian Rabey and the Lurking Truth Theatre Company as they prepare to open Howard Barker’s The Forty at the Aberystwyth Arts Centre this weekend. Richard Lynch, Roger Owen, and my friend Karoline Gritzner are in the cast for this production, which opens on Friday:

The Forty comprises forty short plays written by the internationally acclaimed multi-media artist Howard Barker (Honorary Professor of Aberystwyth University Department of Theatre, Film and Television Studies). This unique and innovative theatrical event involves the consecutive performances (in approximately two hours, with interval) of forty scenes of extreme emotional tension which are either wordless or involve the refinement of a single spoken phrase, in seductive negotiations for the most profound terms of human life and longing, which explore the necessity and fragility of language in action.

Closer to home, I have word that the Potomac Theatre Project’s season in New York will include perhaps the most important and powerful play in Barker’s later career, Gertrude — The Cry, a meditation on Shakespeare’s Hamlet, this summer. PTP’s track record with Howard Barker plays promises that this will be the highlight of the season; more details as they become available.

Endgame: Clov’s soliloquy

In the second of the three soliloquies that conclude Endgame (the first is here), Clov takes his leave of Hamm, and of all else, with a speech that Hamm apparently doesn’t want to hear, but must, in part acknowledging that Hamm’s compassion in taking him in has just led to more suffering:

HAMM: … Clov … He never spoke to me. Then, in the end, before he went, without my having asked him, he spoke to me. He said …

CLOV (despairingly): Ah … !

HAMM: Something … from your heart.

CLOV: My heart!

HAMM: A few words … from your heart.

(Pause.)

CLOV (fixed gaze, tonelessly, towards auditorium): They said to me, That’s love, yes, yes, not a doubt, now you see how —

HAMM: Articulate!

CLOV (as before): How easy it is. They said to me, That’s friendship, yes, yes, no question, you’ve found it. They said to me, Here’s the place, stop, raise your head and look at all that beauty. That order! They said to me, Come now, you’re not a brute beast, think upon these things and you’ll see how all becomes clear. And simple! They said to me, What skilled attention they get, all these dying of their wounds.

HAMM: Enough!

CLOV (as before): I say to myself — sometimes, Clov, you must learn to suffer better than that if you want them to weary of punishing you — one day. I say to myself — sometimes, Clov, you must be better than that if you want them to let you go — one day. But I feel too old, and too far, to form new habits. Good, it’ll never end, I’ll never go.

(Pause.)

Then one day, suddenly, it ends, it changes, I don’t understand, it dies, or it’s me, I don’t understand that either. I ask the words that remain — sleeping, waking, morning, evening. They have nothing to say.

(Pause.)

I open the door of the cell and go. I am so bowed I only see my feet, if I open my eyes, and between my legs a little trail of black dust. I say to myself that the earth is extinguished, though I never saw it lit.

(Pause.)

It’s easy going.

(Pause.)

When I fall I’ll weep for happiness.

Endgame: Nagg’s soliloquy

endgame_1

There are three soliloquies that conclude Samuel Beckett’s Endgame (I’ve just been reading this again over the weekend, along with Waiting for Godot). Thoughts on these soon, if I feel so inclined, which I may not.

In the first of these, following his wife’s death, Nagg, Hamm’s father, offers these farewell thoughts to his son:

NAGG: Me sugar-plum!

HAMM: There are no more sugar plums!

(Pause.)

NAGG: It’s natural. After all I’m your father. It’s true if it hadn’t been me it would have been someone else. But that’s no excuse.

(Pause.)

Turkish Delight, for example, which no longer exists, we all know that, there is nothing in the world I love more. And one day I’ll ask you for some, in return for a kindness, and you’ll promise it to me. One must live with the times.

(Pause.)

Whom did you call when you were a tiny boy, and were frightened, in the dark? Your mother? No. Me. We let you cry. Then we moved you out of earshot, so that we might sleep in peace.

(Pause.)

I was asleep, as happy as a king, and you woke me up to have me listen to you. It wasn’t indispensable, you didn’t really need to have me listen to you.

(Pause.)

I hope the day will come when you’ll really need to have me listen to you, and need to hear my voice, any voice.

(Pause.)

Yes, I hope I’ll live till then, to hear you calling me like when you were a tiny boy, and were frightened, in the dark, and I was your only hope.

(Pause. Nagg knocks on lid of Nell’s bin. Pause.)

Nell!

(Pause. He knocks louder. Pause. Louder.)

Nell!

(Pause. Nagg sinks back into his bin, closes the lid behind him. Pause.)

HAMM: Our revels now are ended.

Manuscript remains