When Melanie asked me if I would be interested in being a commissioned artist with The Foundry my first response was "What is that?!" then "You got the wrong guy" then "uhhh..... maybe" then "Hell yes, Oh my lord!" The initial feelings to follow would be deep pride, excitement and absolute terror.
I was not looking to make a show with a radical prestigious theater company. I saved myself the trouble of any rejection from any organization by deciding and quietly proclaiming total disinterest in such an endeavor. I was a home show guy. I did shows in peoples homes, music and other curious moments, I found the homes, I made the shows and thats it. Simple. No wanting and dreaming for more and thus no failure and exclusion.
I was first given Melanie's number by a mutual friend of ours, Ed Napier, after he had seen one of my home shows. He thought we were spirit brothers, sky sisters, dirt cousins, what have you. I had seen a few Foundry pieces through the years that moved me deeply like the money one and the whale one, but I was most excited to meet Melanie cause Ed said I should. I'd known Ed since birth. He was the preachers son who always shared beautiful bible versus with great oratorial oomph and unforgettable shoulder movements during our passover sedars. A fascinating giant of mind and smile and he said call this woman, so I did.
We met at a diner. She was smoking, which I enjoyed as it felt like a fuck you to the world, or to the self, both of which interested me. She smoked, I drank coffee and we talked. It was a strong connection from the start. After a while Mel said "So, what can I do for ya?" and I didn't know what she meant. She was asking what do you want? What's this meeting for? What can I help you with? When I told her we were doing the thing, just having coffee cause Ed said so, cause Ed said we'd like each other she lit up like a boom boom bangarang tippy glow jo! Once overjoyed that we weren't in some theater can you do this for me kinda a thing we really got to talking. The coffee was the thing. Just to connect. Just to love each other and know the other existed. That would have been enough. But in time we would also get to make a thing together. Grateful for that, daily, all of it.
There were so many new conversations for me at The Foundry. I had never made a piece of theater with a company, with designers, with a director (if we had a director? I think we had one? Or three? Or none?) it was a thrill not to be so alone in the creative process, and really hard. I felt deeply embarrassed throughout the process for all these makers, all these brilliant minds to see my failures day in and out, my half mushed poppycock of song meaning attemptedisms. I had previously worked in a safer place of all alone. Even the idea of a rehearsal was agony for me. Everyone with notepads taking notes, hearing things over and over again, I could barely get over my humiliation and do the work. When Taylor Mac heard this was my first experience working with a theater company, working in collaboration with Melanie he said "That boy's gettin baptized in the fire". It's true. A hot beautiful sometimes disorienting fire of open open open.
While we tried to make the piece, understand the piece, find the piece, over years, the challenge was always how open the conversation was. It was the glory of the process and the struggle. Is this an ensemble or a duo or a solo show? Is it about home? Or Dinosaurs or characters on the road or family? It was an exhausting and confusing process for me and I really loved every second. I was held very delicately by the foundry as I hatched into this theater making landscape. It was a new vocabulary for me, these theater people, these director folks, these radicals who knew things! I think I always felt like a bit of a radical at heart, but I didn't know anything and thats a different kind of radical.
I remember the day Melanie made me cry in rehearsal. I mean, I was being a little asshole, but it felt like her fault. I suppose I made myself cry. Perhaps easy to blame Melanie for something cause she's such a big personality with big feelings and opinions and presence. We were rehearsing the show, in a small apartment, and Melanie was doing some directing. It had been months and being directed was still hard and bizarre and confusing for me. I was exhausted and bewildered and uncomfortable at a time when there was no space for it. Once she took me outside to spank me and I had a moment to cry and try to articulate a thing or two, I realized I was really upset that Kate Attwell wasn't in the room. Kate was our third musketeer in this piece and whatever our process was, whatever our dynamic was, Kate was a huge part of it. We had built a rhythm with each other, the three of us, and on that day, that crucial day Kate wasn't there and as a result I felt like Melanie and I were in a new conversation and I couldn't deal.
Melanie told me to pull my shit together. I told her that it was so important for Kate to be there in that moment and she heard me. We did a hugging, got back to work and kept yelling at each other. Or something like that. I don't know! Who can remember anything??!!
I loved working with the foundry. I loved the respect I got as a maker, a thinker, the financial respect and support, the time time time to make, work, throw away, suffer and rebuild. The way I was treated and the endless curiosity that I felt was a pillar of the foundry has been hugely influential in how I've approached my projects since. I learned many new words, shapes and feelings.
Hallelujah. Thank you. Sincerely forever grateful and in awe of the history and the family of The Foundry.
My earliest memory of the Foundry Theatre was my first day there: sitting at a table reading for Alice Tuan’s reimagining of The Roaring Girle. It was a 400-year-old play – in verse –made relevant for the 21st Century; an ethnically diverse cast playing dozens of characters; an all-women-led creative and production team. For the Foundry, it was an ambitious, gigantic, unwieldy production, and in that first reading, it felt so exciting and important. That memory captures what comes to mind when I think of the Foundry: the feeling of possibility and the limitlessness of ideas that go into every piece created there.
From my time at the Foundry, what I remember are ideas –big, audacious, crazy, abstract— that sparked the creative process and demanded to be reckoned with. There were always so many artists engaged in thinking through these things. There were always so many pieces in different stages of development. All in pursuit of answering a question, articulating a thought, or continuing a conversation. And the initial spark of an idea was always important. I can remember Melanie ending a work-in-progress because the idea never fully-formed. In production, I remember her fighting to the death to see a thought put on stage the way she originally had envisioned it. The Foundry was/is a place fueled by demanding creativity, passionate voices, and a lot of chaos.
I remember too, that my role there was so often the resident realist, more likely the pessimist and worrier. My natural anxious tendencies made me think through every contingency plan, attempt to manage lofty expectations, and worry about every audacious idea that came up. Can we really afford to send Steve Cosson, Michael Friedman, and a cameraman to an island in the Panama Canal on a fact-finding mission? Yes! Will we find an audience to come to the basement of this midtown parking garage for a play entirely in Russian? Yes! Do we really need to set off a live explosion every night outside of St. Ann’s Warehouse to drive home the anxiety and paranoia needed for Major Bang? No. Phew.
As an audience member now, I love experiencing a Foundry show and looking for the original idea that became the fully-realized production. And as a Foundry audience, we’re not expected to be passive. I know from having put the effort in that careful thought and consideration is put into the role of the audience in every production. It’s a different than any other theatre I’ve worked with. The audience is part of the exploration that’s presented. We get to inhabit the world and be part of the dialogue.
So, I love the Foundry. I have wonderful memories of working there, and I have PTSD from working there. But, I continue to look forward to being part of the Foundry conversation at each new performance.
Chris Kam, Assistant Producer/Associate Producer/Co-Producer 2003-2006
My earliest memory of the Foundry Theatre is when James Nicola told a group of us, walking on East Fourth Street, that Melanie Joseph was planning to start a new company and that we all needed to pay attention and support the company. And I did! I remember seeing the Foundry’s productions inside the Brooklyn Bridge Anchorage, the Ohio, and several at the Public, and (when I stop to think about it), I have paid close attention to the work of the Foundry ever since that sage advice on East Fourth St. many years ago.
Apologies to the Medical Community by Morgan Jenness
My earliest memory of the Foundry is one that perhaps was part of its actual inception - on a freezing, story winter night in early 1993?, after I had dragged Melanie Joseph to Dick Zigun's Sideshows at the Seashore (when it was actually located right on the boardwalk) We both struggled up the ramp, next to the shuttered Hell Hole, against the biting cold wind, screaming in pain while I assured Melanie the trip would be worth it.
I had known Melanie for a number of years in various theatrical guises - via work at the Women's Project, Ensemble Studio Theater, LaMama and other venues. I perhaps most fondly remember a space she co-ran with Susann Brinkley on 42nd St called Alice's Fourth Floor - where she encouraged me to create and perform a solo work, one of the very few people who ever encouraged my own artistic creative bent. I protested that I did not know what I would do, and she said "I don't care if you stand there and spit nickels, I want to see you on stage" So I started my piece (a journal of a fallen angel) by doing just so.
But now, Melanie had decided that the core purpose she felt called to might lie elsewhere and she was in medical school training to become a doctor. However, she had been intrigued by my excited description of a new artist of the theater I had come across the previous year at the University of Iowa named W. David Hancock.
A quick ramp trip back in time and space may be necessary here. I had been serving as a Visiting Artist for the final presentations of the University of Iowa's world class Playwrights Program and had been told, by then professor/writer in residence Shelly Berc, to check out the work of an ex-student named David Hancock. So I called David and asked him if perhaps I could read one of his plays. I was told that he did not give out scripts but if I and other guests could come to his house he would do a reading for us.
A few of us, including Erik Ehn, went to David's house, where his then wife Nan told us something had just happened, he wasn't ready and could we wait in the garden. As we stood there, looking at the tomatoes, wondering whether we should just go - she came out and brought us into the living room where we sat on folding chairs, ate bits of cheese, with the cat rubbing against us, while David paced agitatedly around an opened Fed Ex box. David told us he was too upset to read a play but had gotten this box in the mail and needed to tell us about its backstory - which involved a man named Mike, whom David had known when he was a troubled teenager. Young David had ended up traveling around the country with him, watching as Mike made numerous Cornell type little object boxes which he left under bridges, in public bathrooms, and gave to waitresses. David and Mike had become estranged, but David had heard Mike was dying of lung cancer a couple years back and had gone to visit him, bringing a video camera he did not really know how to use.
So, we ate cheese, petted the cat and listened raptly to the story, watched the video, heard amazing poetry Mike had written on shoe box lids. We were then told that after Mike had died, David became obsessed with finding some the boxes and had traveled around the country again to the old sites to try to find them. He had actually found a number of the object boxes, they were in his basement, did we want to see them?
This was, as some may recognize, the first piece Melanie Joseph and The Foundry would produce -the Obie winning CONVENTION Of CARTOGRAPHY - and one of several explorations into the cerpuscular line between reality and imagination, fact and truth. We ourselves did not realize the whole thing (including the objects) was an invention and creation of David's, until we were handed a program by Nan at the top of the stairs as we left (I think perhaps Erik Ehn has still not totally forgiven David for that revelation/deception).
I was blown away by the uniqueness, beauty, audacity of the work, and became obsessed with the idea of trying to find a way to present this in New York - not as a theater piece but as an event which could land in that same twilight zone place of reality and fantasy for an audience. I thought the adventurous Jim Nicola at New York Theater Workshop might be possible (Jim actually came to Iowa the following year and saw it remounted, and was indeed in process of trying to figure out how it might be done). I also thought Melanie Joseph would really understand what David was doing, with this piece and in general - she was in process leaving the theater and going to medical school...but something in me said...well, just in case...
So, here we were struggling up the freezing ramp to the boardwalk to see another piece called THE RACE OF THE ARK TATTOO, a story of a man raised in foster care which was shaped by the sequence of numbered objects pulled out of a toy bus by audience members, and the corresponding numbered story in a large illustrated book. (Another of several more projects by W. David Hancock The Foundry would premiere in New York -including their last commissioned production MASTER.)
I think there about six or seven people there that almost winter hurricane night, Melanie, myself, David, the visionary Dick Zigun and the piece's performer,and the performer of the work Todd Ristau, another rather brilliant University of Iowa graduate, who is now head of an extraordinary program for writers at Hollins University.
(Sidenote: I would actually love to know who else had ventured there that night!)
As we struggled back to Manhattan, Melanie started talking about how this work might be done, but that she thought she might be more interested in doing CONVENTION Of CARTOGRAPHY as it had more challenges and might be more of an event. She was utterly engaged in what kind of space it might be done in, how it could be marketed to maintain the illusion of truth (which turned into the posters and matchbooks with "Have you seen this man?" and "Mike's" photo emblazoned on them) So there were two very strong and wonderful possibilities for the show, but Melanie, as she was wont to do over and over, simply lept into a commitment to do it and figured out the details of HOW to do it along on the way.
This was something I witnessed over and over and over in the two and a half decades to follow. Melanie would become excited about a vision, an artist, a core exploration, an aesthetic or ethical spark and find ways to fan those sparks into glorious, multicolored flames.
It was over and over the impulse that made one feel they could get on stage and spit nickels. There was an ability that Melanie, and the amazing people she gathered around her at The Foundry over the years, to discover and nurture artists who shared the core passions to find the intersection of aesthetics and ethics, to create a diverse and inclusive community, to take bolder artistic leaps and have deeper and wider conversations.
The Foundry was not just about production of works, but, as one might expect from its name, a continuing heated, passionate, rigorous and sometimes embattled nurturing of artists and visions, reclamation of histories, expansion and challenge of communities and the determination to buck against the freezing winds of impossibility to make something gloriously possible.
I have had an exceedingly charmed life in the theater, and have worked at places and with people I continue to be gobsmacked by in terms of my luck and honor of the opportunity to be involved with them.
And so so many of them have been produced by and associated with The Foundry. I often feel sad that my extraordinary mentor, the late great Joseph Papp, was never able to see what Melanie Joseph and the Foundry wrought...as their core of purpose was in many ways aligned to his own..and he might easily have seen Melanie as another Miranda - able to see how beauteous mankind is, and envision a brave new world that has such people in it. Also, one of my favorite lines in Grisha Coleman's HOT MOUTH was "with your eyes on the prize, have you seen what the prize is?" - The Foundry over and over was able to show us what the true prize might indeed be..and on what our eyes should really be focused.
But I render my apologies to the medical community for my part in luring away what I suspect might have been a great doctor. However, I do think Melanie Joseph was called perhaps to help heal and find healers for other illnesses...the ones Artaud talked about.
So, sorry. Not sorry.
(Morgan spits a nickel)
I’ve been trying to explain to myself, as preparation to post here, why, when I’m stumped on an application of some sort, or in a nostalgic conversation with a longtime conspirator about what happened in the last quarter of a century, an anchor I can count on to help me recalibrate my recall is the “work” page of the Foundry Website. Neighborhoods, jobs, romances, adventures, my take on current events, what I was trying to incite in myself and my community…have been consistently reflected in and informed by Foundry work.
A few years ago I tested myself. I tried instead going to the stack of programs from concerts I’ve been to, or other great theatre productions, or my yelp reviews… all interesting but not nearly as encompassingly evocative. Even the years of my strange and psychically injurious (if still positively transformative) experiment of leaving New York and living in Idaho 2001-2007, the productions I was I was so keenly aware I was missing were meaningful to me. Or when I was just back in NYC for a matter of days and could not find my way to the Astoria production of “Open House” in time to participate, that was my personally perfect experience of the production. I haven’t done much more than half of what Foundry has launched but it all seems somehow equally part of my history.
The connection I feel is undoubtedly personal, from the vows I made after Convention of Cartography (mainly “to always be all in”) to the heavy duty stuff I’m still unpacking after Master, but also including a lot of little details about productions that I might deem “coincidence” if I believed in that but certainly couldn’t rationalize as “well obviously EVERYONE is thinking that these days.”
Feels weird to post it - I feel a little like a fanboy… “Melanie Joseph was speaking directly to me.” But seriously, I think even the idea of a Foundry Production automatically gets me in the zone where I’m really paying attention and internalizing the connections. And I imagine that to be nearly universal to the Foundry community.
The gravitational pull of the Foundry thing draws so many courageous souls together to live in the moments that are the Foundry’s expanding narrative reach, - as writers, producers, actors, audience, participating audience (all those categories Foundry productions deconstruct) - and tosses us back out as sparkly stars illuminating the universe. And pulls us back in right when it’s our time to re-sparklify again.
This, too. The remembering thing. It’s just right. I’m waiting until April Fool’s (my personal New Year’s Day since before I even met the Foundry) to read the rest of the cast’s contributions. And I have faith that it’s all going to turn out beautifully momentous.
My first experience with the Foundry was when I reached out to Melanie at the recommendation of Stephanie Ybarra to ask for her help regarding the art.party.theater.company installation "STARBOX" in Bryant Park! Melanie and the Foundry supported our work with a grant, but perhaps even more importantly, Melanie guided us through the creation process and had so many sage pieces of advice and provocation towards making our art more investigative, bigger and more profound. I will always remember meetings with Melanie around the big wooden table in the Foundry office where she would ask a question that opened up an aspect of the work for me that I had not previously considered. I know the piece, which had 40 actors of all different ages, races, experiences come together to talk in a smart way about the American fascination with celebrity, was much, much better for Melanie and the Foundry's help! The money from the grant helped us build a giant mirrored box, lit from the inside with tons of lightbulbs, that we loaded in to Bryant Park 4 times in July 2010.
Melanie really IS the Foundry. The Foundry is the center of a giant network of artists who are working to say something important in a way that is equally illuminating. Where form magnifies content.
In a file I keep that’s labeled “publicity samples,” there’s a small flat plastic bag that came through the mail a while back. It holds a tangle of skinny brown tape, unspooled from a cassette. Theoretically I flip through that file when I need ideas, especially when I DESPERATELY need ideas, but that’s not why I keep this one. When I happen upon it among the rest, I get to pause for a well-deserved moment of awe. It’s an aspirational object, a token from an alternate route, a true north. You can make your brochure a different size, or fold it differently, that’s one kind of conversation. Or you can say, forget your damn brochure, EVERYTHING is gonna be part of the performance. (Pulling the tape out of all those cassettes? Stuffing them into baggies? Who… how??? The endeavor still fills me with wonder). Everything I’ve ever received from The Foundry – mailbox inventions, online arrows to irresistible hints, every experience in the theater – has given me something I recognize, then re-purposed it to mess with my perspective, and not just because of the ideas inside of it, but because of how it’s made and its intention in the world. Melanie and all that intention -- making our community so much richer.
My first Foundry experience was hearing Melanie talking at a conference on new plays. I was there eavesdropping on her conversation, actually. Standing nearby pretending to just be there for a smoke. She wasn't on a panel or anything. She was just talking about how this piece Talk was touring now and that it had emerged in the wake of something she called Conversations on Hope and I started to understand that this was a theater that deeply connected conversation and performance, that it didn't have its own theater, that it made work that felt urgent - or they didn't make it at all. "Why would you?" she was saying. I was listening. And I don't think I ever stopped. Another conference, and I still hadn't seen the work or spent any time with Melanie one on one. Now she's on a panel, and she's saying she felt producing was a creative art and that she was a maker as producer, and that she commissioned work though she had no theater, no timeline, little money, and no rehearsal space, and that she really didn't believe in contracts but sometimes had to use them. And I suddenly realized I was staring at her so hard, with my mouth hanging open, that she was staring back at me, cuz how could she not I was making such a spectacle of my staring. And it wasn't weird or awkward. It was an instant knowing of each other. A head on collision into this knowing of each other, that's what it felt like. I went on to see a bunch of Foundry work, and have had many, many hours of conversation with this person who feels so like my sister it's impossible, and I could never now single out one moment that is Foundry. It's a whole life. And life, as Melanie's fond of saying, is long! And how great is that? I remember the feeling when I saw Telephone of staying in my seat hoping hoping hoping it would just start again, like a movie. I remember wiping away surprise tears when the bus trip I took on Provenance of Beauty wound its way down to the prison and forlorn young people, hoodies pulled over their heads, hiding their faces, walked in the other direction, away from the floating prison and the people they had been there to visit. Claudia Rankine's text was being poured into my ears. I remember my first Free Range. My first (and only) visit to Africa for the World Social Forum, trying to really really understand what Melanie was saying when she was saying "another world is not just possible, it's happening!" I've found, over these many years, that it is always worth any effort I've made to really really understand what Melanie is saying. I remember getting lost in a Kenyan canyon with Tracey Scott Wilson as we tried to talk through the crazy collisions we were experiencing at the Forum. Foundry is, for me, the work I've seen, the people I've met, the conversations I've heard, and had, the spaces its opened in my work and in my heart, and it's mostly the audacity of the very idea-- just the radical idea holding open a space in the universe for things that seem impossible, that risk too much, that reveal themselves over huge arcs of time and only after terrible doubts, heartbreaks, and testing your resilience. And now it's a collection of memories that fuel me, confront me, comfort me, and some that still just confound. It's a living archive I carry with me and know I will til I've breathed my last.
In the spring of 1995,I was handed a stack of pages that resembled a play, but turned out to be so much more--DEVIANT CRAFT--by W. David Hancock. "Here," Melanie said, "you're gonna play Mr. Snow." I wasn't asked to audition for this major role, never had to suffer through call backs, the script and role were just handed to me. Come to think of it, I don't think I was even asked if I wanted to do it. To Melanie that was already a given.
Because of the demands of the script, we rehearsed for a few extra weeks, I forgot how many, rehearsed then performed in the cavernous granite and limestone vault of the Brooklyn Bridge Anchorage. During our early rehearsals it was chilly, then got impossibly hot as the summer took over. Melanie brought in the estimable Teddy Jefferson to design and build a three tiered wooden set, straight up, complete with landings and railings and thick wooden beams. Scenes were written, rewritten, tossed out, replaced, argued over daily. My character, Mr. Snow, nicknamed Frosty because of my gray hair, ran the Drama Therapy Group at the Phlogiston Foundation, a women's prison where the inmates were violent criminals but also geniuses. In the play within the play, the audience was ostensibly coming to see Mr. Snow and the inmates perform THE TEMPEST. I was Prospero while the late, great Lee Nagrin, ten fifteen years older than me, was my daughter Miranda. I can still her voice, her sweet vibrato singing Miranda's lines to me night after night as we stood on the second level. Lee had put thermometers on every level, and every night made it a point to tell me how hot it was on each landing. Hell it turns out wasn't below but above us. On the topmost level if was often 97 or 98 degrees. During the run I bought a cardboard belt and added holes to keep my pants up since I lost rougly ten pounds during the run. My shirt and tie were soaked after each performance. I remember being in awe of the adventurous Doris DeFarnicio, playing Ariel, crossing the stage on the second level railing as though she was starring with the Cirque Du Soleil. To be able to call Ching Valdez Aran as Caliban to account nightly was thrilling as the script shifted from Shakespeare to Hancock. This seeming chaos corralled and controlled by Melanie's sure hand. One night in late August as I climbed to a higher level to make my opening introduction, I realized how dizzy I was, probably from the heat. I held the railing tightly, afraid to look down, afraid I'd take a swan dive down to the ancient brick floor. Another night a troubled actress during a drama therapy scene, tossed a chair across the stage in my direction, then at the end of the show, cursing, walked out of the theater never to be seen again. Melanie had to recast which she did the next day and we were right back in business.
The opening of the show was in improvised interval between the actors and the arriving audience, teasing them, annoying them, telling the she show would have to be cancelled because of an actor who didn't show up. Then she showed up. This interaction with the audience was one of the best experiences of my theatrical life, so rich, so close to the heart of something real, a bit dangerous as the audience watched me boss, berate the women prisoners. I had no idea of what we had, but night after night the excitement seemed to grow. The performances got richer. The New York Times hinted that something quite interesting was happening inside the Brooklyn Bridge. Melanie even extended the run a week or two, and as we entered September, the weather became more forgiving.
As far as I know Melanie never let on that what we were doing was almost goddamned impossible for an established theater company let alone the neophyte Foundry as we were working with what I consider to be the most inventive script I'd ever seen where I had to pleasure and responsibility to create a role that was carefully structured, yet gave me moments for improvisation nightly.
They say that a cocaine addict keeps seeking the drug because they are chasing the thrill of that first high. So now twenty-three years later, I still suit up occasionally (reluctantly), head out of the house to take on another promising, offbeat piece, in the hope I will be able to recreate, recapture, some of the magic I found when I followed Melanie Joseph and her vision for The Foundry Theater into the Brooklyn Bridge Anchorage in the summer of 1995.
Astonishment and a sense of adventure, risk-taking and total integrity of vision, this is what I always will remember about attending the Foundry Theater.
Cassandra Medley astonishment and a sense of adventure, risk-taking and total integrity of vision, this is what I always will remember about attending
I've been following, watching, and been inspired by the work of the Foundry since 2000, when I saw AND GOD CREATED GREAT WALES, whereat my jaw was open and my spine was tingling for nigh two hours. But I think my most meaningful Foundry-based experience was bringing my mother to see GOOD PERSON OF SZECHWAN. During my East Village childhood, my mother introduced me to endless, wonderful, mind-and-heart opening theater. So it was wonderful not just to experience your extraordinary GOOD PERSON, but to also have the chance to return the favor and give my mother the gift of such an experience.
My very own FOUNDRY working experience was some years ago now, but I am
still acutely feeling it because it was, in a word, LIFE-CHANGING. Not something to be said
casually, yet, in my case, absolutely ACCURATE. TRULY!
The project was “AND GOD CREATED GREAT WHALES”, the chamber opera/
performance piece written and performed by RINDE ECKERT and co-starring NORA COLE,
directed by ME. And it was way back, indeed pre “9/11”, at the tail end of the TWENTIETH CENTURY
when Rinde came to me in Venice California where I was living most of the time, and implored me
to direct this project-in-progress, his own musing on Herman Melville’s MOBY DICK and the
creative process itself and MORTALITY and ALOT of other things. I admired Rinde’s brilliant work
and he was a fan of mine, but I was SCARED of this one, and initially reluctant. The piece was NOT
in a very coherent place and I felt like I might not be the right man to pull it together, intrigued as I was.
THEN came the LIFE-CHANGER! MELANIE sat me down and, well, TOLD ME TO
DO IT. She was gracious, nurturing, flattering, perceptive and yet nothing less than RESOLUTE.
(Does this sound FAMILIAR, other FOUNDRY workers? HA!). She correctly identified that
I was restless in my California theater-making focus and eager for the challenge of such
a distinct project back in New York, and she pointed out the huge opportunity for GROWTH
and DISCOVERY of MY OWN during the MAKING of this project, aside from the results of the
project itself. And she promised that the FOUNDRY would support me every step of the way.
What can I say? She LIT A FLAME IN ME. I was hooked.
Elsewhere in this “book” RINDE has described our process making “WHALES” in
a church basement. It had a huge shaggy dog aspect, but a BRILLIANT one, and when we
finally opened at the Dance Theatre Workshop in 2000 (or was it 1still 999?) we had no idea
WHAT we had wrought, only that we were ALL working at the top of our game to make something
genuinely EXPRESSIVE. And that includes the genius designers KEVIN ADAMS and CLINT RAMOS.
And LO and BEHOLD, chapter two of the LIFE-CHANGING began! The response
to this dreamily non-narrative, poetic work crossed all logical boundaries of audience limitations.
We moved on to an off-Broadway run, all kinds of awards, a REVIVAL off-Broadway run ten
years later, touring, a LONDON ENGAGEMENT, a regional theater engagement. The project
became, essentially, the CAREER CALLING CARD for Rinde and I and everyone who was involved
in it. I moved BACK to NEW YORK, re-inspired to make work that comes from the brain and
the heart and feeling AGAIN that it is possible for work of this kind of be APPRECIATED.
Events like this don’t happen every day.
But Rinde and I have continued to make memorable music-driven theater pieces together
and he is now like another LIMB for me, a HUGE FACTOR in my creative and spirit life. AND I am
still living and working in New York, still INSPIRED by the possibility, not just of “artistic success”
but of the genuine, tender fulfillment of working at the top of one’s game. And why? Because almost
twenty years ago MELANIE insisted on nothing less than that. And, as she promised, the FOUNDRY
supported me in every aspect. When THE FOUNDRY makes a promise, its a keeper.
with love and thanks
I have struggled mightily with the task of articulating my thoughts and memories of The Foundry. Words usually come easy to me, but this time, I felt paralyzed. Sometimes in the past 4 months I would wake up in the middle of the night and have a dream from which I thought I could begin to speak about the Foundry, but by morning, those thoughts had eluded me, leaving a strong feeling but not anything tangible about which to write. Much like Foundry performances, the experience exceeded the articulation.
So I’ve given myself permission to write something imperfect just to fulfill my commitment to write this. It’s the permission Melanie always gave her artists so I will take that liberty and suspend judgement on myself to capture something of my experience in those early years.
I remember the many days in the cathedral like chambers of the Brooklyn Bridge with the Deviant Craft crew. While we built a multistory space inside the bridge, the play quite literally took up residence in our bodies, leaving us all with lingering respitory (sp?) illnesses due to the catacomb like dampness in the space. I remember Lee Nagrin’s haunting voice echoing through those chambers and trying to reconcile the gulf between Jim’s persona on and off stage. Those jumpsuits, the trunk of objects, how hard we worked to own that vast chamber. It was the early days of the Foundry and it felt as if so much was at stake, to create another success after Cartography.
The Legacy Series. I remember those visit to the Actor’s Equity nursing home where hours were later than other such facilities because it was filled with actors who had lived as night owls their whole lives and certainly weren’t going to start going to bed early just because they had retired. While we never did a Legacy Series focused on her, I adopted Marietta Maori, an Italian immigrant who was a star of the Italian stages in New York in the 1920 and 30s. I spent many a day talking to her and looking at her photos. I would marvel on the train home that this was my JOB now to create the next generation of work while honoring the past, quite literally with those visits to the home.
And HOTMOUTH… those voices echoing through my soul – raw in its first installation, more polished in its second. I never quite know which version was better – because it didn’t improve so much as evolve in ways that validated the Foundry’s commitment to see a project through – to invest deeply to enable an artist to truly explore.
And the Hope Conference – such a vision, so filled with risk. (although frankly, I am not even sure we knew exactly how risky it was). So many things went wrong but we learned because of Melanie’s fearlessness to pursue it wholeheartedly. It informed so much of what followed teaching us how tenuous the line can be between speaking your truth and making space for other truths at the same time.
I think my fondest memories might be of the Thanksgiving dinners – true community experiences where making food and art came together to enliven an otherwise unattractive space. It was such a joy to return each year – a family reunion of sorts.
And now I live far from NYC in Austin, Texas. I miss the Foundry but feel a connection to them through the Rudes whom I first met through Melanie when she produced Lipstick Traces. Having that tie back to the Foundry in Austin softened the blow of leaving. I am grateful for that relationship.
There is so much more to say, I look forward to reading what others have written.
Stage Manager, Deviant Craft 1995 (right?)
Associate Director 1995-96
Board Member and President (not sure of years)
Of the many incredible memories I have of The Foundry has given me, the greatest is experiencing The Provenance of Beauty. How to describe this show, which completely transformed the way I thought about New York City? Outrageous, daring, generous, iconoclastic - just like The Foundry itself. Melanie often speaks of the importance of “the invitation” of a theater, a show... Here the invitation was to see our city with fresh eyes, and to understand its beauties, horrors, and complexities anew, without dogma or preconception. There can be no greater artistic mission or achievement than that.
I gather the Foundry is taking a "pause". That's crap. It's not a word that could ever be associated with the Foundry. Ferocious, intelligent energy and thus momentum has always been in their DNA. A pause perhaps from trite expectations, but never a pause from an authentic, honest, heartfelt, and world-aware embrace of the highest artistic standards. My favorite thing about the Foundry is always my most recent experience.
It all comes down to the bus tour for me. It's the most important ride I've ever taken. What if I didn't get on that bus? It's probably the most important question I ask myself. Did the show change my life? I really don't think one show can. Did the people change my life? Without a doubt. I met you, Melanie, when truly no other theater would take me in, and you did. I remember getting rejections from all these theater companies I would never work for now. And I showed up to a workshop of a then untitled Kirk Lynn play and after just said, I'll do anything. And you said, come by Monday. And I did and you made the Foundry a home for me. And the people you made a home for made a home for others, and they made a home for others and it was truly never ending. Of course we're all just one big dysfunctional family. And that's part of it too. Is it because we care too much? If so, why do we care? How / why are we wired to care? What is really worth caring for? What is the Foundry? Was / is it just a theater company? God I hope not. It was way more important to me than theater. To call it a community seems too precious. The Foundry was / is / will never be precious. The Foundry is resilient. We are all fighters creating s place for the most brilliant and loving of all humans to create a world we want to live in. It's an ideal. Very hard to sustain. But I guess each Foundry show was a way to begin again. And again. And again. To get as close to that fleeting thing, that has brought us all here, whatever that may be.
The first performance I saw at The Foundry was The Box. But after seeing it once, I couldn't stay away and I ended up returning multiple times in order to bring friends and family. Since then, I've felt such trust and faith in The Foundry and have never been disappointed. What an incredible space, community, and powerhouse.
I hardly know where to start when it comes to the Foundry and what it has meant to me, how Melanie’s fearless vision and tireless efforts have forged theater that has consistently inspired, provoked, challenged, astonished, fascinating, delighted, amused and enlightened me. No other company in NYC that I can think of has so consistently and effectively struck a balance between bold artistic experimentation and socially conscious activism. Looking at the list of productions is like a “greatest hits” of my favorite theatrical experiences; it feels ungenerous to choose only one, self-indulgent to list them all. The Foundry means incredible performances by extraordinary actors in exceptional work: Rinde Eckert’s “And God Created Great Whales”, Birgit Huppuch’s astonishing monologue in “Telephone”, Okwui Okpokwasili in “The Roaring Girle” (or with Tony Torn in “Democracy in America”), Maggie Hoffmann and Steve Cuiffo in “Major Bang”, David Greenspan in “The Myopia”, Taylor Mac and Lisa Kron (in the same show!!!) in “Good Person of Szechwan” – I could go on and on. The Foundry means supporting new, urgent, necessary voices like Tarell Alvin McCraney’s “The Brothers Size”. The Foundry means theater in unexpected places that shows us the world from new perspectives like Aaron Landsman’s “Open House” and “The Provenance of Beauty”, co-created with Claudia Rankine (!!!). It means dialogues and community programs and All. The. Things. Thank you, Melanie & everyone who has kept the Foundry going all these years. You inspire us to persist as artists and citizens. Everyone who has experienced the Foundry’s work has emerged a little more conscious, a little wider, bigger, more; and thus the world has been made incrementally better.
I have been overwhelmed by what to write about The Foundry for months... so I'll choose something simple but meaningful. The Foundry has the best terrace (aka illicit roof access) ever! If only that roof had ears - thousands of conversations about theatre and life and art took place under that slice of East Village sky. I had my job interview out there that lead to 4 years of employment. For a long time, I was terrified that I'd get locked out, but the fear went away and love it out there. Like so many things about The Foundry, it was incredibly special.
At 20-something I joined the Foundry board. It's not something I really thought about. Melanie asked and I said yes and then there I was in meetings. Lots of meetings that had complex new words like DRAMATURGY. They also had spreadsheets and adults.
I don't think the other board members thought of themselves this way (adults). But for me, it felt like the craziest club. A club of adult things like payroll, smokers, Talvin, Morgan, Melanie and Race of the Arc Tattoo.
From the vantage point of 40-something, it is clear what flight school actually looks like.
See, they put you in a plane with a seasoned pilot(s) and you log hours. Plane up, plane down.
And, behind that routine:
- Straining engines that defy belief and lift off the goddamn ground.
- Hours spent actually plummeting from the sky and turning upside down.
- Weird planes that streak over airshow bleachers and scare the civilians.
- Unimaginable destinations you cannot walk to on your own.
For those of us that, at 20-something self-defined as "grounded", who felt a calm assurance from balanced budgets, but really truly also loved the impossible. Some school was/is in order. Sometimes you have to belt-in with seasoned pilots and just trust that "balance" has many forms.
Talvin Wilks, Morgan Jenness, Melanie Joseph and me (?) maybe there were others but that part's hazy. How do you even begin to describe the Jedi-risk training that I got from these three theater warriors?
The conversations. The arguments. The sheer lunacy of the productions that nearly bankrupted us EVERY TIME.
Race Of the Arc Tattoo, Gertrude and Alice, And God Created Great Whales.
- Straining engines that defy belief and lift off the goddamn ground.
- Hours spent actually plummeting from the sky and turning upside down.
- Weird planes that streak over airshow bleachers and scare the civilians.
- Unimaginable destinations you cannot walk to on your own
God, I love you people. I love everything you gave us. Give us. Gave me, give me.
Among the lists of the impossible/achieved: I made Melanie get a retirement account.
Defy the odds, my friends. Do it collectively. Crowdsource your love and your risk. Foundry Theater flight school 4-ever.
Wrote my first theatre review for a Foundry production, The Race of the Ark Tattoo, back 1998, for an undergrad course at Princeton. Years later, I never watch a play critically without visualizing that eclectic, intimate Foundry space.
Karron Graves, Yale MFA
The first show I ever saw at the Foundry, I saw by accident. It was TALK by Carl Hancock Rux. I still have never quite put together how that happened, but as with so many perfect or beautifully imperfect things in the theater, it was an extraordinary and happy accident. I was having a tough time being in NY and away from the Bay Area. I was feeling like a fish out of water. I stepped into the space, the lights floated down and within seconds I felt at home and I felt like I was watching New York theater. I don't even know what that means, but in my heart I felt like I was watching the theater I had crossed the country to see. I had always hoped I'd get to work with the Foundry. It never happened but I got to be a very happy and inspired spectator, and hearing that it's time for the Foundry to head to greener pastures or to explore other solar systems, well they're going to take a piece of my heart with them. They're forever a bright star in the NY theater constellation. It's the last grouping of stars I look at before I go to bed at night in the West. It's a reminder to always keep my feet in the sand and my heart at home. Thank you for everything Melanie and the Foundry.
- Daniel Talbott
I remember working on TELEPHONE very well. It was a tumultuous yet rewarding experience. Taking poetry and trying to make it dramatic presented a litany of obstacles. Anytime you try to challenge form, you walk a very thin line. Whenever I do a play, I always have some moment of darkness in the process, some fear that it will never come together. But inevitably things solidify, the play takes shape, and you give it it’s best shot. Throughout the entire process of TELEPHONE, that dark feeling never left. I felt that all the way up to the dinner break before the first preview. I mean, we were standing there in different plateaux, in the near dark, talking into microphones. I wasn’t sure if everything was going to jell and the show would be amazing or if we were about to present the biggest pile of pretentious horseshit in the history of off-Broadway theatre. But the audience came, the feeling was electric, and the show transcended into the sublime. It is something I will never forget, and I’m grateful to The Foundry to have been a part of it.
The Foundry is where I met an unbelievable group of radical people giving words and shapes to the most important question possible: Is this world what we mean for it to be?
My first experience with the Foundry was watching Pins and Needles with the cast of members of a housing organization in NYC called FUREE. I cried and was amazed at the strong storyline and cast realizing that this experience was not only life changing for me as a viewer and admirer of community theatre (and a Latinx woman paying way too much on my rent), but also for the cast and crew, first time actors and top notch directors working with a versatile group. The FOUNDRY to me represented a commitment to bridging local movements in NY with high quality theatre. They have been creating relationships between social justice and the arts in an intimate and inspiring way. Later, I was selected to participate in the Ambassadors program and invited young people from the Bronx and Sunset Park that I was working with to come see 3 Broadway plays in NYC. The young people were both grateful for the experience but also recognized the lack of stories that represented them in mainstream theatre. This led to life-changing conversations and many of the movements for inclusion and diversity in stories, narratives and art making that we see today. The spirit of Melanie as the founder and RJ as community liason have always opened space for new opportunities and out of the box thinking. Also, I consider the FOUNDRY's staff as mentors and collaborators that can be relied on for life. We marched together in protests for housing rights and climate change and also planned together to make theatre that was relevant to oppressed communities. Whatever the FOUNDRY does next, I know it will be from a place of assessing conditions and realities and figuring out what kind of spark theatre needs to make in people's lives now. Places of love will continue to be just that.
I attended a thrilling performance of "Good Person of Szechwan" at LaMaMa in February 2013. I particularly remember the performances of Taylor Mac, Vinie Burrows and the boy actor Jack Allen Greenfield. I included some photos of that memorable evening in a separate email.
I am grateful to Melanie for reaching out to me with a notion of making a play with magic in it. In all that she cultivates, she has the ability to bring the right combination of people together and ignite the spark to make something unique. It was an honor to work with The Foundry and the amazing team that made "Major Bang : or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Dirty Bomb." The questions and themes raised in that piece are more relevant today then ever.
Taylor Mac in "Good Person of Szechuan” We took all four of our step/kids and all of us were mesmerized, challenged, and entertained — everything you hope for from a brilliantly cast and conceived piece of theater.
I saw telephone accidentally. I had gone to the theater expecting to see david greenspan do gertrude stein but I had mixed up the days. I stayed and I went back twice. I never ended up seeing david greenspan do gertrude stein. I can't quite explain what telephone meant to me. it wasn't like anything I'd seen before or anything I've seen since. It was a sacred experience.
We developed and rehearsed And God Created Great Whales in the basement of a Greek Orthodox Church on the upper west side. The cleaning staff, a couple of older women who looked exactly like you'd want them to look - dowdy, stout, with the air of skeptical peasants - watched us with amusement as we slowly came to terms. Every day I'd re-write the script from the day before. Poor Nora had to keep discarding what she'd memorized. Melanie showed up regularly to throw a spammer in the work and improve it. We didn't really know what we had until we opened. Melanie and Foundry hung with us through all the zigging and zagging as we wended our way (Maestro David Schweizer, the redoubtable Nora Cole, and Scott Pegg our puckish and insightful stage manager) toward something remarkable. So Foundry is linked in my mind with that crazy basement (under the house of God?) where we forged a work of art we loved and several life long friendships. It don't get any better than that.
The Foundry made its very unique place in New York theatre as a venue not just for bringing to the stage riveting and provocative theatre, but also for providing a space for direct discourse on the most pressing issues of the day.
My personal most exciting Foundry experience was being a part of a delegation put together by the Foundry to attend the World Social Forum in Nairobi back in January of 2007. It was thrilling to be a part of a conversation with activists from around the world, as well as to make personal connections with some of the poorest Nairobis materially - but not poor in spirit! A journey that I still find enriching more than a decade later.
So I first met Melanie (and really learned about The Foundry) when we were both on a grants panel for the Philadelphia Theatre Initiative. Out-of-town tryout in Philadelphia, natch. We stayed in touch, but then she and James Morrison visited me under sad circumstances, to see if I would take on the board seat of the beloved, too-soon departed Thomas Proehl. How could I say no? I didn't want to say no. Perhaps I was so taken by the Foundry because it was so very different from the Roundabout, where I was Managing Director at the time. I mean, Roundabout is the largest theatre company in the country with 5 theatres, 3 of them on Broadway. The Foundry? Well, The Foundry does its work on buses, in living rooms of apartments across all the boroughs, and maybe, on occasion, in an actual theatre with four walls and everything. But The Foundry is not bound by real estate. It is an idea, a movement, really. And every time I walk out of a Foundry piece, I am moved, I learn something new, about me, about the world, and I want to engage more. And to attend a Foundry board meeting? Unlike any I've every attended. Sure, we pass the minutes and look at the finances, but we talk about the mission (and talk, and talk, and talk!). And I love every minute of it.
And Free Range Thanksgiving.
The Foundry was one of my first internships in NYC and one of the first New York productions that I wanted to go see over and over and over (O, Earth). I worked in Community Programs where I saw the value of dialogue and critique not just about the theatre but about the audience engagement process. I was encouraged by the female leadership in my brief time at The Foundry, and met a good friend and collaborator. Much love, Foundry!
my mentor sent me here to look for a rad job
It was a joyous experience to participate in A Conversation on Hope in 1998. Our youth from Global Kids were thrilled to have Cornell West participate in the workshop they led on intergenerational relationships and the language of hope. We also formed a new relationship with Ping Chong Theater Company and the amazing Trinket Monsod, which resulted in a youth version of Ping's Undesirable Elements and continues to this day. Thank you, Melanie Joseph. You and The Foundry are hope.
Evie Hantzopoulos/Global Kids
In 2006, thanks to a collaboration between David J Roberts, Stephanie Ybarra and Malcolm Darrell (all YSD students at the time) and the Foundry Theatre’s Melanie Joseph, Anne Erbe and Mark Russell at The Public, our Yale School of Drama production of Tarell McCraney’s The Brothers Size was brought to the Under the Radar festival.
Our run there was a launch pad. The play garnered enough attention that we were put into The Public’s 2007 Season, this time with Yale MFA’s in hand. The full original team, Tea Alagic (dir), Burke Brown (lights), Sarah Hodges (SM), Tarell McCraney, Brian Henry, Gilbert Owour and myself remounted the production and then went on to tour thanks to the Foundry’s support. The next and last stop for me was The Studio in DC, but the Foundry continued to take Tarell’s play to many other venues like The Spoleto Festival; Sydney Opera House; The Abbey Theatre, to name a few.
I was humbled to be a part of it for as long as i was and The Foundry always made us feel empowered and special. Reminding us what a great responsibility we were blessed with in the sharing of this particular story with the communities we were bringing it to.
The support we received from the Foundry was instrumental. I recall how magical our very first run of the show was. It was filled with love, tenderness and a level of truth that we seldom find but often chase and hope for in our work. Those who decide to dedicate themselves to the theatre, to Art, sometimes are asked to look back and try to point to the thing that was a defining moment, well, The Brother’s Size had the potential to be that thing. We felt it and it compelled our classmates to seek out help to keep it alive. All theater is ephemeral, but thanks to the Foundry, they gave us the chance to hold on to that magic for so much longer than we thought we’d be able to.
The play still resonates with me and i like to think, i hope it also does with all those we brought it to. Thank you Foundry, for making that possible and for dedicating your work to bringing artists together.
From my first Thanksgiving dinner on 2nd Avenue to a radical visioning session at St. Mark's Church, my memories of the Foundry are marked by a powerful, unifying thread: Melanie Joseph.
Melanie has brought together every type of artist and orchestrated just about every type of happening always with a passion for humanity, for our collective potential. Her laughter and her strength are what I remember most in between curtain calls that took my breath away with their grace.
Melanie and all that she brought to life through The Foundry helped me develop an unwavering belief that the world was a genuinely beautiful place that required nothing less than our total authenticity. From a table in a bright dining room where I moved props because a voice on the headphones told me I should, to a traditional audience seat where I leaned forward into a monologue that would not let me be comfortable ever again, The Foundry has consistently illuminated life in all its fearsome glory, as it is being lived right now.
I first learned about The Foundry from Talvin Wilks, as a "theater to know" when moving to New York City, hot on the heels of an internship at Ping Chong + Company. That summer, I applied for the Tom Proehl Creative Producing Fellowship and nearly got it, which only piqued my interest further.
My first Foundry show was Marcus Gardley's "The Box," which, as a young white woman coming from a rather homogenous peer group, was one of my first experiences sitting in a theater surrounded by an audience that largely looked different than me, and responded more vocally to the play as it happened. I viscerally remember the added layer of energy and compassion in that room.
Following "The Box," I brought my roommate to a "Devising Freedom" dialogue where we heard Danielle Sered speak on a panel. My roommate is a public high school English teacher in Brooklyn, and I daresay she found a new personal idol that night, as well as a new source of inspiration for her teaching, and the possibilities for her classroom.
And so although my personal experience with The Foundry has thus far been limited, I have a deep appreciation for its work, and I feel its importance in the New York theater landscape. I look forward to seeing how it continues to grow.
I hope I'm not too late to take part in sharing these memories. I was in school during the fall and had no time for anything! Anyway, my first Foundry memory was when you did a performance at my house in Astoria. That was, maybe, ten years ago or more? I'm not remembering the name of the piece but it a cool and pertinent piece about housing in NYC and gentrification. I'll never know how we got 30 audience members plus the cast and crew into my tiny living room but it was a wonderful event that I will never forget!
The Foundry Theatre was my first artistic home when I moved to New York (three short years ago). Things that helped me get through my first year were: hanging out on the roof with Melanie and Kate, Foundry thanksgiving and Gideon’s strange song, Casey’s 1,000,000 page long first draft of what would become O, Earth(which is a testament to how much she has to give!!), cramming 14 people around a small table and reading draft after draft over the course of a year with theatre folks I’ve admired since I was young (Mo Angelos! David Greenspan! David Cale! to name a few). The Foundry was a place that let me know it was possible, whatever IT was- the making, the assembly (both in the construction and gathering of people), argument, thought, imagination, education, activism. For me it was a true Theatre, fueled by passion - equal parts Heart and Intellect... a song from the Earth. There’s so much more to say, I don’t think I’ll ever do it justice in words. I’ll be forever grateful for The Foundry... and it will always be a home to me, as it has been to so many.
my first experience with the Foundry Theater was
so profound. so beautiful. so tender. so autonomous.
it was outside. you were smoking. Gideon introduced me to you - thank you Gideon, always - and out of you came -next to the smoke- that lustrous gorgeous being that you are. I thank 'creation' for being in dialogue with you.
I can say with some confidence that the Foundry was a crucial actor in my politicization. The 2012 conference "This is How We Do It" was my first interaction with the company. I was 20 and studying theater in college. I was just starting to consider "politics," and was getting involved with activism. Having been shuttled straight from my suburban upbringing to a private liberal arts college in the middle of New York state, I was not accustomed to solo travel. But none of my theater friends were interested in the conference. I'm so glad my response was to make the plans anyway instead of stay within the safety of my social group. It would be the beginning of a very important journey that I'm still on.
I had just boarded the NJ transit inbound to NYC when I got a call from the guy I was dating. He had called to break up with me while I was out of town, supposedly to make it easier on his cheating ass. I sat, traveling by myself for the first time, surrounded by people I didn't know, and started to cry right in the train car. I thought, this is too much, I should just turn around and go home. Even as I got myself to Cooper's Union, where the first event in the conference was held, I stood outside, frozen by the sounds of the city, heart-sore,
wondering what the hell I was doing here. Finally, after a long time, I entered the building. There was an enormous crowd of people packed around the entrance of the auditorium. As 7:00 came and went, I distinctly remember what at first appeared to be fragile older women starting to bang on the door yelling Let us in! Let us in! When the doors finally creaked open we spilled into the auditorium where Grace Lee Boggs was going to speak. To be honest I'd never even heard of her, or any of the other speakers that weekend, or even of most of the concepts being discussed that weekend. It was a glorious way to be inducted into the world of activism.
I walked into Race Of The Ark Tattoo hearing only that I had to see it, that it was amazing and the less I knew the better. A guy who looked familiar, or at least sympathetic, was selling old pieces of things, and other things. Certain things were not for sale. He was welcoming if not obsequious. He was also maybe grieving, it seemed. Or forgetting how to.
After awhile he gathered the remaining things (some of which he admonished us were not for sale) into a toy Winnebago, and proceeded to tell the most layered, evocative story I had seen. In some ways I think I woke up that night. I remember feeling like I was watching an engine being constructed as it ran. I remember being in awe of the mechanics and the feelings and the words strung the way they were - right through my heart - in equal measure.
I left and walked for an hour or more. I was still catching up to what I'd just seen. I think in some ways I still am.
Since then I've been included in Foundry processes, as a maker, an audience member, a contributor, a bouncer-offer of ideas and propositions, and each time I relish the sense that I have to run to keep up, that I have to concentrate on what is being discussed or heard or seen as hard as I do on anything in my life.
The Foundry is the possible because it is a small alliance of like and dissonant minds; we are unsatisfied even as we are grateful. We know we can change the world if we just listen hard enough. We are humbled and harrowed by the beauty of it, the potential, the failures and the relinquishments. The Foundry is, literally, food, shelter, thought and feeling. I am so thankful to have been and be part of it.
When it was time to select clothing for The Myopia, Melanie took me shopping! To THEORY! When it was time to make a final decision about what to wear, she convinced me to wear tight pants and a black print flowered shirt - things I would never have worn. She was right - and I haven't turned back since. And she convinced me to actually do the play. I didn't think people would be interested. She said people would be. She was right. And I'm proud to say that one of the most important opportunities in my artistic career was under the auspices of The Foundry.
My first Foundry experience was Deviant Craft. I knew zero about theatre, had seen maybe a dozen plays in my life, and was invited by a friend to see it. From the get go I was mesmerized, by the staging (In the Brooklyn Foundry) by the actors, and by the craziness of the entire play (the story is set in an insane asylum). But what really stuck with me? When Ching Valdes Aran made us part of the show for a moment. It was so exciting and I thought I was so cool.
The Foundry places you in the middle of an experience called a play, where you are entertained and challenged. The Foundry stands for social justice. Your experience is seeped in social justice issues, presented in a different form, tickling your brain, starting the conversation. The experience doesn’t end there. Many a play ends with a talkback/around/with. What is better than having a conversation with the people who made what you just saw possible? Writers, directors, actors. The discussions go beyond the creative, they go to the issues. Ideas, beliefs, theories, solutions, opening your eyes to different possibilities. Those “what was…”? questions are answered and more. And that’s a good thing. This makes the Foundry unique, timely, and necessary.
In my various and sundry careers at BAM, NYTW, PS122, etc., "Race of the Ark Tattoo" was one of the most fantastically bizarre and compelling works of theater that I had a (small) part to help get it up on its feet. It was in a very,very hot garage off 1st Ave. Twenty-five years later, I can still see it, hear it and feel the dust in my nose.
The Foundry Theater was the first and only theater that felt like it was creating the exact theater I wanted in the world - gorgeous, multiform, troubling, political, experimental, generous, upsetting. Every show I've seen (Good Person of Szechwan, The Box, O' Earth, Master) have been some of the fully realized work I've ever experienced.
But the moment I fell in love fully and completely was at a talk the Foundry hosted between Taylor Mac and Robin Kelley. Finally - an historian (who gets art) and an artist (who gets history) were brought together. It made material the idea of the artist as a member of a civic society - one who pushes and questions that society, but a member nonetheless. We talk so much about cross-disciplinary work in the theater; rarely do we mean crossing OUTSIDE of the arts to collaborate with historians, activists, public policy experts, social workers. The Foundry actually facilitates this cross-pollination. New York is a better city for it.
I took a group of 15 freshmen from NYU on the most wonderful theater adventure, "The Provenance of Beauty" (2009) and it was magical in many ways. Several still talk about it as changing the way they think about theater and life.