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.
In my interview, Melanie asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. It had been some 15 years since someone had asked such a thing. I remember Melanie and Sunder leaning forward, eyes and ears open, almost excited for my answer. I have no idea what I said, but for some reason they gave me the job. And then handed me Telephone to produce. Telephone. Someone asked me what it was about and I have no idea how I explained it. Then they asked me how we could make a show on a moving bus. As if I might know. My time at The Foundry was a never-ending series of questions that I didn’t know how to answer. I have no memory of how I responded to Melanie’s first question. But I know the answer now. When I grow up, I want to ask questions like Melanie – questions that people ponder for years to come, questions that get at who we are, how we got here, who we want to be, and how it all works.
I read David Hancock's The Convention of Cartography as a student. I didn't know anything about the Foundry, but reading that play exploded my mind and my idea of what theater could be. It also had a fundamental influence on the way I think about theater now. Later, when I moved to New York, the next earth-shattering experience I had with theater was seeing Telephone, which is probably when I first heard about the Foundry. I had never felt so simultaneously close and far away from a work of theater before, so intimate with something so strange, so understanding of the incomprehensible. A little later I saw Etiquette at Veselka. I attended this two person participatory piece with my friend. At some point, the audio guide told me to close my eyes, and it spoke in a calming voice about something...I can't remember it exactly, but it was poetic, almost meditative. When I opened my eyes, my friend had tears streaming down her cheeks and red eyes, which, in combination to the beautifully reflective or maybe psychologically piercing language I was hearing, made me cry. Later, I found out that her audio-guide had told her to rub her eyes and place water droplets on her cheeks with an eye dropper. Although I felt a little duped, I also felt even more moved...I felt that somehow I got something more out of it. This piece drew my attention to the power of perception, and once again opened my eyes to how theater might make space for each of our subjectivities while still creating an over-arching experience. These were just the first three Foundry shows I experienced - I have since seen many more. I only realized later that almost all of the most special and formative theater works I experienced in my early 20s were connected to the Foundry. Years later I saw Melanie Joseph speak about the project and origins of The Foundry, and it all came together. The vision and mission at play, the thoughtfulness of every aspect of the community's experience with their work, all of it, has worked to make me and every other audience member to feel like we are part of something very special, that's been crafted just for us. The Foundry produces experiences that genuinely reward reflection and engage audience members as participants in a community, no matter what type of event. They provide the theater community with a model for asking difficult questions of ourselves as artists, organizations, and citizens, and for challenging ourselves to name our values and to fully embody them. They also show us that it is not enough to do this once, but that we must continually do so, if we want to be responsive to the world as it is, and as it becomes. I'm so grateful to have been both fed by and provoked by The Foundry for all these years.
1. Taylor Mac 2. Telephone
Those shows were full-bodied, cellular changing theatrical masterpieces. Unexpected. Wild. Inventive. Deeply satisfying. Strange and Amazing.
t was the first night of the 2001 Foundry Theatre production of the Rude Mechanicals' adaptation of my book "Lipstick Traces." It had been staged before, first in New York at the Fringe Festival in 1999 and then ran in the Rude Mechs' hometown of Austin, Texas. I'd seen it there. I was overcome. "You staged the book I wanted to write," I said to Shawn Sides, the director, minutes after the curtain came down. There was a certain anarchic-creative essence to the story I'd tried to tell that I was never quite able to get on the page. Shawn and playwright Kirk Lynn and Jason Liebricht (as Johnny Rotten) and Lana Lesley (as the Narrator aka the Total Hysteric) and more—they did get it. I couldn't imagine it could ever be better.
Melanie Joseph took over as producer when the play had its residency at the Ohio Theatre in New York. She recruited New York actors for the other (multiple) roles: Ean Sheehy (as John of Leyden, Tristan Tzara, and Michel Mourre), T. Ryder Smith (as Richard Huelsenbeck in, among other manifestations, a phantasmagoric acrobat act as a revelation of the Cabaret Voltaire), and James Urbaniak as Hugo Ball, Steve Jones, and most perfectly Guy Debord, in not the best (no way to choose) but in a beyond the ken bit of staging—Sheehy’s the faux Dominican Michel Mourre in 1950 as an actual medieval Dominican monk trudging across the stage, a rope over his shoulder, some impossibly heavy off-stage object at the end of it--which turned out to be a Paris cafe table at which sat Debord and David Greenspan’s Malcolm McLaren discussing the finer points of art and revolution. Greenspan’s McLaren was the most precise incarnation--waspish, conspiring with the devil and the audience in the same wink, beyond cool, commanding the stage and the story but somehow a step back from it, silently laughing.
It was almost too much to take in. The audience was rapt. Debbie Harry and Laurie Anderson were there, sitting together: that was exciting. It was only about 75 minutes and it seemed like a dozen telescoped centuries. We walked back to our hotel in shock, reveling in, reliving, restaging, every moment.
Ok. The Foundry Theatre knew what they had and what to do with it. They knew what they were going to put on stage; we didn't. But the didn't know everything about what they'd put on stage.
The next morning the phone rang. My wife answered. "You'll love this," she said. "It's David Greenspan still pretending to be Malcolm McLaren. He--or he--wants to talk to you." I got on the phone. "Hello, Grail," the voice said--odd, since I'd met David and he knew how to pronounce my name, and I'd met McLaren on a panel at the Fashion Institute of Technology some time before and he was never going to learn. He went on, rapid fire: the play was fantastic, it had to go to London, he--the faux he, that is--would produce it, and-- "David," I said, "I wish." "What do you mean, 'David'? You know me, this is Malcolm!" We went back and forth until I realized it was. He'd been there the night before. He'd loved David Greenspan: for the first time he understood something about himself. He'd understood how to play himself. How the play could be completed. Thanks to the Foundry production, Malcolm McLaren was going to take the play to London. He was going to produce it. And he was going to play himself.
No, it didn't happen. The Foundry production played through the Midwest, in Seattle, had a residency at UCLA. The Rude Mechs took it to Strasbourg. But it never reached London. I was lucky to stay in touch with Malcolm, and even become friends, to get to know his beloved Young Kim, who remains a friend now. Malcolm was always full of plans; playing himself--or, really, playing David Greenspan--never came up again. But I can see it now.
My quintessential Foundry moment wasn't a theatrial experience, roundtable, town meeting, or even a dinner (though there were many of the aforementioned that were absolutely life-changing). It was meeting Melanie Joseph for the first time in Chelsea, sitting at an outdoor restaurant with her for hours, chain-smoking cigarettes, looking into the twin pools of her big wide open questioning eyes and having a deep heartfelt conversation until the early morning hours about art and the artists' responsibility to social change and political awareness. The conversation was not so much about the "i" as much as it was about the nature and existence of the collective "we": or as the Bulgarian philosopher Julia Kristeva once put it, "Not me. Not that. But not nothing, either. A 'something' that I do not recognize as a thing. A weight of meaninglessness, about which there is nothing insignificant, and which crushes me. On the edge of nonexistence and hallucination, of a reality that, if I acknowledge it, annihilates me. There, abject and abjection are safeguards. The primers of my culture."
That conversation thrust me into a pragmatic shift in my own life and work. It unearthed me, and continues to seed my core. There would be many such conversations with Joseph over the years. Some were full of laughter, some were like two bodies making love for the first time over and over and perfectly, some sat on the edge of violent outbursts declaring war...but all were (and are) necessary.
Carl Hancock Rux
I saw many Foundry productions, but not until 2007-08 did I work side by side with the incredible, unparalleled Melanie Joseph. OPEN HOUSE took place that year, and I was fortunate to see a few of the venues... but working in the office was akin to being in a deep well or creative juices, flowing daily and incessantly. Powerful, creative, artistic woman/womyn/women have always been my favorite partner(s) in theatre work. And I am proud to say Mel and I and our cohorts at the time, cranked out some grants that were 99% successful. Because of the intensity and drive of Mel.. days I will never forget. I look forward with glee to perusing these pages of the years of play/work that are surely some of the best in NY history.
Bonnie Sue Stein
According to your website, it was June 1998. Morgan Jenness, in an early "these are artists you need to know" contribution to my education, brought me to David Hancock's "Race of the Ark Tattoo." I'm sure it was the first, but not the last, of David's plays I would see. I'm pretty sure it's the first time I saw Matthew Maher. And for a young person still in the early years of her professional career, it was a make or break moment. Plays did not need to have traditional beginnings, middles and ends. The audience didn't have to sit passively and silently. And a man with a box can fill an evening of theater every bit as fully as a cast of twenty, maybe even more so. And perhaps most importantly, one woman with a vision of theater and the will and determination to make it happen can shape the theatrical landscape. What an incredible gift to witness. That there was space in New York for a woman who knew what she liked, would stand by the artists she adored, choose difficult over easy, and give audiences a reason to leave their homes and gather communally for an experience. Melanie Joseph has provided that over and over again. I particularly remember Carl Hancock Rux's "Talk." And more recently Taylor Mac in "Good Person of Szechwan." If ever a production preceded a national conversation, it was that one. Over and over The Foundry Theatre has gathered curious and passionate theater goers and given them a memorable ride. And I suspect I'm not alone in receiving and acting on the message that a woman with a passion is a very good thing in the theater. A candle was lit on the lower east side and shone into the darkness. I hope it shines forever.
I was working as a booking agent for MAPP - just upstairs from the Foundry's office. I had recently seen Major Bang, my first Foundry production, and loved it.
At a booking conference, a presenter I had become friendly with was looking for super cool, witty, innovative theater piece to begin her season with. She and I had already determined that nothing in MAPP's current portfolio fit the bill. So I suggested that she book Major Bang. She hadn't seen it but went with my recommendation on faith.
It was win-win-win for all of us. It felt great to have been able to help another theater company with a booking, Vanderbilt University successfully presented their first Foundry Theater production, and I had solidified the trust of a colleague that evolved into a great presenter-agent partnership extending over many years.
In the midst of the annual NEXT WAVE FESTIVAL here at BAM I am reflecting at this precise moment on the following facts: I have a great love for Melanie Joseph. Over the years I have enjoyed being an audience member at The Foundry productions. My belief is that the art that the organization (Melanie & Company) have produced contributed greatly to our understanding of humanity and life. THANK YOU. With gratitude, Joseph V Melillo, Executive Producer, BAM.
Joseph V. Melillo
I can't remember when it was, or what the show was, but it was my first Foundry experience. I know it was on the Lower East Side, and I know that the environment involved tables full of raw lentils and peppercorns and like that, and here it is, probably 20 years later, and I still have some of that stuff in my pantry.
My first experience at the Foundry was nothing less than amazing! I enjoyed the story O, Earth by Casey Llewellyn! I felt a part of the story, being trans myself I could relate to the story. I was a part of the history of Marsha, Sylvia, Major, & Stormie. The casting & ambiance was perfect & I enjoyed it so much I attended 3 times! Bravo!
I did my growing up as an experimental theater maker in the mid-90's... somehow word about The Foundry trickled down to me in Austin, TX was I was living and creating work. For me, The Foundry held open a door that I knew I wanted to walk through. I think it held that door open for lots of people. I think the American Theater would be a very different place if the Foundry didn't exist.
I first experienced The Foundry in "Hot Mouth." It was an audacious assault on the senses, and I thought "who are these Foundry people. I need to know more." I would subsequently have my jaws rewired after witnessing "Gertrude and Alice," "And God Created Great Whales," and "Money Talks." Like its bandleader Melanie Joseph, The Foundry refuses neat categorization. It's theater, not theater, a sit in, communal dining, an a freakin' bus ride. Who does these things? Later I was asked to audition for their show "Lipstick Traces." When I got to the darkened cavernous room, they handed me lines for Malcolm McLaren, and asked if I had a Northern Brit accent. In my head, I was silently thanking the theater gods that I didn't have to play a pagoda. That's how empowering The Foundry can be.
Ralph B. Peña
My first Foundry experience was with the Hope conference. It was exhilarating, confusing, rich,
wild, and so so full of potential, almost to the point of
overwhelm. People standing on chairs to speak, small groups of people in dialogue, speakers, conversation,
excitement, turbulent and incredible content . . I also remember running down halls, I had babies at home, couldn't stay, couldn't leave. Powerful.