Richard Foreman at Segue / Artists Space

Richard Foreman read from an onoing new work as part of the Segue series at Artists Space in New York. The reading was recorded in his SoHo loft about a week before the event, Marh 16, 2024. Jay Sanders, Executive Director & Chief Curator of Artists Space, gave the intoduction:

I cannot think of an artist who's meant more to me than Richard Foreman. His artistic project, from his first play Angelface in 1967 to his last, Old Fashioned Prostitutes in 2013–after which he retired from public view–fundamentally dismantled and rebuilt the art and experience of theatre and performance, viscerally, structurally, and philosophically. 

During that span of 47 years and nearly always here in New York City, every year, he would write, direct, construct, and deploy a total theatre–of meticulously composed rhythms and actions–sounds, movements, objects, and words that were both plain and entirely hermetic at the same time.

From one of his manifestos:

To understand the work is to understand the cell, and the possibilities and implications latent in the cell, just as the possibilities and implications latent in the atom and molecular biology lead to a view of life and universe–the end in both cases being a patterned energy system.

Reach the pre-conscious. Remove the personality.

One might think here of Gertrude Stein:

There is no there there.

You will write if you will write without thinking of the result in terms of a result, but think of the writing in terms of discovery, which is to say that creation must take place between the pen and the paper, not before in a thought or afterwards in a recasting… It will come if it is there and if you will let it come.

Or of Morton Feldman:

Do we have anything in music that really wipes everything out? That just cleans everything away?

Or of Jacques Tati:

The star was primarily the decor.

Richard’s plays and manifestos express all of this and more. 

In my life, I learned that the only way to be near Richard Foreman is to work for him, as he’s extremely shy and private. So I did that for a number of years. I had the privilege of occasionally attending a rehearsal. Richard’s rehearsals were like no one else’s–many months long and meticulous, to say the least. 

I spent two hours one afternoon and my memory is that, in that time, they worked on maybe 20 seconds of activity, consisting of sound cues, lighting changes, actors’ glances and eye movements, and the gesture of pulling a playing card out of a deck. To call the process claustrophobic would be an understatement, but his was a theatre built of deploying timed precisions, that, in his own words, became living “reverberation machines” of consciousness itself–high, low, and everywhere, perceptually, in between.

Another memory of Richard’s plays is of him, every night during their extended runs, sitting on the front row at the soundboard, actively cuing live the myriad audio clips and sometimes the lights that were essential structural features of every single performance. His was a theatre of keeping the audience wide awake: mirrors or glass so they could see themselves, powerful lights shining directly in their eyes, clocks showing the actual time. Interruptions, shifts, nodes that indicated that our attention and our presence was indeed the recording mechanism, the canvas–the medium itself too.

Then when the final statement was made, or sound emitted, or object fell, the room went black, and Richard would scurry to the exit, disappearing before the lights came back on, so he didn’t have to bear the attention on him as the author, the composer of the astonishing abyss that had been individually and collectively experienced.

It’s very fitting to have Richard’s work here at Segue–a playwright among poets, among composers and musicians, among experimental filmmakers, among philosophers. He achieved a radical extreme in his art that utilized and exceeded the means and systems of these art forms as well.

For this occasion, Richard is presenting a new text for the first time, on video. We went last week to his Wooster Street loft and made this recording.

direct link: MP4

Richard Foreman's PennSound page includes videos of many of his theater works as well as his films and audio of his talks and readings.