Thursday, August 21, 2008


A penultimate guest post from Ian W. Hill - last one tomorrow morning, so stay alert, citizen!

On Harry in Love, part 1: Foreman & Me

(Yesterday I said I was going to write about some more influences on Everything Must Go and then get to Harry in Love, but it's worked out differently)

I wouldn't be directing theatre today if it weren't for Richard Foreman. I maybe should say, "the work of Richard Foreman," but Richard himself is somewhat responsible personally.

The big love of my life for the longest time was Film, and all I ever wanted to do was to make movies. At the same time, I loved to act, especially on stage. For most of my teens and twenties, if you'd asked me what I really wanted to do with myself, I would have told you that I wanted to make movies and act in theatre.

I went to NYU Film School at Tisch School of the Arts, and loved it, but by the time I graduated, having made a 10-minute Junior-year film, "How Did You Manage To Steal a Car from a Rolling Train?", and an hour-long Senior film, Deep Night, which mixed black-and-white and color live action, animation of various kinds (cel, clay, pixilation), musical numbers, crazed stylistic shifts, fake documentary sections, a hand-cranked silent movie scene, metacommentary through intertitles, and basically everything that I ever wanted to do or see in movies, I was a little worn out and empty in regard to the form. I had made a film - not a great one, but a substantial one - in which I burned through most of the ideas I had about what I wanted to do with the medium, whether they belonged in the film or not. And now my big calling card was a strange, uneven hour-long film, which is a useless length for a movie anyway (as Dan O'Bannon has pointed out, having learned that lesson with John Carpenter when they made the original student film version of Dark Star - below 45 minutes, good, above 80 minutes, fine, anything in-between, there is no use for it in the world - festivals won't take it, no one's interested in watching it), and which most people didn't get and a bare few thought some kind of masterpiece (a phrase I've had applied to my work more than a few times, "some kind of masterpiece" – what is that supposed to mean?).

Dark Star poster

So, Theatre.

I had been acting on stage more and more at NYU - I wasn't in an actual acting/drama program, so my options were limited, but by Senior year I was on various stages more and more, and increasingly outside of NYU in the Off-Off-Broadway world.

At the premiere screening of Deep Night, stage director Christopher Carter Sanderson, who had directed me a few times by then, asked me how familiar I was with the work of Richard Foreman. When I said I knew the name well enough, but not the work, he said that he would someday like to direct me in Foreman's play Egyptology, and that I would be a perfect actor for Foreman's world.

As I had no idea what that meant, I tried to see the next Foreman play that was up in NYC. I didn't get in - it was sold out - but at the box office I bought the book of Richard's plays - Reverberation Machines - that contained the play Chris had mentioned. I fell in love with Richard's writing immediately, and with that play in particular. And I started thinking about it as a director, as a Theatre Director - not a position I'd much craved in past (though I'd directed plays by Jean-Claude Van Itallie and Thornton Wilder at boarding school, which I regarded as practice in the long run for directing actors on film).

Reverberation Machines - Foreman

Also, my best friend David LM Mcintyre was directing a lot of theatre, with me often as actor and/or dramaturg-bounceboard for him, and this - including attending some of his classes with Anne Bogart at Playwrights Horizons when I would be acting in pieces there - began to make me start thinking of directing for the stage as well. But I didn't do anything about it; I was content to sit back and act (and occasionally design, as my film school technical knowledge meant I would get tapped to do other things on shows I was acting in that needed tech people).

Eventually, I began to see Richard's shows, and this also opened my head to the possibility of directing theatre – as Joyce and Nabokov had done to me years earlier with prose, and Lynch, Godard, and Roeg had with film, I needed an example to show me that all these ideas I had in my head about what could be done in an art form weren't just crazy, that you could actually DO them and there WOULD be people who would want to share in them with you. You could create works about your personal visions/obsessions in these media, and while some people might call you self-indulgent, what the hell great was ever created in Art without an artist indulging themself?

Jump ahead a few years - I'm acting in Kirk Wood Bromley's Want's Unwished Work at NADA on Ludlow Street, and in some ways I think I've gone about as far with my acting, craftwise, in working for other people as I can. I've got a great part - actually written specifically for me by the playwright over 2 1/2 years of readings - that I'm having a wonderful time with, but I'm not using everything I want to as an actor. I'm having to hold back. I need new worlds to work in, and I'm going to have to create them myself, it would appear, if I'm going to act in them.

So I'm living in NADA during the extension of Want's, as I've lost my NYC apartment and have decamped to my Mom's place in Maine for the most part, and I've come back to do the show and help out the other shows going on there, including Edward Einhorn's production of Foreman's My Head Was a Sledgehammer.

My Head Was a Sledgehammer

Seeing Edward's production (done at a time when the majority of people would say, "I think Foreman's plays can only be done by Foreman" if you mentioned someone else doing one) and rereading Richard's collections gave me an idea, and I said to Aaron Beall of NADA one day, "I think NADA should do a festival of other directors doing Foreman's plays." He nodded thoughtfully and walked away.

Two days later he came back to me and said, "That idea? A festival of Foreman plays? Do it. Next June, it's yours. Get it together."

And so I did.

The reason Richard is directly responsible for me being where I am today is that he said "Yes" to the idea and encouraged and helped me a bit in getting this together (he'd say he didn't do anything, but just agreeing to it and giving some written advice to the directors was enough to give the festival a certain amount of cachet).
We did three years of the No Strings Attached festivals (named, appropriately on many levels, by Edward Einhorn) at NADA, doing somewhere around 35 plays by Richard, including several world or USA premieres. Richard saw a performance of each show. During year two, having seen me act in several of the shows, he mentioned that he had written a play called Harry in Love many years earlier, and he thought I'd be good for the part of Harry, which was quite flattering, and even more so when I saw the play – not that it's a flattering character (it ain't), but it was flattering as an actor to think a playwright would think you capable of this demanding role.

Interestingly, with Harry, though, I was back to doing the kind of theatre I had mostly walked away from when I started to direct, and it started me considering even more possibilities as a director – that I could alternate my personal, idiosyncratic pieces with other pieces that were just there to make people laugh, which I enjoy doing anyway. So now I knew I could do a wider range of plays, and I have ever since.

Richard is the man all of this comes back to then, for me. Why I do what I do, in so many ways. Even down to – as with some other people I know who started out as Foreman devotees – not bothering to see his work for the last several years, not out of disinterest, but because I have other work of my own to do, and have to get to it, and I've probably gotten most of what I can out of Richard by now (though I'm still thinking of directing the USA premiere of his play George Bataille's Bathrobe next year).

In the end, what I've learned from Richard is to be myself, and be true to myself, as an artist, whatever that may mean. Which is why I am doing, HAVE to do, Spell AND Everything Must Go AND Harry in Love all at the same time right now. Not to do so wouldn't be right, at least for me.

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