Ain Gordon is an American playwright, theatrical director and actor based in New York City. His work frequently deals with the interstices of history, focusing on people and events which are often overlooked or marginalized in "official" histories. His style combines elements of traditional playwrighting with aspects of performance art.
Gordon, who attended New York City Public Schools and New York University, began writing and directing for the stage in 1985, emerging in the downtown dance/performance scene with four consecutive seasons at Dance Theater Workshop (DTW) plus performances at Movement Research, The Poetry Project, and Performance Space 122. By 1990 Gordon was recognized in the inaugural round of the National Endowment for the Arts "New Forms" initiative – funding for artists whose work defied clear classification. He then began touring to venues including the Baltimore Museum of Art, and Dance Place in Washington, DC.
In 1991, Gordon entered a multi-project relationship with Soho Rep in New York City that encompassed five productions and workshops. In 1992, he began a collaboration with his father, choreographer and director David Gordon, on The Family Business, which went on to be performed in New York at Lincoln Center's Serious Fun! Festival, Dance Theater Workshop, New York Theatre Workshop and the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles. This production won him his first Obie Award, in 1994.
In 1992, Gordon became Co-Director of the Pick Up Performance Company, which had been founded by his father in 1971 and incorporated in 1978.
Gordon won his second Obie Award in 1996 for his play Wally's Ghost, which was presented at Soho Rep. In 1998, he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in Playwriting. It was here that he gained recognition for his abiding subject: marginalized and forgotten history, and the invisible players who inhabit that space, developing a blend of historical fact, imagined truth and complete fiction that continues to dominate his work.
Gordon's next few years were spent collaborating with David Gordon on two projects – Punch and Judy Get Divorced for American Music Theater Festival and American Repertory Theater, and The First Picture Show for the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco and the Mark Taper Forum in L.A. In addition, Gordon received a commission from the Taper, and another from the Lincoln Center Institute, and had a new play workshopped at The Public Theater and Soho Rep. In 2001, Gordon returned to his roots in the Manhattan downtown scene with several productions at HERE Arts Center, DTW, and P.S. 122, including Art Life & Show-Biz, a "non-fiction play" which featured Lola Pashalinksi, Helen Gallagher and Gordon's mother, Valda Setterfield. The play was published in 2010 in the anthology Dramaturgy of the Real, where Robert Vorlicky referred to it as "an act of remembrance and memorialization, fashioned through memories ... a scrapbook filled with snapshots from the lives of three inspirational artists."
Gordon continues to write theater that straddles the traditions of playwriting and performance art, blending fact and fiction. Since 2005, his work has been awarded both the Multi-Arts Production Fund (MAP) Grant and the Arts Presenters Ensemble Theatre Collaborations Program grant funded by the Doris Duke Charitable Trust, with productions at the Krannert Center in Urbana, Illinois, the VSA North Fourth Arts Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico, 651 ARTS in Brooklyn, LexArts in Lexington, Kentucky, and DiverseWorks in Houston, Texas.
In 2007, Gordon won his third Obie Award for his performance as Spalding Grey in the Off-Broadway production of Spalding Gray: Stories Left To Tell, which also toured to venues including UCLA Live, the TBA Festival at the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art in Oregon, ICA Boston – where he was an Elliot Norton Award nominee – the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, and Painted Bride Art Center in Philadelphia, among others. In 2008-9 Gordon collaborated with choreographer Bebe Miller on Necessary Beauty, a multi-disciplinary evening-length work co-commissioned by the Wexner Center of Ohio State University, DTW, and the Myrna Loy Center/Helena Presents in Helena, Montana. He was commissioned by the VSA North Fourth Arts Center to write The History of Asking the Wrong Question, rooted in Native American history, and developed a new two-person play, and a one-woman play, as a Core Writer of the Playwrights' Center in Minneapolis.
The Painted Bride Art Center in Philadelphia commissioned Gordon to write If She Stood, about the women of the early abolitionist movement in that city, including Sarah Grimké and Sarah Mapps Douglass. The play premiered on April 26, 2013. Later in 2013, his new play, Not What Happened, about historical reenactment and its relation to actual events, was presented at a number of theatres, including the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts in Burlington, Vermont, the Krannert Center, and the Brooklyn Academy of Music. It was directed by Ken Rus Schmoll.
In 2016, Gordon's play, 217 Boxes of Dr. Henry Anonymous, premiered at the Painted Bride Art Center. The play explores the life of Dr. John E. Fryer, a gay psychiatrist who appeared in disguise at the 1972 annual convention of the American Psychiatric Association as part of a campaign to remove homosexuality from the APA's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The play is the result of Gordon's research as an "embedded artist" in the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
- Epic Family Epic or The Hell Family Dinner
- The Family Business (with David Gordon; 1992–94) – Dance Theater Workshop, New York Theatre Workshop, Mark Taper Forum (Los Angeles)
- Wally's Ghost (1996) – Soho Rep
- Punch and Judy Get Divorced (with David Gordon, music by Edward Barnes; 1996) – American Music Theatre Festival (Philadelphia), American Repertory Theatre, (Cambridge, Massachusetts)
- Birdseed Bundles
- The First Picture Show (with David Gordon, music by Jeanine Tesori; 1999) – Mark Taper Forum, American Conservatory Theatre (San Francisco)
- 93 Acres of Barley (2001) – Mark Taper Forum; (about the history of Culver City, California)
- Private Ghosts - Public Stories (2002) – Cornerstone Theater Company (Los Angeles), George Street Playhouse (New Brunswick, New Jersey)
- Art, Life & Show Biz (2003-2004) – P.S. 122, Club Fez
- In This Place... (2008-2012) – LexArts (Lexington, Kentucky), 651 ARTS (Brooklyn), Kitchen Theatre Company (Ithaca, New York), Painted Bride Art Center (Philadelphia)
- A Disaster Begins (2009) – HERE Arts Center Mainstage (Manhattan), DiverseWorks Art Space (Houston, Texas); (about the 1900 Galveston Hurricane)
- The History of Asking the Wrong Question (2012) – VSA North Fourth Arts Center
- If She Stood (2013) – Painted Bride Art Center; (about the abolitionist movement)
- Not What Happened (2013)
- 217 Boxes of Dr. Henry Anonymous (2016) – Painted Bride Art Center
- "Ain Gordon Theatre Credits" on BroadwayWorld.com
- "Ain Gordon: Biography" on the Playwrights' Center (Minneapolis) website
- Stuart, Jan (April 4, 1995) "A Memorable Portrayal Of a Family in Turmoil" Newsday
- "Punch and Judy Get Divorced" on the American Repertory Theater website
- Vorlicky, Robert ""An Intimate Love Letter: Ain Gordon's 'Art, Life & Show-Biz'" in Martin, Carol (ed.) (2010) Dramaturgy of the Real on the World State New York: Palgrave-Macmillan. pp.259-64. ISBN 978-0-230-22054-6
- Dancehunter. "Ain Gordon tells a forgotten story" on 29-95.com
- "Ain Gordon: A Disaster Begins" on the DiverseWorks website
- "An Artist Embedded" Historical Society of Pennsylvania website
- Staff (April 25, 2016) "Ain Gordon World Premiere Set for Painted Bride Arts Center" Broadway World Philadelphia
- Derakhshani, Tirdad (May 5, 2016) "'217 Boxes' at the Painted Bride: A courageous mystery man who changed history" The Philadelphia Inquirer
- Crimmins, Peter (May 4, 2016) "Raising the curtain on life of Dr. Anonymous, Philly gay rights pioneer" Newsworks
- "Ain Gordon" on Doolee: The Playwrights Database
- Lefkowitz, David (June 17, 1997) "NY's Soho Rep To Nibble At Ain Gordon's BirdseFpaed Bundles" Playbill
- Lefkowitz, Davis (April 2, 2000) "OOB's DTW Runs Out of Birdseed, April 2" Playbill
- "93 Acres of Barley"
- Klein, Alvin (May 5, 2002) "Tangled Strands In Story Of a City" The New York Times
- Finkle, David. "Art, Life & Show Biz" TheatreMania (January 10, 2003)
- Haarstad, Ross (April 26-May 2, 2010) "A Remarkable History Brought to Life" TompkinsWeekly)
- Staff (May 23, 2008) "Flyover: Arts in the American Outback" Arts Journal
- Copley, Rich (May 2004) "Play tells story from Lexington's history" Lexington Herald-Leader
- Zinman, Toby (March 9, 2012) "Review: In This Place..." Philadelphia Inquirer
- Saltz, Rachel (October 15, 2009) "Seeking Order in a Life, a War and a Deluge" The New York Times
- Kamerick, Megan (November 27, 2012) "Play Questions Idea of Trying to Find “the Truth” of History" on A2.com