Ain Gordon

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Ain Gordon is an American playwright, theatrical director and actor based in New York City.[1][2] 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.

Life and career[edit]

Gordon was born in New York City, the son of British-American dancer Valda Setterfield and postmodern dancer-choreographer and theatrical director David Gordon.

Gordon, who attended New York City Public Schools and New York University, and worked as a stage electrician at Dance Theater Workshop (DTW), began writing and directing for the stage in 1985, emerging in the downtown dance/performance scene with four consecutive seasons at 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.[3] 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. With the death of the elder Gordon in 2022, Ain Gordon became the Director of the company, with Alyce Dissette continuing in her role as Producing Director.

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 at the Plays and Players Theatre in Philadelphia and the American Repertory Theater at the C. Walsh Theatre of Suffolk University in Boston,[4][5][6] 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" based on the lives and careers of avant-garde actress Lola Pashalinski (Charles Ludlam's Ridiculous Theatrical Company), Broadway actress Helen Gallagher (No, No, Nanette), and Gordon's mother, the dancer Valda Setterfield (Merce Cunningham, David Gordon), in which the three subjects appeared as themselves. 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."[7]

Gordon continues to write theater that straddles the traditions of playwrighting 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.[8][9] The one-woman play, A Disaster Begins, is based on the events of the devastating 1900 Galveston Hurricane.

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.[10][11][12][13] The play was remounted in May 2018 at the Baryshnikov Arts Center by the Equality Forum to coincide with the annual meeting of the APA, held that year in New York City,[14] and again at Fryer's alma mater, Transylvania University, in Lexington, Kentucky in May 2019.[15]

The Baryshnikov Arts Center in May 2017 premiered Gordon's piece Radicals in Miniature – made and performed in collaboration with Josh Quillen of So Percussion – which focused on people Gordon knew in his youth who are now dead. The New York Times said of it "The people Mr. Gordon portrays weren’t successful or all that skilled, but they were around while he was learning what an artist is and does, and how a gay man lives and dies. By telling their stories — in alliterative, associative prose that can sound a lot like poetry — Mr. Gordon is, of course, telling his own. This is autobiography disguised as séance, masquerading as eulogy, camouflaged as performance."[16] A year later, the piece was presented as part of the International Festival of Arts & Ideas in New Haven, Connecticut, and has since been performed in a number of other venues.

In May 2022, Gordon's play These Don't Easily Scatter was presented in Philadelphia at the William Way LGBT Community Center as past of Remembrance, an alternative memorial to the HIV/AIDS crisis of the 1970s in that city.[17][18] The play subsequently had a showing at the Baryshnikov Arts Center in New York City.

Aside from directing most of his own plays, Gordon has directed the work of So Percussion – including Where (we) Live (2013) and A Gun Show, which was performed at the Harvey Theater of the Brooklyn Academy of Music in late 2016[19] – as well as works by choreographer Emily Johnson.



  1. ^ "Ain Gordon Theatre Credits" on
  2. ^ "Ain Gordon: Biography" on the Playwrights' Center (Minneapolis) website
  3. ^ Stuart, Jan (April 4, 1995) "A Memorable Portrayal Of a Family in Turmoil" Newsday
  4. ^ "Punch and Judy Get Divorced" on the American Repertory Theater website
  5. ^ Muchmore, Mary-Beth A. (October 31, 1996) "A Very Odd 'Punch and Judy'" Harvard Crimson
  6. ^ "Punch and Judy Get Divorced" About the Artists"
  7. ^ 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
  8. ^ Dancehunter. "Ain Gordon tells a forgotten story" Archived 2011-07-07 at the Wayback Machine on
  9. ^ "Ain Gordon: A Disaster Begins" Archived 2011-07-26 at the Wayback Machine on the DiverseWorks website
  10. ^ "An Artist Embedded" Historical Society of Pennsylvania website
  11. ^ Staff (April 25, 2016) "Ain Gordon World Premiere Set for Painted Bride Arts Center" Broadway World Philadelphia
  12. ^ Derakhshani, Tirdad (May 5, 2016) "'217 Boxes' at the Painted Bride: A courageous mystery man who changed history" The Philadelphia Inquirer
  13. ^ Crimmins, Peter (May 4, 2016) "Raising the curtain on life of Dr. Anonymous, Philly gay rights pioneer" Archived 2016-05-11 at the Wayback Machine Newsworks
  14. ^ Green, Jesse (May 6, 2018) "Review: A Secret History of Gay Life Uncovered in '217 Boxes'" The New York Times
  15. ^ Staff (April 26, 2019) "Obie Award winner Ain Gordon’s '217 Boxes of Dr. Henry Anonymous' makes Kentucky debut at Transylvania University" 1780 - Transylvania University
  16. ^ Soloski, Alexis (May 17, 2017) "Review: Recalling an Electric New York in ‘Radicals in Miniature’" The New York Times
  17. ^ "Remembrance" William Way LGBT Community Center
  18. ^ Wild, Stephi (May 10, 2022) "World Theatre Premiere Of Ain Gordon's THESE DON'T EASILY SCATTER Comes to Philadelphia" Broadway World
  19. ^ da Fonseca-Wollheim, Corinna (December 1, 2016) "‘A Gun Show’ Raises Questions Beyond the Music" The New York Times
  20. ^ Tobias, Tobi (March 3, 1986) "On Her Own" New York
  21. ^ "Ain Gordon" on Doolee: The Playwrights Database
  22. ^ Lefkowitz, David (June 17, 1997) "NY's Soho Rep To Nibble At Ain Gordon's BirdseFpaed Bundles" Playbill
  23. ^ Lefkowitz, Davis (April 2, 2000) "OOB's DTW Runs Out of Birdseed, April 2" Playbill
  24. ^ ""93 Acres of Barley"". Archived from the original on February 10, 2012. Retrieved April 18, 2013.
  25. ^ Klein, Alvin (May 5, 2002) "Tangled Strands In Story Of a City" The New York Times
  26. ^ Finkle, David. "Art, Life & Show Biz" TheatreMania (January 10, 2003)
  27. ^ Haarstad, Ross (April 26-May 2, 2010) "A Remarkable History Brought to Life" TompkinsWeekly[permanent dead link]
  28. ^ Staff (May 23, 2008) "Flyover: Arts in the American Outback" Arts Journal
  29. ^ Copley, Rich (May 2004) "Play tells story from Lexington's history" Lexington Herald-Leader
  30. ^ Zinman, Toby (March 9, 2012) "Review: In This Place..." The Philadelphia Inquirer
  31. ^ Saltz, Rachel (October 15, 2009) "Seeking Order in a Life, a War and a Deluge" The New York Times
  32. ^ Kamerick, Megan (November 27, 2012) "Play Questions Idea of Trying to Find “the Truth” of History" on
  33. ^ Burns-Fusaro, Nancy (February 14, 2019) "Pickup Performance Co(s) at Connecticut College" The Westerly Sun
  34. ^ Lamendola, Molly (February 28, 2019) "Radicals in Miniature is a Moving Performance" The Fairfield Mirror
  35. ^ Pretsky, Holly (June 26, 2019) "Go Big, Go Bold, Go With Pride, Not Prejudice" Vineyard Gazette

External links[edit]