Richard Foreman

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Richard Foreman in March 2009

Richard Foreman (born June 10, 1937 in New York City) is an American playwright and avant-garde theater pioneer. He is the founder of the Ontological-Hysteric Theater.[1]

Life and career[edit]

Richard Foreman graduated from Brown University (B.A. 1959), and received an MFA in Playwriting from Yale School of Drama in 1962.[1] As an undergraduate, he was instrumental in the formation of Production Workshop, Brown University's student theatre group, while taking part in other student theatre, including set-designing Brownbrokers' 1958 production of Down to Earth.[2] In 1993, Brown presented him with an honorary doctorate.[3] In 1968 he founded the Ontological-Hysteric Theater, which began as an art-oriented project in the New York district of Soho, and later moved to a semi-permanent "home" at Joseph Papp's Public Theater. From 1992 to 2010, the non-profit organization was in residence at the theater at St. Mark's Church in-the-Bowery.[4]

Foreman's dramatic works are driven by the notion of a constant reawakening of the audience; he is one of the major artists creating substantial works in the avant garde performance movement, now largely referred to as post-dramatic theater. Instead of focusing on conflict to shape his theatrical structure, Foreman's work draws on design, text and the live performance of actors equally, to create a different focus and relationship between the stage and audience. He describes his works as "total theater". The goal of his performances is a "disorientation massage", in contrast to Aristotle's goal of catharsis.[5]

Foreman was influenced by the work of filmmaker/performer Jack Smith and musician La Monte Young and their approach to time.[6]

Richard Foreman has written, directed and designed over fifty of his own plays both in New York City and abroad. He has received three Obie Awards for Best Play of the Year, and he has received four other Obies for directing and for "sustained achievement".[7] He has received the annual Literature Award from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, a "Lifetime Achievement in the Theater" award from the National Endowment for the Arts, the PEN American Center Master American Dramatist Award, a MacArthur Fellowship, and in 2004 was elected an officer of the Order of Arts and Letters of France. His archives and work materials have been acquired by the Fales Library at New York University (NYU).[8][9]

His work has been primarily produced by and performed at the Ontological-Hysteric Theater in New York, though he has gained acclaim as director for such productions as Bertolt Brecht's The Threepenny Opera at Lincoln Center and the premiere of Suzan-Lori Parks's Venus at the Public Theater.

In 2004, Foreman established the Bridge Project with Sophie Haviland to promote international art exchange between countries around the world through workshops, symposiums, theater productions, visual art, performance and multimedia events.[10] From 2006 to 2008, Foreman's Ontological-Hysteric productions have incorporated the projection of video footage generated through Bridge workshops as a kind of "film-score" that the live performance is conducted in a relation to. These include Zomboid! (2006), Wake Up Mr. Sleepy! Your Unconscious Mind Is Dead! (2007) and Deep Trance Behavior in Potatoland (2008).

Foreman's plays have been co-produced by The New York Shakespeare Festival, La Mama Theatre, The Wooster Group, the Festival d'Autumn in Paris and the Vienna Festival. He has collaborated (as librettist and stage director) with composer Stanley Silverman on 8 music theater pieces produced by The Music Theater Group & The New York City Opera. He wrote and directed the feature film Strong Medicine. He has also directed and designed many classical productions with major theaters around the world including, The Threepenny Opera, The Golem[11] and plays by Václav Havel, Botho Strauss, and Suzan-Lori Parks for The New York Shakespeare Festival, Die Fledermaus at the Paris Opera, Don Giovanni at the Opera de Lille, Philip Glass's Fall of the House of Usher at the American Repertory Theater and The Maggio Musicale in Florence, Woyzeck at Hartford Stage Company, Molière's Don Juan at the Guthrie Theater and The New York Shakespeare Festival, Kathy Acker's Birth of the Poet at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and the RO theater in Rotterdam, Gertrude Stein's Doctor Faustus Lights the Lights at the Autumn Festivals in Berlin and Paris.

Seven collections of his plays have been published, and books studying his work have been published in English, French, and German.

Ontological-Hysteric Theater[edit]

The Ontological-Hysteric Theater (OHT) was founded by Foreman in 1968, with the aim of

Stripping the theater bare of everything but the singular and essential impulse to stage the static tension of interpersonal relations in space. The OHT seeks to produce works that balance a primitive and minimal style with extremely complex and theatrical themes. ... Foreman’s trademark "total theater" unites elements of the performative, auditory and visual arts, philosophy, psychoanalysis and literature for a unique result. ... He seeks to make work that unsettles and disorients received ideas and opens the doors for alternative models of perception, organization, and understanding. Of course as times, technologies and experiences change, strategies must shift as well. In 2005 Foreman began a second chapter in his work with the introduction of the digital video and film media as dominating forces in his redefinition of ontologically hysteric theater."[12]

Side projects[edit]

Since taking up its home at the Ontological Theater at St. Mark's in 1992, the OHT has also been nurturing a new generation of artists who share Foreman's goals and passion for theater. Through internship, staffing, summer residency and curation efforts, the OHT has been a starting point for many artists making their mark in New York City and internationally including David Herskovits, Artistic Director of Target Margin Theater, Damon Keily, Artistic Director of American Theater in Chicago, some of the artists of Collapsable Giraffe, Radiohole, Elevator Repair Service, National Theater of the United States of America, Doorika, Richard Maxwell, Juliana Francis, Sophie Haviland, Robert Cucuzza, DJ Mendel, Ken Nintzel, Marie Losier, and Young Jean Lee.

In 2005, the OHT chose to formalize its relationship with emerging artists by starting the Ontological-Hysteric Incubator. The Incubator is programming that guides artists from workshop phases to fully realized productions. The Incubator houses artists, who follow in the compositional theater footsteps of Foreman, but have their own unique visions and strategies for unsettling perception and disorienting understanding. The Incubator programming provides these younger artists with aesthetic and practical mentorship and support on their way towards self-sustaining productions.



  • Angelface, New York City (1968)
  • Ida-Eyed, New York City (1969)
  • Total Recall, New York City (1970)
  • HcOhTiEnLa (or) Hotel China, New York City (1971)
  • Dream Tantras for Western Massachusetts, Lennox, Massachusetts (1971) (music by Stanley Silverman)
  • Evidence, New York City (1972)
  • Sophia= (Wisdom) Part 3: The Cliffs, New York City (1972)
  • Particle Theory, New York City (1973)
  • Classical Therapy or A Week under the Influence . . . , Paris (1973)
  • Pain(t), New York City (1974)
  • Vertical Mobility, New York City (1974)
  • Pandering to the Masses: A Misrepresentation, New York City (1975)
  • Rhoda in Potatoland (Her Fall-Starts), New York City (1975)
  • Livre des Splendeurs: Part One, Paris (1976)
  • Book of Splendors: Part Two (Book of Leaves) Action at a Distance, New York City (1977)
  • Blvd. de Paris (I've Got the Shakes), New York City (1977)
  • Madness and Tranquility (My Head Was a Sledgehammer), New York City (1979)
  • Place + Target, Rome (1980)
  • Penguin Touquet, New York City (1981)
  • Café Amérique, Paris (1981)
  • Egyptology, New York City (1983)
  • La Robe de Chambre de Georges Bataille, Paris (1983)
  • Miss Universal Happiness, New York City (1985)
  • The Cure, New York City (1986)
  • Film Is Evil: Radio Is Good, New York City (1987)
  • Symphony of Rats, New York City (1987)
  • Love and Science, Stockholm (1988)
  • What Did He See? New York City (1988)
  • Lava, New York City (1989)
  • Eddie Goes to Poetry City: Part One, Seattle (1990)
  • Eddie Goes to Poetry City: Part Two, New York City (1991)
  • The Mind King, New York City (1992)
  • Samuel's Major Problems, New York City (1993)
  • My Head Was A Sledgehammer, New York City (1994)
  • I've Got the Shakes, New York City (1995)
  • The Universe, New York City (1995)
  • Permanent Brain Damage, New York City (1996) (toured to London)
  • Pearls for Pigs, Hartford, Connecticut (1997) (toured to Montreal, Paris, Rome, Los Angeles, and New York City)
  • Benita Canova, New York City (1997)
  • Paradise Hotel (Hotel Fuck), New York City (1998) (toured to Paris, Copenhagen, Salzburg and Berlin)
  • Bad Boy Nietzsche, New York City (2000 (toured to Brussels, Berlin and Tokyo)
  • Now That Communism is Dead, My Life Feels Empty, New York City (2001) (toured to Vienna and the Netherlands)
  • Maria Del Bosco, New York City (2002) (toured to Singapore)
  • Panic! (How to Be Happy!), New York City (2003) (toured to Zurich and Vienna)
  • King Cowboy Rufus Rules the Universe!, New York City (2004)
  • The Gods Are Pounding My Head! AKA Lumberjack Messiah, New York City (2005)
  • ZOMBOID! (Film/Performance Project #1), New York City (2006)
  • IDIOT SAVANT, New York City (2009)[6]


Film and video[edit]

  • Out of the Body Travel, video play (1975)
  • City Archives, video play (1977)
  • Strong Medicine, feature film (1978)
  • Radio Rick in Heaven and Radio Richard in Hell, film (1987)
  • Total Rain, video play (1990)
  • Once Every Day, feature film (2012)
  • Now You See It Now You Don't, feature film (2017)
  • Mad Love, feature film (2018)


  • Plays and Manifestos (1976)
  • Theatre of Images (1977)
  • Reverberation Machines: The Later Plays and Essays (1986)
  • Love and Science: Selected Librettos by Richard Foreman (1991)
  • Unbalancing Acts: Foundations for a Theater (1993)
  • My Head Was a Sledgehammer: Six Plays (1995)
  • No-body: A Novel in Parts (1996)
  • Paradise Hotel and Other Plays (2001)
  • Richard Foreman (Art + Performance) (2005)
  • Bad Boy Nietzsche! and Other Plays (2005)
  • Manifestos and Essays (2010)
  • Plays with Films (New York: Contra Mundum Press, 2013)
  • Plays For The Public (Theatre Communications Group, 2019)

Awards and honors[edit]

Foreman has won seven Village Voice Obie Awards, including three for "Best Play", and one for Lifetime Achievement. In addition, he has received:

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b Foreman, Richard. "Richard Foreman Biography". Ontological-Hysteric Theater Web Site. Archived from the original on October 15, 2009. Retrieved November 5, 2009.
  2. ^ Ellen Shaffer. "'Down to Earth' Offers Gaiety and Diversity", Pembroke Record [Providence, RI] 18 April 1958: 4. Web. 2 December 2011.
  3. ^ Gerald Rabkin, Richard Foreman, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999, p. 240.
  4. ^ "Ontological-Hysteric Theater leaves St. Mark's Church" Archived 2012-07-17 at the Wayback Machine. Ontological-Hysteric Theater website. Accessed: 12 August 2012
  5. ^ Foreman, Richard. "Program Notes on Pearls for Pigs". TDR, Vol. 42, No. 2 (Summer, 1998)., pp. 157-159.
  6. ^ a b Als, Hilton (2009-11-16), "Talk Talk: Richard Foreman puts language onstage", The New Yorker
  7. ^ "The Village Voice Obies Database". Retrieved November 7, 2009.
  8. ^ Jester, Barbara. "Fales Collection Acquires Papers of Acclaimed Experimental Playwright and Director Richard Foreman". NYU Today. Retrieved November 8, 2009.
  9. ^ Foreman, Richard. "Guide to the Richard Foreman Papers 1942-2004". The Fales Library & Special Collections. Archived from the original on April 7, 2010. Retrieved November 7, 2009.
  10. ^ "About The Bridge". Archived from the original on October 2, 2011. Retrieved November 8, 2009.
  11. ^ Gussow, Mel (August 17, 1984). "Theater: 'Golem,' At the Delacorte". The New York Times. Retrieved September 4, 2015.
  12. ^ "Info" on the OHT website

External links[edit]