FRIDAY  3-4:30 pm    NYU Fales Archive Downtown Collection, 70 Washington Square South, New York City

Downtown Collection

The Downtown Collection, which was founded in 1994, documents the downtown arts scene that evolved in SoHo and the Lower East Side during the 1970s and through the early 1990s.

During this time, an explosion of artistic creativity radically challenged and changed traditional literature, music, theater, performance, film, activism, dance, photography, video and other art practices.

Some characteristics that these artists share include work that was extremely collaborative, multidisciplinary, multimedia, and non-hierarchical. The goal of the Downtown Collections is to comprehensively collect the full range of artistic practices and output of the New York City Downtown scene, regardless of format.

This research collection, built on a documentary strategy, supports the research of students and scholars who are interested in the intersection of the contemporary arts with other   forms of cultural and artistic expression.

The Downtown Collection includes the personal papers of artists, filmmakers, writers and performers; archives of art galleries, theater groups and art collectives; and collections relating to AIDS activism, music, and off-off Broadway theater. The Collection also includes a significant amount of printed, published materials either by or related to people associated with the scene and the events of the period, and its effect on wider social and cultural movements.

I have asked Marvin Taylor, Head of Special Collections at Fales to show us the archives of the following artists and art organizations:

  1.  Richard Foreman:

Director/Playwright who founded The Ontological-Hysteric Theater (OHT) was founded in 1968.  Foreman aimed to strip 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.  The core of the company’s annual programming is Richard Foreman’s theater pieces, of which he has made over 50 in the last 42 years. 

      2.  Maria Irene Fornes;
Fornés was born on May 14, 1930, in Havana, Cuba, to Carlos Luis and Carmen Hismenia Fornés. After her father died in 1945, she moved with her mother and sister to the United States, becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1951. From 1954 to 1957, Fornés lived in Paris, studying to become a painter. However, after attending a French production of Samuel Beckett’s WAITING FOR GODOT, Fornés decided to devote her creative energies toward playwriting. Upon returning to the United States, she worked for three years as a textile designer in New York City. THE WIDOW, Fornés’s first professionally produced play, was staged in 1961. Fornés acted as the director for many of her subsequent works, including THERE! YOU DIED (1963; later retitled TANGO PALACE, 1964), THE SUCCESSFUL LIFE OF 3: A SKIT IN VAUDEVILLE (1965), and MOLLY’S DREAM (1968), among others. In 1973 she founded the New York Theatre Strategy, which was devoted to the production of stylistically innovative theatrical works. Fornés has held teaching and advisory positions at several universities and theatrical festivals, such as the Theatre for the New City, the Padua Hills Festival, and the INTAR (International Arts Relations) program in New York City. She has received eight Obie awards — in such categories as distinguished playwriting and direction and best new play — for PROMENADE (1965), THE SUCCESSFUL LIFE OF 3, FEFU AND HER FRIENDS, THE DANUBE (1982), MUD, SARITA (1984), THE CONDUCT OF LIFE, and ABINGDON SQUARE (1987). Fornés has also received numerous other awards and grants for her oeuvre, including Rockefeller Foundation Grants in 1971 and 1984, a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1972, National Endowments for the Arts grants in 1974, 1984, and 1985, an American Academy and Institute of Letters and Arts Award in Literature in 1986, and a Playwrights U.S.A. Award in 1986. She has also produced several original translations and adaptations of such plays as Federico Garcia Lorca’s BLOOD WEDDING (1980), Pedro Calderón de la Barca’s LIFE IS A DREAM (1981), Virgilio Piñera’s COLD AIR (1985), and Anton Chekhov’s UNCLE VANYA (1987)

***TDM is currently producing Fornes’ play, The Danube, for the TDM spring student production. This article is a good overview of Fornes’ contribution to American Theater.

     3.   Judson Dance Theater:  (see:

Anna Halprin, The Branch, 1957. Performance view, Halprin family dance deck, Kentfield, CA, 1957. From left: A. A. Leath, Anna Halprin, and Simone Forti. Photo: Warner Jepson.

THE GRAMMAR OF IT ALL is nearly impossible to parse, slippery in the mind and unwieldy in the mouth. Questions—though not always the right ones—abound. The first: What was Judson Dance Theater? Those inclined to diffidence might say it was some dancing that took place in a church, Judson Memorial, located in the Village. For others, what went on in that inner sanctum was no less than the most significant convulsion in the history of twentieth-century dance: not just movement, then, but revolution. July 6, 1962 was the first Judson performance, straightforwardly advertised as “A Concert of Dance.” In the clotted air of a New York summer night, anything can seem possible.

Invocations of permissiveness and fecundity stick to descriptions of Judson like sweat to skin; writing in Artforum  in 1972, Don McDonagh called it “a hothouse of continuous experimentation.” For a time, the reigning sobriquet was the New Dance, a term that helpfully conveyed a break with tradition, but lost traction as it became, unavoidably, old. More than fifty years on, a sense of verdant innovation nonetheless clings to the choreographic approaches that are often cited as the earliest incarnations of “postmodern” dance.

Steve Paxton, poster for “A Concert of Dance #1” (detail), 1962.

Origin stories unravel quickly. Because, sure, the “first” concert at the church was in 1962, but the beginning of Judson is arguably rooted in another time and place. Dancing, after all, starts not onstage but in the studio. So perhaps it really all began in the composition course taught by Robert Dunn and Judith Dunn at Merce Cunningham’s space, where dancers learned Cagean strategies of chance and indeterminacy. Paulus Berensohn, Simone Forti (then Morris), Marni Mahaffay, Steve Paxton, and Yvonne Rainer took the first course in autumn of 1960. There was also the short-lived class taught by Cage himself. Also crucial, though less well known, were the experimental methods James Waring taught at the Living Theatre and the dances he, Aileen Passloff, and Fred Herko performed there. On the other coast, the locus of activity was Anna Halprin’s outdoor dance deck in Marin County. Beneath the leafy canopy, Forti, A. A. Leath, La Monte Young, and many others explored modes of improvisation and kinesthetic awareness under Halprin’s generous tutelage. To this list of arable soils, add the concerts held in Yoko Ono’s Chambers Street loft, the proximity of Happenings, the activities of the Judson Poets Theater, and all the many hours the progenitors of the New Dance spent learning the not-so-old ways from Martha Graham, Louis Horst, Doris Humphrey, José Limón, and, of course, Cunningham himself. Primal scenes engender mythologies. Judson has plenty of both.

To cut through the mists of “once upon a time,” it might be useful to pose a question that puts us squarely in the here and now: What is Judson? That is, what does it signify in the contemporary cultural imagination? Judson today retains the enticing aroma of radicality. Amid a desert of capitulation and cynicism, its unbridled experimentation and compositional strategies shimmer with potential to fulfill that primary dream of the avant-garde—the yoking of aesthetic form to political praxis.

Whether oasis or mirage, this coupling is, in the dominant interpretations of Judson, premised on a kind of egalitarianism—most clearly manifest in the group’s recuperation of allegedly “ordinary” movement and in its nonhierarchical organization. Performances often incorporated pirouettes en dehors or Cunningham-esque curves of the spine, cheek by jowl with “pedestrian” activities such as talking, walking, and running. Though most of those involved had extensive backgrounds studying dance, there were also performers without any formal training (including artists Robert Rauschenberg and Robert Morris). Moreover, in contrast with the typical dance company, at Judson there was no singular choreographer or director to whose creative vision the dancers were subordinated as mere instruments. The group also eschewed conventional rankings among soloists, principals, and the corps in favor of a more horizontal structure that was itself an extension of Cunningham’s compositional dispersal of attention across the stage. Nor was there an emphasis on the maintenance of codified technique or repertoire. Those who still believe naively in dance’s purported ephemerality have surely never encountered the stern gaze of the ballet master, a technology of reproduction in human form, responsible for ushering past movements into the present with unnerving exactitude.

There’s likewise something political, it would seem, in Rainer’s “No Manifesto” of 1965, in which she sates one’s appetite for avant-garde refusal by screeching an emphatic no: to virtuosity, to spectacle, to glamour. Her hurled noncompliance matches the canards flung at so much art of the 1960s: that it’s boring, and that by spurning visual pleasure it takes a considered stance against pleasure as such. Of course, Rainer’s choreography contradicted or tested her published precepts as often as it cohered to them. Moreover, despite their dominance in the Judson literature, Rainer’s writings were never meant to speak for the work of others, which could be lush or eccentric as often as it was staid. Perhaps Trisha Brown put it best when she wryly referred to the group as “a pool of unlike-minded people, totally democratic with a lot of grumbling going on back in the dressing room.” Gorgeously heterogeneous, Judson, when given the opportunity, reveals exceptions to every rule: It was a concatenation of individual authors and distinct works, a restless assaying of ideas.

Steve Paxton, poster for “A Concert of Dance #1” (detail), 1962.

Alongside the participatory event scores of Fluxus and the antiprofessionalization of theater in Happenings, Judson’s nonhierarchical and collaborative methods of artmaking are often cast as attempts to realize the kind of utopian alternative community that would proliferate in the later part of the decade—in upstate communes as much as in the choreographic collective Grand Union (an outgrowth of Judson even more dedicated to eradicating sole authorship). The historiography of Judson rustles with such hopes, themselves bound up in the promise—and now the nostalgic dream—of the ’60s. Explicit in Sally Banes’s foundational 1993 account (the title of which, after all, is Democracy’s Body), such thinking also subtends Maurice Berger’s chronicle of Morris’s dancing, as well as Thomas Crow’s broader social art history of the era. Recent years have seen a profusion of monographic studies, including Janice Ross’s on Halprin, Meredith Morse’s on Forti, and Susan Rosenberg’s on Brown. The most influential has perhaps been Carrie Lambert-Beatty’s incisive study of Rainer, which knowingly swerves away from the rhetoric of direct action and participation, locating Rainer’s radicalism elsewhere. Rainer’s choreographic interventions operated most profoundly not on the body of the performer, Lambert-Beatty argues, but rather on the eye of the viewer, a timely act of resistance in the face of an increasingly spectacular and mediatized environment. Art-historical treatments of dance are sometimes unsatisfyingly discarnate, but they are hardly dispassionate.

4.  Mabou Mines:

Mabou Mines is an artist-driven experimental theater collective generating original works and re-imagined adaptations of classics. Work is created through multi-disciplinary, technologically inventive collaborations among its members and a wide world of contemporary filmmakers, composers, writers, musicians, choreographers, puppeteers and visual artists. Mabou Mines fosters the next generation of artists through mentorship and residencies.

Today, the Company includes four Artistic Directors: Founding Artistic Director Lee Breuer and co-Artistic Directors Sharon Ann FogartyKaren Kandel and Terry O’Reilly; Artistic Associates: Maude Mitchell, Clove Galilee and David Neumann and a far-reaching network of collaborators.

Founding members in Mabou Mines, Nova Scotia

 History of the Company

In the summer of 1970, a group of artists—David Warrilow, Lee Breuer, Ruth Maleczech, JoAnne Akalaitis and Philip Glass—retreated to Philip and JoAnne’s house near Mabou Mines, Nova Scotia to create their first theater piece, Red Horse Animation. The company took the name “Mabou Mines,” and has since become not only a collective of artists, but of ideas and approaches.

The company was born out of the influences and inspirations of Europe’s seminal avant-garde theater collectives. Before arriving in New York in 1970, the would-be ensemble of Mabou Mines spent five years in Europe observing and studying the working methods of the Berliner Ensemble, the politics of the exiled Living Theater and the demands of physical training with Jerzy Grotowski. Since that time, Mabou Mines has created more than 120 works, and has been honored with more than 100 major awards.

Founding Company Members: Lee Breuer, JoAnne Akalaitis, Philip Glass, Ruth Maleczech (1939-2013), Fred Neumann (1926-2012),and David Warrilow (1934-1995). Former Company members include: Bill Raymond, Ellen McElduff, L.B. Dallas, B-St. John Schofield (1952–2013), Dawn Gray, Julie Archer, Honora Fergusson (1936-2012).

5pm-6pm. LaMama Etc. Archives.

La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club is New York’s premier Off Off Broadway venue, celebrating works that push the boundaries of language and culture, and showcasing cutting-edge talent from around the globe. Founded by Ellen Stewart in 1961, the company has grown into a vibrant and vital hub for artists and theatergoers alike, often presenting multiple shows simultaneously.

“It’s a place that gives people a chance, then goes an extra step and nurtures them,” says David Sedaris. “Were it not for La MaMa, Amy and I never would have written a single play, much less five.” A diverse and impressive roster of artists have been nurtured there, including: Blue Man Group, Sam Shepard, Ed Bullins, Taylor Mac, Estelle Parsons, Adrienne Kennedy, Diane Lane, Jackie Curtis, Harvey Keitel, Robert Wilson, Bette Midler, André DeShields, Harvey Fierstein, Max Roach, Steve Buscemi, Julie Taymor, Philip Glass, and Olympia Dukakis.
“Artists are welcomed at La MaMa and lovingly encouraged to experiment,” says Artistic Director Mia Yoo. “As we’ve grown over the years, risk-taking and diversity have remained key cultural values.” Our East Village location is a thriving community of four performances spaces, a suite of rehearsal studios, an art gallery, a dormitory for visiting artists, and the La MaMa Archives (an unparalleled physical record of downtown theater).In 2018, The American Theatre Wing presented La MaMa with the Regional Theatre Tony Award recognizing it as “the influential company that helped give birth to the Off Off Broadway movement.” La MaMa has also been honored with 30+ Obie Awards, dozens of Drama Desk and Bessie Awards and Villager Awards.  Well-known as a place where American theatergoers are introduced to the work of artists from around the globe, La MaMa has presented the US debuts of Peter Brook, Tadeusz Kantor, Andrei Serban, Kazuo Ohno, and recently, Belarus Free Theatre, which the Times’ Ben Brantley called “One of the most powerful and vividly resourceful underground companies on the planet.”  With creative partners from around the world, La MaMa has presented more than 5,000 productions and supported more than 150,000 artists.


Information on the director for Five Easy Pieces, Milo Rau, and his company, the International Institute for Political Murder, IIPM:

About IIPM