Downtown NYC existentialist playwright Richard Foreman (b. 1937) won a MacArthur Award, just as his wife, actress Kate Manheim, came down with a mysterious and painful illness. In a situation as excruciating as it is absurd, he grows moss at the sickbed of a dying wife who does not die. In this intimate short film, Foreman reflects on inspiration in a godless cosmos, the 20th Century avant-garde, and what art does not tell us about post-erotic love.
Richard Foreman has written, directed and designed over fifty of his own plays. He has received the 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 Club Master American Dramatist Award, a MacArthur ‘Genius’ Fellowship, and in 2004, he was elected officer of the Order of Arts and Letters of France. Five of his plays have received ‘OBIE’ awards as Best Play of the Year—and he has received five other ‘OBIE’S,’ including Best Director and Sustained Achievement. Foreman’s archives and work materials have been acquired by the Bobst Library of New York University.
Getting Out of Bed with Richard Foreman initially appeared as an article (see below) in Coilhouse Magazine. The article also contained a previous version of the film that ran for eleven minutes. This previous version was screened at Reelfest Boston and at the Microscope Gallery. The new and improved version (whose running time is now seven minutes) has been screened at the Howl Happening, at Reverb (Baltimore), and at the Gene Frankel Theatre as part of the Secrets of the Heart Film Festival along with nine other short films selected from among 340 international submissions.
Getting Out of Bed With Richard Foreman:
Love Among the Retro Avant-Garde
Storytelling is, among other things, the art of regulating the flow of information shared with an audience. Playwright Richard Foreman is a foremost master of this art, withholding much that makes our world familiar and meaningful. In his plays, we are thrust into a room – perhaps suggestive of the human psyche – where information circulates without context, and language often appears to lose its capacity to bear information or even conjure words. Characters inhabit situations and events transpire, but usually without the problem resolution endemic to most fiction. Ultimately, we never know whether what we have witnessed is satirical, psychological, resolutely absurdist, or somehow all three concurrently. Enduring such a bewildering circumstance, the audience is challenged to find or impose order and meaning – never knowing which they are doing. As you may well imagine, this is not easy art. It may leave the theatergoer uneasy – even queasy – amid buzzers, flashing lights, warped music, and the voice of un-reason. One may even wonder whether it’s akin to what Jeremy Bentham said of natural rights: “nonsense upon stilts.” If, however, the official tastemakers are to be believed, this is theatre operating at a high degree of abstraction, offering sly humor and curious insight into our social and inner worlds.
Richard Foreman’s Ontological-Hysteric Theater made its debut in 1968 – a year redolent with meaning for alternative culture – and his plays were a mainstay of the weird and wonderful East Village until 2010. He has written, directed, and designed more than fifty plays, received five “OBIE” (Off-Broadway) Awards for Best Play of the Year, the Literature Award from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, a Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre Award from the National Endowment for the Arts, the PEN Club Master American Dramatist Award, a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship, was elected officer of the Order of Arts and Letters of France, and his direction of the 50th anniversary production of The Threepenny Opera was nominated for both T.O.N.Y. and Grammy Awards.
For nearly 20 years Foreman has launched his plays from a little theater on the grounds of the historic St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery in New York City’s East Village. For those of us for whom an annual trek to Foreman’s demented dimension provides regular respite from worlds we are otherwise doomed to inhabit, I bear bad news: this year’s play is slated to be his last. And for those new to Foreman, or without the ability to see one of his plays in New York or when they tour Paris or Los Angeles or Berlin, there is good news: he will now be turning his prodigious talents exclusively to film making.
A blinkered guest in Foreman’s book, art, and technology engorged SOHO loft – one of the original lofts designed by George Maciunas – I feebly tossed feeble questions before the “Genius” himself. Despite his telling me that he “didn’t like people,” Foreman was a good sport, ruminating on whether alternative- and counter-cultures have futures, the keys to a vital art scene and to becoming an artist, the meta-politics of theatre, and his mystical yearnings. Alas, I still don’t understand why existentialists get out of bed in the morning. The Syndicate of Human Image Traffickers maintained surveillance (see above) and the remainder was captured by my electro-ear (see below).