Home Theatre AMERICAN THEATRE | One Final Ice Manufacturing unit Chill for the New Ohio’s Robert Lyons 

AMERICAN THEATRE | One Final Ice Manufacturing unit Chill for the New Ohio’s Robert Lyons 

AMERICAN THEATRE | One Final Ice Manufacturing unit Chill for the New Ohio’s Robert Lyons 


When information got here in February that the New Ohio Theatre was closing, it felt like the newest fatality in an Off-Off-Broadway slaughter that has been occurring for the reason that early 2000s. Robert Lyons based the Ohio Theatre on Wooster Avenue in 1993, and reincarnated it because the New Ohio in 2011 at 154 Christopher Avenue after the Soho area was bought. Underneath Lyons, each Ohios have been dwelling to a string of game-changing ensembles: the TEAM, Les Freres Corbusier, Vampire Cowboys, Clubbed Thumb, and Tina Satter’s Half Straddle. However after the Aug. 12 efficiency of Extremely Left Violence—the final present within the remaining Ice Manufacturing unit competition—the New Ohio is gone.

Cue silver lining: The 74-seat area within the West Village will stay a house for nonprofit theatre, because of the constructing’s landlord, Rockrose Improvement. In a current dialog, Lyons revealed the following occupant: Chashama, the multidisciplinary group that for many years has turned vacant industrial sq. footage into artwork galleries and efficiency areas.

I sat down with Lyons one current afternoon to debate how the impresario of the downtown avant-garde acquired lured into playwriting (Extremely Left Violence is his newest textual content, directed and carried out by Daniel Irizarry), and what his subsequent act is likely to be.

DAVID COTE: Are you a playwright-director who began a theatre, or did you begin a theatre after which acquired drawn into making performs?

ROBERT LYONS: I used to be a author first. I used to be an English main, residing in Rockport, Mass., writing poetry and portray homes—you recognize, a seaside bum, in my early 20s. And Rockport is a dry city, so I needed to hitchhike to Gloucester to go to the bars. One evening I used to be going to see some blues band, and as a substitute of a gap band, they’d a theatre efficiency. It was a scene from Key Change, the outdated comedy about relationships. The actors stayed for the band. I walked over, launched myself, and we frolicked all evening. So I hitchhiked again to my house in Rockport. I took out a brief story I used to be engaged on and mentioned, I’m gonna make this a play. I had no expertise within the theatre.

What about that efficiency sparked it for you? 

In a approach, it has a lot to do with the time after the present as watching. I like the thought of doing theatre in a bar. So it was a sure vibe, after which hanging out with these individuals. They usually have been speaking about theatre, and I used to be asking numerous questions, and I assumed, This appears fairly cool.

Then what occurred? 

I moved to Philadelphia and acquired a job on the Wilma Theater as a telemarketer promoting subscriptions. Blanka Zizka ran the Wilma. I took a playwriting workshop there and from then on, I’ve been writing performs. Additionally in Philly, I discovered methods to ASM at Folks’s Personal Theater, and at Walnut Avenue Theatre I discovered lights, and ultimately in London I acquired a job at a basement theatre in Camden, underneath a bookstore. I had this bag of abilities I picked up in Philly, so that they employed me for stage managing, lighting design, and sound design on this little 70-seat theatre. They usually had a bookstore on the ground above me, proper? So I used to be studying all the things. I type of learn by your entire canon of latest performs. Caryl Churchill was possibly the most important affect on the time; it was the political a part of it.

That’s one thing I seen in regards to the Ohio within the Nineties. On the Ontological or P.S. 122 we have been doing actually summary, postmodern stuff, however your work was political.

Yeah, politics have at all times been in there. The primary present I did in New York was known as Dream Conspiracy. It was this loopy farce, however about Third World debt. So I attempt to layer human comedy into the politics. Even again then I used to be already serious about what was occurring on this planet.

Once you began the Ohio Theatre, it was a form of golden age for downtown experimental teams.

Certain, Kristin Marting was right here along with her firm Tiny Mythic, and Karin Coonrod had Arden Celebration. All of us knew one another; we have been hanging out, buying and selling actors and designers, everybody supporting one another.

Everybody had a minimum of one gig on the Ohio of their bio.

You acted there in [Robert Cucuzza’s] Wealthy White Farmers.

I bear in mind it nicely. You’ve run the Ohio, after which New Ohio, for 30 years; you’ve had greater than 20 performs produced in New York. Why is the celebration coming to an finish? 

It’s a confluence of issues. One is the arc of my very own life. I’ve been doing this for 30 years—we’re utilizing 30, as a result of that’s after we integrated Soho Assume Tank, doing enterprise as Ohio Theatre. I simply turned 64. Then there’s the dialog occurring within the discipline: Why’s this cis-male heterosexual working a theatre for 30 years? Make area for different individuals. After which, financially, as each article is stating proper now, it’s only a brutal panorama. For us, the viewers being down will not be such a giant deal. I’ve 75 seats. If the present will get good phrase of mouth, I’m promoting out. Some huge cash got here in in the course of the pandemic, because it did for lots of people. The Shuttered Venue Operators Grant (SVOG) program, the PPP mortgage—they saved everyone going. It was bizarre, as a result of everyone had extra money from not making theatre. Now that cash is over and all the things is far more costly to provide.

A scene from Les Freres Corbusier’s “Dance Dance Revolution” on the Ohio Theatre in 2008. (Photograph by Joan Marcus)

New Ohio Theatre will stop to be, however you could have a 501(c)(3) as Soho Assume Tank. What occurs to that? 

Now we have a home up in Pine Plains, east of Rhinebeck. It’s small however candy. And there’s a efficiency artwork middle that simply opened close by known as the Stissing Heart. I’m in discussions there. I’d check out a program known as Downtown Upstate, bringing exhibits from downtown New York to the Hudson Valley.

As somebody who made experimental work for many years and noticed quite a bit come by the Ice Manufacturing unit, how a lot has percolated as much as the mainstream? 

Take two examples: Rachel Chavkin and Alex Timbers. They’re directing on Broadway. Rachel with Hadestown and The Thanksgiving Play and Alex with Moulin Rouge! and Right here Lies Love. They labored on the Ohio towards the start of their careers, Rachel along with her firm the TEAM and Alex with Les Freres Corbusier. 

Does that imply Broadway is getting weirder?

That’s the way it works. We maintain doing the work, and it expands what individuals settle for. I don’t learn about you, however I see one thing, it doesn’t appear bizarre to me. Once you take slightly step out of our bubble, audiences are like, Wow, that’s so bizarre! However that bubble retains getting greater and larger, and an increasing number of persons are used to crazier and crazier storytelling units.

Your new play, Extremely Left Violence, is unquestionably throughout the bubble; it’s super-duper absurdist. The place did this one come from? 

Out of a selected trajectory that entails [actor-director] Daniel Irizarry. He has me write textual content for him after which he takes it into the rehearsal room and expands with strategies derived from clowning and bodily efficiency. A couple of years in the past, Daniel requested me to write down a brief piece when he was in residency. So I wrote one thing known as Yovo. I used to be in Benin, West Africa, on the time, and I wrote it as a really dense, poetic, image-based piece. “Yovo” means “white man” there. We turned it into its personal present. And that present has been carried out in Cuba and Poland, and South Korea final summer season at a global theatre competition. Then I wrote My Onliness for him, which we produced final September, and it was an enormous hit. A musical with seven songs. We acquired nice opinions from the New York Occasions and the New Yorker. My favourite quote was from Theatermania: “probably the most singularly insane present in NYC proper now.” Yovo and My Onliness are included in a assortment of my performs revealed by Mercer Avenue Books final 12 months.

Daniel Irizarry and Malik Paris in “Yovo.”

What impressed Extremely Left Violence?

We’re conceiving it as an academia of the thoughts—one other dense, poetic-political textual content with a demented professor, two college students free-associating an anti-capitalist manifesto, and a privileged poet. I began writing it with no stage instructions, simply textual content. I knew I needed to make one other present with Daniel for my final Ice Manufacturing unit. Popping out of My Onliness and Yovo, I felt this nice liberation when it comes to my relationship to textual content and storytelling. , I like writing narrative. My different performs have characters, however I’m on a journey proper now. And it’s all due to this wonderful collaboration with Daniel. This can be a workshop presentation and we now have two improvement residencies scheduled within the fall at Mercury Retailer in Brooklyn after which NACL within the Catskills. 

Beforehand, what kind of fashion have been you working in?

I’ve at all times been extra right into a satirical comedy fashion. Years in the past I wrote a play known as Vater Is aware of Finest, which was Wilhelm Reich’s concept of mass psychology of fascism blended with an episode of Father Is aware of Finest. One other play, PR Man, was a couple of man who has to handle a scandal round a poisonous dump in a small city. He arrives with a suitcase, opens the suitcase, and his PR staff comes out like clowns from a automobile. I used to be at all times into that type of surrealism.

Rehearsing your final play at Ohio whereas closing down the theatre—seems like you could have quite a bit in your plate.

Since I’m type of an unintentional creative director, I needed to finish doing the a part of the job I like probably the most: being in a rehearsal room, with all the strain, everyone freaking out. That camaraderie and collaboration makes me joyful. Rehearsals maintain me narrowly targeted on a enjoyable factor. After which I’m caring for all of the enterprise of the handoff of the area, all of the mechanics of funders and all that. However that’s the day job. That is the enjoyable job.

And never your first rodeo; you needed to shut the unique Ohio Theatre in 2010. 

After we misplaced the area on Wooster Avenue, we thought that was the tip. I did the very same factor: I took the final slot in Ice Manufacturing unit. It was a play known as Nostradamus Predicts the Demise of SoHo. I like how we began that: There was a elaborate clothes retailer throughout the road, and the present began with our actress in a marriage costume in that storefront window. The viewers was saved out in entrance ready, we wouldn’t allow them to within the theatre. After which she began performing. We let everyone within the theatre. They usually sat within the risers, wanting by the barn doorways to see her within the window throughout the road. After, we had an epic dance celebration. I’ve been by this course of earlier than. We thought that was the tip. After which, miraculously, we acquired this area right here.

Will there be one other epic dance celebration on Aug. 12? 


David Cote is a journalist, playwright, and opera librettist based mostly in New York Metropolis. His opinions and reporting additionally seem in The A.V. Membership, Observer, and 4 Columns.

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