The Ontological-Hysteric Theater
(OHT) was founded in 1968 by Richard Foreman
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. The core of the company's annual programming is Richard Foreman's theater pieces, of which he has made over 50 in the last 40 years.
Foreman’s trademark “total theater” unites elements of the performative, auditory and visual arts, philosophy
and literature for a unique result. Foreman's style is not meant to be ‘cerebral', but rather, the density of his compositional theater is an attempt to viscerally reflect and process everything that he has inherited from his explorations in twentieth century thought and art. Foreman engages in what the poet John Keats
famously described as “negative capability” - i.e. "when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason." 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
Richard Foreman has written, directed and designed over fifty of his own plays both in New York City
and abroad. Five of his plays have received "OBIE"
awards as best play of the year—and he has received five other "OBIE'S" for directing and for 'sustained achievement'. 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 Club
Master American Dramatist Award, a MacArthur "Genius" Fellowship
, and in 2004 was elected officer of the Order of Arts and Letters of France. His archives and work materials have recently been acquired by the Bobst Library
at New York University
Since the early seventies the Ontological has been funded by the NEA, NYSCA, as well as many other foundations and private individuals. In the early 1980s a branch of the theater was established in Paris and funded by the French government. The theater is currently located in the historic St Mark's Church in-the-Bowery in New York City's East Village neighborhood, and serves as a home to Foreman's annual productions as well as to other local and international artists.
Foreman's plays have been co-produced by such organizations as The New York Shakespeare Festival, La Mama, The Wooster Group and 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, Threepenny Opera, The Golem and plays by 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, 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 Dr. Faustus Lights the Lights at the Autumn Festivals in Berlin and Paris.
Seven collections of Foreman's plays have already been published, and books studying his work have been published in New York, Paris, Berlin
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, NTUSA, 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.