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A Conversation with Richard Foreman
Charles Bernstein
October, 1987

Richard Foreman in UbuWeb Sound
Richard Foreman in /ubu Editions

Charles Bernstein in UbuWeb Sound
Charles Bernstein in UbuWeb Contemporary
Charles Bernstein Interviewed by Marjorie Perloff

Richard Foreman and I met in his SoHo loft one morning in October 1987. We talked all day. Mark Wallace transcribed the tapes, which I edited and Richard Foreman revised in the fall of 1991. The conversation was originally purblished in TDR in its Fall,1992 issue (Volume 36, number 3; T135; pp. 103-130)    --CB

BERNSTEIN: Let me start by asking something about the formatting of your plays in your first two published books: Plays and Manifestoes [New York University Press, 1976] and Reverberation Machine [Station Hill Press, 1985]. The very first plays that you produced are presented with a great deal of extratextual material. For one thing, as is the convention, you assign every line to a speaker (which seems a better word for your practice than to speak of "characters"). But you also provide -- in italics -- elaborately detailed descriptions of the visual movement on the stage, sort of like the stage manager's script you refer to in your second book. In sharp contrast, in the text of Egyptology, the last play in Reverberation Machine, you've done a remarkable thing -- I don't know if it's unprecedented but I can't think of any playwright, if one wants to call the work "plays," who has formatted their work as you have Egyptology: which is essentially as a field, an open field poem. On the one hand, it's not flush left, like a playscript, but uses the whole "field" of the page; on the other hand, no speakers or characters are assigned parts. At the same time, it's all dialogue -- and in that sense it isn't quite like a poem -- it awaits not only performance of the words but also staging.

I don't imagine that this change of format represents as much change in your writing. But I wonder about the evolution of how you're presenting the work as writing or as poetry. Of course Reverberation Machine presents a range of formats: some with stage directions, some plays where you assign some but not all of the dialogue, and then finally in Egyptology, the last text before the essays, where you really make this very radical break.

FOREMAN: The plays in the first book were printed as written. In other words, in those days I would indicate in my notebooks who was talking and I would write extended stage directions as I was trying to imagine what was going on. The language, especially of the early plays, was a kind of process language, a phenomenological language. The whole idea of making, starting again, registering basic physical events within the language, then decorated with stage activity that I assumed would dominate the performance more than the language would. The influence of alchemy was also very present in those early texts, a notion of working and reworking certain simple givens: How does my hand feel? How does my foot feel? etc.

For the second book, we decided we would show a variety of ways of notational systems: some of the plays had been prepared for different magazine publications; others were taken from the typescript that we handed out to the actors after the lines had been assigned. In writing the plays included in the second book I had in fact stopped indicating who was talking, so that assignment appeared only after rehearsal had begun. Writing Rhoda in Potatoland [1975], I was still indicating who was talking as I was writing. With The Book of Splendors [1976], which is the first play in Reverberation Machine, the script as originally written had no indication who was speaking.

BERNSTEIN: So that would be a big change.

FOREMAN: Well, for a period of time [around Rhoda] I would half indicate. Some of the time I would indicate who was talking, some of the time I would not. One of the things that loosened me up . . . I remember when we did Particle Theory [1973], Kate [Manheim] would say, "Oh but those speeches that you gave to Hannah are great, I want to say those." And so I would say okay you can have them [laughs]. So it became very loose, who'd get which lines, because I knew Kate was going to push for more to say!

BERNSTEIN: It would seem to me that if you went back to those plays you might find that the pre-assigning of the parts was not so essential to them.

FOREMAN: Yes, but it was intrinsic to the actual writing of the scripts through up through Sophia = (Wisdom) Part 3 [1973], Vertical Mobility [1974] and Pain(t) [1974].

BERNSTEIN: Those particular people had to say those words?

FOREMAN: Yeah. If I were doing those plays today, I wouldn't necessarily respect those assignments. I can see that unbeknownst to myself, a new form was evolving.

BERNSTEIN: There's a kind of textual movement that allows for a shift and a movement. But I can see how in the plays, say through Rhoda in Potatoland, you had a sense of characters who recur and represent certain psychological types or even archetypes. Existential attitudes, let's say.

FOREMAN: The key that unlocked all that, and allowed me to accept the fact that it didn't matter who spoke was the moment I decided to use my written "false starts," whatever appeared in my notebook, because in my notebook where ideas would get jotted down while I was reading a book like this one on the table. This one talks about current chaos theory, and I might have said, "Hey, there's something in here applicable to a play." So I might write a little four-line scene, and that would go down in the notebook. Then, months later, when I decided it was time to type up a lot of that as dialogue (because I always neurotically worried I didn't have material for a play to stage two years later!) I would have no idea who was talking. It would just be language talking. And it would continue to exist as just language until we went into rehearsal, when I decided who would actually speak each line.

BERNSTEIN: But when you were writing the earlier plays you didn't do it that way?

FOREMAN: No. When I was writing the earlier plays I worked from an outline. The big change for me was Rhoda in Potatoland. You see in those days I was still trying to write plays and so I was not dealing with all the things that didn't "fit" into a play. In Rhoda in Potatoland, for the first time, I said, "Well here, from page 20 to 50, that could make a play. But something's wrong. Wait a minute; if I take page 20 to 35 and make that the last part of the play and take 35 to 50 and make that the first part of the play . . ." So I flip-flopped beginning and end -- it read more provocatively that way.

BERNSTEIN: Doesn't Rhoda begin, in effect, "I'm doing the first part at the end and the last part at the beginning"? Isn't that the prologue?

FOREMAN: Yes. Nowadays, it seems silly to think so, but back then it seemed to me like a shocking thing to do. Because I had done four plays before that, where the absolute rule was that however it came up in the notebook I had to be honest and say that's the way it was and I dare not rearrange it. No revision!

BERNSTEIN: What about before that, when you were writing in a more traditionally goal-oriented fashion?

FOREMAN: Before, when I'd been a student at Yale [Drama School] and trying to sell plays in New York, I rewrote and had, say, seven drafts . . .

BERNSTEIN: So you were reacting against that?

FOREMAN: Yeah, but mostly it was because the style in which I was writing was so repetitive, I really imagined myself as a kind of alchemist reworking his material, with the moral obligation to be honest about documenting in the text itself the reworking, day after day.

BERNSTEIN: Reworking as a form of writing-as-process rather than writing-as-revision.

FOREMAN: Yeah, writing as process. Reworking the same basic physical phenomena until, hopefully, gold would be produced as grace descended! So there we are with this first group of plays. But though I began to use all the false starts, I still had a rule that I couldn't change a word of the text itself or the sequence. And in the rehearsals, I told myself I wanted above all to avoid decorating my text in any way.

BERNSTEIN: What do you mean by decorate your text?

FOREMAN: Not invent new things to add to the theatrical performance. I knew that most directors took a text and thought, "How can we expand this? How can we add fancy stuff?" In those days, I thought I was trying to x-ray the text onstage so that I was stripping away everything except the bare skeleton of what was really there in the words. As a result my plays were very static, moved very slowly, with minimal -- radically minimalist -- movement.

BERNSTEIN: Very different than from the rococo Foreman of Rhoda in Potatoland and after.

FOREMAN: Yes, but my first great influences were the minimalist painters of the early 70s. . . Well I shouldn't say the first -- because I was also involved with because I was involved with filmmakers doing what Jonas Mekas called "expanded cinema" -- some of them were certainly rococo. But in the visual arts, which had always been important to me when I was a kid -- I lived through abstract expressionism, Pop, Op, and I always thought that while there were interesting, I was never really moved. But when minimal art started to happen in the mid-60s, for the first time I thought "--Hey! I'm not alone in the world anymore!"

BERNSTEIN: Who are you thinking of in particular?

FOREMAN: Oh, everybody, beginning with Frank Stella, who was the one from that group who interested me the most, but everybody. . . Yvonne Rainer was very important to me, not a painter of course -- but that minimal aesthetic was happening at the time I was starting to write. And I thought I was being rigorous and severe like all the rest of them. In music -- Phil Glass less than Lamont Young, but you know, Phil, Steve [Reich] and Lamont. Seeing Lamont Young's first concert was a revelation. He was a profound influence upon me. So at that time I thought, "Hey, what I'm going to do in the theater's what all those guys are doing in their fields."

BERNSTEIN: So you had that minimalist interest: x-raying the text right onto the stage, static . . .

FOREMAN: . . . and cutting away all the extraneous flesh that threatened to start growing inside the text, bloating it.

BERNSTEIN: Of course to some degree this sounds like Grotowski too . . .

FOREMAN: But it was radically different, I was very concerned with being anti-Grotowski. And that was basically I suppose through my use of performers. While Grotowski's performers were trying to find ways to emote from some cosmic center of human emotion, I was trying to totally dehumanize my performers, who would stand very still, make slight adjustments of the body every five minutes or so, all of this controlled by tape-recorded dialogue. All the lines on tape, spoken in various ways while the performers would repeat, generally at a slower speed, as much as they could of their lines heard coming over the tape, until a buzzer or some other device would stop them. So the tape might go "Oh, my hand is heavy." Somebody else: "Move your hand, Carl." Thud. Pause. Now, the tape started with "Oh, my hand is heavy," and the actor on stage would repeat "Oh...my...hand," and then the other actor would start, and there'd soon be two or three people talking at the same time, different speeds, etc. And one of the reasons I did that was that I could not abide, in the theater, the inflectional patterns of actors who wanted to seduce the audience, to take the audience on their own emotional trip.

BERNSTEIN: It's a rejection of a concept of voice as it occurs in literature, as in theater, which is tied into the idea of self-expression and humanism. In poetry, they talk about finding your voice, which is too often a way of evading the voices to be found in the writing.

FOREMAN: But there was another psychological root, because in a way it was myself who was trying to find a voice. When I was writing plays at Yale for John Gassner, then when I came to New York and was a member of the New Dramatists and the Actor's Studio, the one problem I had, the one reason I rewrote all the time, was that because whenever I wrote a play I'd sit there and read the dialogue to myself, and the only thing I would hear in my head was the inflectional pattern of my mother reading bedtime stories to me and my sister. And I thought, you don't get to be a major playwright sounding like your mother.

So I started eliminating inflectional patterns. I tried to train my actors to speak every sentence in a monotone, with a downward inflection at the end of the sentence. Until very recently, when actors auditioned for me, I'd tell them, now read this as if it were a handwriting exercise for a class of students, as though you're writing an emotional line on the blackboard for them, such as "Don't come near me with that knife or I'll scream." But you read it neutrally, as if you simply want your students to practice their penmanship.

BERNSTEIN: Well, as much as you disliked the psychic "authenticity" of Grotowski, still Grotowski represents an attack on conventional theater values in terms of the "richness" of the theatrical experience -- the costumes, the lighting.

FOREMAN: Yes -- but that wasn't my attack on the problem. I made as much scenery as I could. By the time of Hotel China [1971] for instance, it got very mechanized, very complex. I was not interested in "poor theater."

BERNSTEIN: You turn Grotowski's critique on its head -- by rejecting traditional set design as insufficient and moving toward a hyperdense, incredibly articulated, scenography. Which is anything but minimalist.

But, then, what got you to move from the more process-oriented "what you're writing is what you're interested in" anti-revision orientation? When did you start to get more involved with revision, or allow revision to enter in?

FOREMAN: Next step: though I was under the influence of the phenomenologists, of alchemy, of the minimalist aesthetic, with Hotel China came a four- or five-year period of being interested in contemporary French thought as well as in eastern traditions -- both of which suggested that any particular objects were but momentary configurations that could be easily superseded by other objects. That evolved in tandem with my willingness to accept whatever scratchings emerged on my notebook pages. Up till then I would sit at my table and say, today I'm going to try to write a play. I'd write my three pages or whatever it was, and the next day I would continue, and usually after a certain amount of time I would say "This isn't going anywhere, I'm going to try to get a new idea and start again." It would take me six months until I got an idea that would keep going until I had a full play.

But now I began accepting all my false starts. They were the play! That's what I began staging -- all those false starts! After Rhoda in Potatoland, I tried to get freer and freer, by saying to myself I want to prove that I'm a director who can stage anything, so I don't care, I'm not going to censor my writing, I'm not going to make sure that I produce coherent stuff, I'm going to put down whatever I like each day and I'm going to prove to myself I'll be able to stage it.

BERNSTEIN: Of course breaking from habitual writing styles may reveal deeper coherences, or anyway resonances, that you can't see at first because your own resistance to tapping into these other dimensions can look, on the surface, like incoherence.

FOREMAN: Sure. But there's another factor involved: I've always thought I was a more reactionary director than writer. I would crack my skull as a director, trying to figure out how to stage what seemed at first pretty incoherent in my writing. And I would figure out ways that I thought made it coherent and thematically centered. I began to think of myself as a "psychoanalyst-as-director," treating my patients' (writers') free associations and saying, "Ah ha, but you see what you're really talking about . . ."

BERNSTEIN: Can you see staging things that are not plays, for example poems or other works?

FOREMAN: I've been thinking about it for 20 years.

BERNSTEIN: Beside Stein, what poets, or other writers, have informed your theater work?

FOREMAN: I think of myself as generating texts that precede in ways quite parallel to the ways poets have been operating for a long time. When I began I was influenced by earlier 20th-century and late 19th-century literature, the traditional avant-garde, everything from Rimbaud and Mallarme to Eliot and Yeats. Then Stein and Brecht became the two biggest influences. There was also time spent trying to incorporate everything I could find out about Charles Olson's methods.

BERNSTEIN: What particularly interested you about Olson?

FOREMAN: The theoretical work. The essays, the transcripts of his lectures, which I couldn't make complete sense of. But I hung onto the idea of the vector of emotion trying to control the actual articulation of the writing. Writing as embodied energy. Olson was much more important to me than Pound, who I've read but never really tried to imagine how to translate into theater.

BERNSTEIN: "One perception instanter on the next," the most famous line in Olson's "Projective Verse" [1973], certainly makes sense as something to discuss in terms of your work.

FOREMAN: However, I discovered a similar idea earlier in Robert Musil. In one of his essays he talks about the writing of his great short story "The Perfecting of a Love" [1965], where he tried to write by taking the smallest possible steps from one sensation to another.

BERNSTEIN: Certainly there was an impatience right from the beginning with any normal narrative development, elaboration of images in a traditional way -- an impatience that allows a much more radical juxtaposition of individual textual elements.

FOREMAN: Of course. That's poetic technique.

BERNSTEIN: And it's just these particular poetic, or textual, pre-occupations that separate you from, to get back to that, Grotowski, or The Living Theater or Open Theater.

FOREMAN: I made my theater as much in reaction against those people as against the Broadway theater.

BERNSTEIN: But it's interesting when you talk about process, because there's another sense of process in Joseph Chaikin's work with the Open Theater and just after, as well as, and perhaps even more radically, in Judith Malina's and Julian Beck's work with the Living Theater. And this "process" involved a collective working out on the stage of "inner" emotional reality: a process that also wasn't to be tampered with. In contrast, your sense of process is much more rigorous, in the sense of much more constructivist and conceptual, much more writerly.

FOREMAN: Such theaters reminded me of encounter groups. I thought of myself as a writer, an isolated consciousness, and the only reason I started directing was because nobody else would direct my plays. I never thought I was going to be a director.

BERNSTEIN: I'm fascinated by your interest in Brecht and Stein together, partly because it reflects my own preoccupations very precisely and also because I know the two together can seem incongruous.

FOREMAN: To me it's very simple. When I first discovered Brecht, I was 15 years old, it was 1952, and I read about this man who was making a theater that was not based upon empathy. Relate that to my desire to reject my mother's seductive voice reading me bedtime stories. Brecht showed that theater could speak about things other than the 1950s American's desire be a well-rounded friendly person, having pleasant social relationships. Brecht allowed other concerns, subjects, textures to inform my idea of theater. Much later, when I discovered Stein, I realized that she too was speaking about other levels of human potentiality, the human sensory apparatus, not just the famous American obsession with interpersonal relations. So to me they were both within the same orbit. Both used art as "estrangement" therapy. From the time I was a kid I was interested, in literature, painting, anything which spoke about those aspects of experience that were generally rejected by the milieu I was living in. When I was about 12 years old we used to have arguments around the dinner table -- my father was a lawyer, so I learned to argue. And I remember explaining to my mother why looking at a light bulb . . . I found as many interesting and emotional things in relation to that light bulb as in relation to another human being. Which of course horrified my humanist, liberal mother, as I knew it would. Me, Richard, who from the time I was a kid they used to see come down in the morning and say to me, "Why aren't you smiling? Why do you have such a sour look on your face?" Hopeful as they were to evoke in me those nice, normal, human pleasantries, unwilling to face the dreadful alternative -- that I suspected there was more to life than what was manifest in the Scarsdale of the 1950s.

BERNSTEIN: Maybe because I'm reacting to a similar family background, what people sometimes regard as difficulties in your work make perfect sense to me. In particular, I find in your work a very powerful politics of form. What do you see as the politics in your work?

FOREMAN: In the beginning, when people felt the work wasn't politically engaged, I'd always respond that I was indeed interested in analyzing the American political psyche. It seemed to me that reactionary tendencies, conservative tendencies, were the product of a particular character structure which categorizes everything as black or white, categorizes the world in airtight compartments. The minute ambiguous gray appears, such a character structure becomes upset and manifests conservative or reactionary responses. I thought my theater was training people to live with Keatsian negative capability. In the political arena that meant that one could live with the ambiguities of the political and social situation in such a way that one maintained a progressive outlook and was not frightened into being a reactionary. And I thought that in the American context, that was the most useful political statement I could make. Of course, being so influenced by Brecht for many years, I was anxious to try and figure out a way to speak more directly about political matters. But I could not. I found that the minute I tried to speak in a language in which I could convey my ideas, convey my sentiments, I was forced to abandon what I considered the highly rigorous language I'd evolved for myself, which was dedicated to notating the impulsive fluctuations of human consciousness. Instead, I had to use the going language of social convention -- a co-opted language, and the minute I tried to say the most politically relevant things in that language, I found it was somehow lying about my true experience, no longer artistically rigorous and revelatory. I also felt in looking at all the political theater that I could see, that a patronizing talking-down tone infected the work. If an artist says, "I have something to tell you people," he writes with the tone of one who, pretentiously, knows more than other people. I didn't want to write from that assumed position. So I put my guilt to sleep for awhile. But later, doing plays like Egyptology and Miss Universal Happiness, I was trying to use my techniques to engage evident political subjects. However, I would never relinquish my basic aesthetic position, which is that the task of the work of art is above all else to juggle all the troublesome facts of life, to keep the balls of possibility in the air, to learn how to live and dance, lucid and energized, even in a world as depressing and violent as ours seems to be, rather than to speak from a specific ideological stance.

BERNSTEIN: What's your response to the idea of just doing a piece of writing that isn't for production?

FOREMAN: I think about it but I can't get up the energy to do it. One of the problems is I'm such an asocial person, I need the stimulus of other people the theater forces on me, in order to start the wheels rolling. I'm not sure I could write knowing I was writing only for the page.

BERNSTEIN: That's actually something I respond to in your writing. In many ways you're the most writerly and poetic of writers for the theater. At the same time, there are characteristics that differentiate all your texts from poems. For one thing, they always sound like dialogue. Not dialogue in the sense of people speaking but words meant to be spoken or intoned or somehow performed. They don't seem like they're speaking to themselves and that they just can sit comfortably or not on the page. Something's missing with the text alone.

FOREMAN: I think that what I am driven by is the need to be able to speak in the particular way that I am allowed to speak in my plays. I would prefer to be able to speak that way in daily life. I'm very uncomfortable speaking to people in life because the syntax, the verbal forms that I would like to use, aren't allowed.

BERNSTEIN: That makes sense in terms of the base level of what you're doing as writing, and I think it's a motivation that I would also feel writing poetry. But reading your texts is something like reading the lyrics of a song when you know the music. But that's not sufficient because it's not only that there's music, there are several different tracks going on at the same time. Essentially, your work seems to lend itself to polyphonic elaboration, so that what we're reading on the page is just one of many levels that are going on simultaneously. To read one of your plays is something like looking at an architectural diagram. Four or five dimensions are written on a one-dimensional grid. The text may be the base line, it may be the blueprint, but it still doesn't exist in and of itself, it's made so that it will expand with the performance. If you were writing a poem, more of that building out would have to be built into the text.

FOREMAN: When I do other people's plays, what bothers me is that there doesn't seem to be any real need to stage it: it's all there in the language, while I consciously try as a writer to make it not be there 100 percent. I always said to myself that I wanted to make a theater that was close to the experience I had in reading. When I go through my plays before I'm about to start rehearsal, I read through them very fast, casually, skipping, skimming. I often tell myself that in my productions I want to get the affect of a fast reading, I want to make sure that I'm not staging a scene so that it slows down the reading time to normal lived time. I'm serious when I say that I wish I could talk in life more like I talk in my plays. A fantasy of mine is imagining how nice life would be if one didn't have to talk to other people. I can be very verbal addressing a proper subject in the proper situation, but I think such language is often a defense mechanism on my part. I'd rather communicate with few words, mostly with looks and physical gestures. I find that because I'm shy I often feel tongue-tied and don't know what to say to people. I don't think that's just a psychological problem -- I elevate it to a metaphysical problem. What I find most objectionable is the chattering, empty talk that allows us in secular, trivial society, to spend our time not talking honestly to people about what's really the spiritual center of our lives. And somehow that frustration, the pressure that puts upon my own language, emerges on the page as a particular sort of thinned-down yet fast-moving language that takes the form of my dialogue.

BERNSTEIN: I think that you do create a theatrical space somehow akin to reading.

FOREMAN: What does this "reading" that we are talking about mean? I suppose it means not being empathetically pulled into the text.

BERNSTEIN: I think it has a lot to do with the alienation effect that Brecht speaks of -- breaking the circuit of empathy, using framing devices to achieve a level of distance that is the opposite of conventional empathetic theater. That's one aspect of what textualizes the experience of your work. The other aspect has to do with the scenography, the constellation of concrete objects that makes up your sets and in which you place your language. Your scenography literalizes, make palpable, the theatrical space so that the play progresses like turning pages rather than being something the audience is unselfconsciously absorbed by, as a seamless duration. The experience is very tangible and heterodox at every level -- visually, verbally, sonically; that is to say, the nonnaturalism isn't just the way somebody speaks but is also in every detail of the set and costumes, choreography, lighting, sound design: which is all totally unexpectable -- totally imaginary and fantastically detailed. But then there is also the actual sense of space, which is never Euclidean space in your plays, much more radically so I suppose when you had the triple-deep stage where the space was so incredibly . . .What? . . . interior. A textual space, like what's behind, or dwelling deep inside, the page.

FOREMAN: I guess my thoughts about reading have to do with the continually changing relationship to the object at hand. Obviously, I'm not thinking of curling up and getting lost in George Eliot for a seven-hour period, but of reading stuff that you continually have to work at. My habit is to read, look away, think, move around, underline something, do something else, go to the icebox, all this tuned to what I've just read, of Heidegger or Charles Bernstein or whoever. And it is that re-ordering . . . that placing of a different center of gravity in one's life, when one is reading. Living in a very different kind of physical space, continually moving mentally from close up to long shot, back to close-up.

BERNSTEIN: In your essay "The Carrot and the Stick" [1976] you say something about the thinking field as a sixth sense. It seems to me you actually create something like this in your work -- a mental space, yes, but one that is tangible - I'm trying to avoid the use of the word presence. It's a space that is equally visual and verbal, something that is an extension or analogous to the senses we can speak about -- taste, touch, sight as a sense. It's not ideational in the sense of just an image of something, it's something that's different than what we imagine images to be.

FOREMAN: Someone who really captures that in his writing, who I read years ago and keep reading today, is Ortega y Gassett. I think Camus is right when he suggests that Ortega is the greatest writer in Europe since Nietzsche. I don't know of anyone else who manifests such a specific graphic quality in his thinking. His thinking is that of a body gesturing in space. I remember summer vacation after my first year in college, sitting in Scarsdale and reading Ortega, reading a sentence or two and just sitting back in my chair and going "yeah," with amazement as ideas dropped into my brain like ripe fruit! That taste of ideas as sensuous experience, that's what I'm trying to return to in my theater.

BERNSTEIN: The extraordinary point here is that you imagine the multidimensional space of your theater to have something to do with philosophical thought as a creation, almost like a model, not a model in the sense of something that is later to be built, but actually as a building of an environment of thought, an environment that you can move around in and that you can think in. It's totally different than any traditional sense of the theater, where you're looking at some kind of story unfolding. You're actually constructing a model of consciousness or a model of thought.

FOREMAN: Yes, that's what I hunger for when I say I wish that I could live my life that way, that I wish I could talk the way my plays talk. I wish my own life could be a model for consciousness in the same way.

BERNSTEIN: So in this sense, the verbal materials in your plays are building blocks for this construction.

FOREMAN: I'm not sure, because when I think of writing for the theater, I think of skimming the cream off the top of experience, that's all. And the holes in my writing, and the not-writing all the stuff I specifically don't write, give it a certain depth, I think . . . You see I'm saying that, for me, theatrical texts are best as a skimming experience, not a depth experience. My plays as written are a skimming of my life, in order to evoke and justify what is added in the way of theatrical production.

That's why for theatrical purposes I hunger for a kind of "thin" text as opposed to staging, for instance, Strinberg's On the Road to Damascus, which in many ways has structural similarities to my own work. Why do I prefer a language erased in so many places? Because I think there is a special value in being able to use light, or the gesture of an actor, or the sound of music, as a step in the sequence a-b-c-d-e, rather than having each step smothered by the language as it would be in normal theater. So I specifically generate texts that want to evoke the discursive possibility of those other theatrical elements. The only way to evoke the reality of life in the theater is to let these different levels of discourse participate in picturing the world onstage. And if the language as written does it all first, then as you say these other elements are just intensifying that favored level of language. And that suppresses the richness of a world in which each level of discourse is actively interfered with by contesting levels of manifest being.

BERNSTEIN: So this gets me to what I would call the constructivist element in your work. If all of the levels or elements add up in a classical way, each contributing towards a central thematic, an image - that's exactly what you don't like. You get a certain kind of simulated depth, but it's monologic and therefore anemic compared to the multidimensional, multivectorial nature of human experience and, beyond human experience, human reality--if you can accept that human experience is only a small beacon light within human reality. Rather than unifying these multivectorial, multidimensional elements, your theater oscillates among them, creating a hyperactuality that is anything but about disrupture or breaking images, even as some of your own manifestoes used to suggest. I would say you use antiabsorptive techniques for hyperabsorptive ends, to use terms of mine from "Artifice of Absorption" [in A Poetics (1992)]. Of course you use certain techniques of disruption, but when the lights come on and your eyes are filled with those lights that project very strongly on you, when the buzzers sound -- to me that's not disrupting, that's intensifying my experience, that's rapture. When I hear those buzzers they generally cause an ecstatic moment within the theater.

Now this in a sense that goes against a lot of our mutual rhetoric about not allowing the spectator to be absorbed. I personally find your theater to be much more absorbing than almost anything I can go and see. It engages my senses at many levels, engages my intellect. It's not an analytic experience.

FOREMAN: Of course I agree. I certainly don't think it's an analytic experience, and I wouldn't spend twenty years just trying to disrupt. I am simply attempting to absorb people in a wider spectrum than that generally available in daily life. I think a lot of the things I said in my earlier manifestos were relatively polemical, and I've always maintained that speaking theoretically, which I do very easily, makes me feel a little bit dishonest because somehow I know I'm playing games. It's fun, exhilarating, an ego-trip, but it's not necessarily the truth. It's hard for me to isolate the truth because like many artists, I hope that in my art itself I'm doing things that elude any conceptual framework. And when I began to sense this, that's when I first had difficulty with my notion of myself as a minimalist. At that point I began to realize I was really a romantic, interested in being absorbed in that ecstatic continuum religious thinkers have always talked about. We should place ourselves in a wider universe; we normally separate out just a tiny part we identify as our normal "environment."

All the art I've been interested in has had, in fact, this mystical program of absorption into this larger cosmos. But I've always felt, guiltily, that I make art rather than facing the scary challenge of changing my life so that I, personally, might indeed enter paradise! Even in the early days when I used more aggressive buzzers than now, when the lights were even brighter in the audience's eyes, I always maintained that basically, the subject of my plays was paradise. Most people think I'm just being provocative when I maintain that, because the subject matter of the plays themselves seems so full of tension, there's so much pain, there are so many abrasive techniques. But I've always maintained that to achieve paradise in terms of pleasant images of birds singing in the trees -- sure, that's paradise: but how much more significant to discover paradise in the nooks and crannies of the horrible world in which we really live. But that's been my goal, in seven weeks of rehearsal, to construct paradise. All of my so-called abrasive techniques are but attempts to create exhilaration.

That's true of the language also, the language that only skims. I'm trying to write by skimming just as Abraham Abalafia recombined the letters of God's name, skimming through sections of the Bible to achieve ecstasy. The aim is to discover just those sensitive tips of language that point toward paradise: that's why a lot of stuff is left out.

But let me also attack myself concerning this. I come from a generation whose parents believed in Dr. Spock, believed that you shouldn't deny the child his bottle -- and as a result I've lived a life as decadent in its own way, as the lives of many of my generation, focused as we are on immediate gratification. We are not trained to endure frustration, and to work slowly at things that come to fruition only over a long period of time. Techniques of immediate gratification are dominant in much contemporary art; perhaps it's dominant in my art also.

BERNSTEIN: That's an interesting point, but it also brings to mind the reception of your work as being about frustration, since some people feel frustrated by the anti-absorptive techniques of your theater. I mean the spectators who don't empathize with the work because it isn't within the spectrum that they're accustomed to and in reaction feel they've seen nothing at all. They assume that anything outside of that spectrum is empty, crossed out, under erasure. Aren't they also seeking "immediate gratification" -- a kind of ready absorption you refuse to supply?

FOREMAN: In the early days I was specifically interested in strategies of frustration. This whole question of what is crossed out and what is not is also a political question, relating to the notion of people with a reactionary character structure, who have no patience with what lies outside of their shrunken sector of the "permitted." But, of course, I'm only interested in what I haven't assimilated inside my mental sector, as Pound says, "Make it new." From the time I was a very young kid, I've only been interested in the new, the unexpected, the "odd." I've always talked about making a theater where things are always being tripped up, falling over themselves. The frustration, the wall you run into, that collision shocks to birth. Gertrude Stein talks about a technique of repeated beginning again, which means relating to the necessity of introducing frustration, so that each impulse can reflect upon itself rather than finding through sublimation how to build itself into a great cathedral, a great work of literature, a big company, or whatever it so builds. If the impulse stays with itself as impulse it comes to understand its own dynamic, its own universe, rather than becoming hidden behind the constructed culture, the prison of meaning that culture is, in fact.

BERNSTEIN: So it seems that anti-absorptive elements such as the buzzers and the bright lights shining on the audience are transformative rather than inhibiting.

FOREMAN: Transformative yes; and I would say stop signs. They say "Remain with the impulse, don't let it transform itself into a facade of formal ideas or a political traditions."

BERNSTEIN: They're also at another level "stay" impulses, like a STAY sign. That's why your theater space is so specific, it tends to elongate - it's like pulling a piece of elastic, stretching time, you lose your sense of Euclidean temporal bearings within the 90 minutes -- or whatever it is -- of the production. People speak at different speeds, not in normal speech rhythms; you begin to be disoriented, the normal markers of time are removed. There's no beginning or end, it's always at a pitch of intensity that's varied but is always wired; you're entering into something like a sculpture, an environment, although the sense of duration and space is not like anything else except that particular thing. It's almost like a fourth-dimensional funhouse ride in that you enter into it and you're not so much constantly proceeding in a linear way but time is being shaped and re-shaped, extended, pulled. Sometimes you're aware of slow motion, sometimes fast motion, sometimes time seems to stop or slip. What about that, is it that you're sculpting with time?

FOREMAN: Let's go back a bit. When I was a student with John Gassner at the Yale drama school in 1961, he said to me, "Richard you have a lot of talent as a playwright. I'm not just saying that, because I don't say it all the time, but you have one problem: you get these very strong effects and then you want to keep repeating them." And I thought, oh boy, I better deal with that. But a couple of years later I realized that that's just it! I obviously lust for those moments, that's all I lust for, that's all I want, and I have to find a new kind of structure, a new kind of way to say, "Yeah, all I am is those moments, so my plays will be only those moments!"

BERNSTEIN: . . . of intensity throughout the system.

FOREMAN: And of repetition of the same emotion, an ecstatic emotion. So in fact I don't think much about time, sculpting time. I just know I need that particular kind of intensity, whether it goes fast or slow, whether the lights are bright or the lights are dim, I'm always working only that one emotion, for an hour and ten minutes, an hour and twenty minutes, whatever the length of the play. To try for a sustained hovering above all ostensible subjects, that's another way I think about it. To keep levitating through the whole experience. I can't stand art where most of the time is spent simply building toward the payoff; no, every moment has to be payoff. The smallest possible unit as Robert Musil said, each cell . . . I remember Simone Weil talking about that too, each cell has to contain it all, each building block a totality. The classic theater has always structured itself around preparation and fulfillment, sexual foreplay and climax, but that is not the kind of theater I'm interested in.

BERNSTEIN: Yours is a utopian libidinal economy rather than a capitalist economy.


BERNSTEIN: I wonder if you would speak about the objects in your pieces. They're so extraordinary, so specific. How do you possibly come to invent these specific objects that visually inhabit the landscapes of your plays? What role do you think they play in terms of what we've been talking about?

FOREMAN: Of course in the early days they played a much greater role, the plays were pretty much structured around those objects. But like everything else in my theater, the objects --psychoanalytically, metaphysically, theoretically -- were overdetermined. In those days I built the props myself. Since I'm not a very good carpenter, I would start to build a table for a set and I would discover I had to nail on pieces so it wouldn't fall down. My directorial task was to find a way to make those extra pieces seem okay. Biologically justified. The God making them was fallible, not some Jehovah who could do things easily. I was very influenced by Anton Ehrenzweig, who is, I think, one of our century's greatest theoreticians of art. Ehrenzweig talks a lot about superimposition as a basis of creativity. So whenever I am making an object I'm thinking, well, it's a serving tray but it's also a base drum or a halo, or a . . . ? It echoes the infantile relationship to the object, to the body (to the mother's body, to the loved one's body) which is loaded with ambivalence. You always want it to be more than one thing, to be different things. But just as important -- if there's a coffee cup that's going to be in the play, I want a coffee cup with built-in resistance so that when somebody picks it up and starts drinking from it, the object doesn't lose its independent life through being absorbed into the human program -- similar to the way we talked about the impulse including a stop sign such as the use of a buzzer, so that the originating impulse isn't transformed into a culturally co-opted form, but retains it's indefinable freshness.

BERNSTEIN: I guess you could say the same thing about the space of your theater. You create in your plays a physical space that has a resistance. Is that the reason for the thin line-like strings that often crisscross the stage in your works, and upon which you often hang strings of letters and words?

FOREMAN: Again overdetermination. The strings have something to do with what happen when you're sketching and don't know quite what you want to draw, you don't know how to draw, and you scratch out energetic lines, you feel a thrust, a direction, and then from this tendency grows a face or a house or whatever it is.

BERNSTEIN: They're sketch lines, but they also break down perspective and Euclidian space: the whole sense of a unified space of the stage, which is related to your aversion to "natural" speech rhythms or easily assimilated props.

FOREMAN: In the old days, when I used many more strings than I do today, they functioned to increase an awareness of the "reverberation chamber" aspect of the stage space, to create a certain amount of ambiguity through suggested superimposition, and to remind you of the limits of the geometric space. I was using the strings to contradict a unitary reading of the stage space.

BERNSTEIN: I also want to ask also about the physics, the kinetics of the space, because people and objects don't move in your theater in a "naturalistic" way; it's as if they're under a special gravity. In other words, there's a gravity that pushes against somebody so that they don't just walk straight ahead, they might walk in a circuitous way or they might go backward and forward. There's a space in there that people are moving against as if in an acting exercise where there's bubble gum filling the room.

FOREMAN: That's simply so that the exhilarating physical fact of having a body that is moving in space isn't preempted by the utilitarian carrying out of specific tasks. And it's not minimizing that explanation to add that physically I've always felt awkward, about to fall over my own feet. Experiencing that as my own way of being in the world, I wanted to turn a so-called "limitation" into an intimation of paradise.

BERNSTEIN: Now all of this is leading to the following, perhaps extravagant, question, using the title of the book by Donald Ault on Blake, Visionary Physics [1974]. Blake, like you, wished to control all aspects of his production including the typography, graphics, printing, and publishing -- indeed, you produced your own plays for awhile, that's an important aspect. There's a certain Blakeian quality to your desire to create at every level of the multi-level process: sound, sight, movement, space. And I would call this a visionary as opposed to collaborative approach to the theater. So by visionary physics I mean synaesthetically creating a work that is governed by laws outside (or perhaps hidden inside) the ones we are accustomed to.

FOREMAN: Yes, I'm trying to make paradise. [Laughs.]

BERNSTEIN: Right. But paradise could be understood in some ways as being something that would be the same for everybody--which could be visionary--but what's striking about your vision of paradise is that it's not like other people's visions.

FOREMAN: But that's why, unfortunately, it probably isn't paradise. I may be kidding myself, I accept that. One might also say that it's escapist, that maybe all visionary tendencies are escapist.

BERNSTEIN: I'm just asking to what degree you think of it that way as opposed to a more constructivist way of looking at it -- that you're working out certain principles. You're not just working out aesthetic principles. There's something about the particulars of your theater -- the fact that from one work to another the details seem to belong to the same world. I'm not interested in the verifiability of your version of paradise versus somebody else's, that's not my question.

FOREMAN: For many years, I was shy about telling the truth about my spiritual yearnings. Though I make complex intellectual justification, my work is essentially intuitive and visionary. That's what drives the work.

BERNSTEIN: And that would then provide some sense of where these objects come from, that they fit into, that they're an articulation or a realization of, a multi-level world that is being created in your theater.

FOREMAN: Absolutely.

BERNSTEIN: Let me rewind a minute, because when I was mentioning the strings, the objects, the kinetics, and by physics I mean the totality of all these things . . . How about the actual verbal material in the sets, the sentences on the lines of string, and so on? Much of it is quite funny. But what does that do?

FOREMAN: Full of puns, less to be funny that as a Brechtian distancing effect. But there's also the sensory seductiveness of functioning in a world of texts, in a world where everything is speaks, reminding you that even the configuration of this very room is saying something.

BERNSTEIN: To what degree does the Kate Manheim role become a character in the plays? I don't think I've ever seen a performer with the intensity, the theatrical power, of Kate Manheim. I see her work as a microcosmic exploration of inner psychic states, an externalization of something on the inside, that we can never otherwise see. Something very private, a kind of existential unbearing. Do you see it that way in any sense?

FOREMAN: Yes: you must understand that she's trying to push herself to the very limit all the time, at great cost.

BERNSTEIN: What about the sense of fear, of scare, of paranoia, of ominousness, of danger lurking, that possesses Rhoda and the later Manheim characters, and that also pervades your plays? Or just walking a step the way Manheim does -- she can walk across the stage sometimes and it's like seeing someone climb Mount Everest in terms of the psychic energy it takes; she radiates an heroicness in being able to do just that. In other words what's striking isn't the fear but the overcoming of fear, the acting, even though it's hesitant. It's negative capability. What you're struck with is that she gets to that next place, you know, the psychiatrist has fucked her over and so on but she's continuing on, so that's why I say she's sort of an existential hero.

FOREMAN: That might be the strongest point of our collaborations since, clearly, what I've always wanted to do is to take all negative emotion, all fear, and show that one can dance with it, one need not be victimized by it, even if one can't deny it.

BERNSTEIN: When you started out you only used non-professional actors, and now you exclusively use professional actors. Of course that could have been simply because of circumstance . . .

FOREMAN: No. Circumstance may have had a little to do with it, but I easily could have put ads in the trade papers and gotten actors. I started out disliking actors. I was interested in placing on stage awkward, untrained people, to call attention to raw "presence" rather than efficient emotional manipulation. If Kate had not appeared, I don't know what would have happened. Because after a number of years, Kate developed her own virtuosity, not exactly that of a normal actor but so intense and special that the interaction with other performers stranded her with no viable collaborators on stage. So I needed actors to be able to continue in the direction that she seemed to be enabling me to go as a director.

BERNSTEIN: How do the actors respond to your direction, to the unusual demands you place on them? I can remember going to one rehearsal where some actors were upset that the lighting and sound seemed hostile to the audience.

FOREMAN: Like all directors who work a lot, one becomes a little manipulative, learning how to get what you want from performers. But on the whole, especially in the last couple of years, I have pretty good experiences with my actors.

BERNSTEIN: But at the time you were starting to work -- in the mid-60s right through the mid-70s -- there was, within the alternative theater world, a very strong ideology of collective process. Rather than the writer or director imposing "his" vision on the actors, the theater work would emerge through an improvisatory and participatory group process. In contrast, neither you nor Robert Wilson were doing anything like that. While your theater has been from the first radically anti-authoritarian, you've chosen not to use these participatory methods.

FOREMAN: Because they didn't fulfill my vision. I felt guilty about it at first. But those few times I asked actors improvise, what they came up with had nothing to do with what I felt I needed. There wasn't much hostility to my tight control because in those days I was working with non-performers. There was a lot of hostility to my early plays of course, but it wasn't because I was a dictatorial director. And down through the years I've loosened up quite a bit and I'm not nearly as dictatorial as I used to be, especially when I'm doing a more conventional text. I still control more than most directors. But I'm gentle with actors. I'm no sadist -- and there are some in the theater.

BERNSTEIN: I'm still interested in thinking about the relationship of "authority" between the director to the acting company, though I guess it is a moot point; nobody is concerned about that now.

FOREMAN: Well, less, because for the last decade it's been something else: directors with their vision.

BERNSTEIN: The other seemed to dissipate completely, the collective.

FOREMAN: Because it's hard to sustain a collective; everybody ends up disagreeing and, with nobody in charge, it falls apart.

BERNSTEIN: But you found The Living Theater interesting.

FOREMAN: Oh sure. I got to know Julian [Beck] and Judith [Malina] very well only when I worked in Europe, and I came to love them both. But for me their most important productions were the early ones -- The Connection [1959] and The Brig [1963]. Seminal performances. I think Judith was a wonderful director. Generally I liked the plays she directed best. But I have tremendous love and admiration for both of them, even though I found their later work less relevant to my own concerns.

BERNSTEIN: Of course one thing that's interesting about The Brig is that it plays out the psychodynamics of control, including control of the actor as prisoner/soldier. But you didn't care for the very famous work from the late 60s, that sought to enact an "immediate" liberation from all forms of social control: I mean of course Paradise Now [1968] and Frankenstein [1965]?

FOREMAN: Well, yes and no. Striking images and energy, but at the same time too close to Grotowski for me, that actor-centered kind of performance, which is contrary to my own vision of the theater.

BERNSTEIN: And the expressions of emotion, the attempt to find archetypal body movements? Bringing theater games and non-naturalistic elements, into the theater?

FOREMAN: All that stuff never interested me.

BERNSTEIN: What was it in the earlier work that interested you?

FOREMAN: In The Brig, the absolute rigor of maniacal obsessive behavior. And the fact that there were no climaxes, but rather a musical repetition of the same particular effect again and again and again and again. And in The Connection, its total frustration of all expectations, taking great chunks of stage time in which nothing happened -- that was amazing.

BERNSTEIN: What's your feeling about Beckett's theater?

FOREMAN: I've never seen any of the productions that he directed . . . I must admit that while I agree that Beckett is terribly important, he hasn't meant that much to me, personally.

BERNSTEIN: How about Beckett's non-plays?

FOREMAN: Same thing. But other authors of Beckett's generation, Celan or Jabes, they really speak to me much more.

BERNSTEIN: Both of those writers are dealing with the experience of being Jewish in a highly regional and unorthodox way; and just before you were speaking of Abalafia. What about that?

FOREMAN: I went to Israel just once. I was supposed to do The Golem in Israel right after I did it in the park for Joe Papp [1984], and I went there for the first time in my life expecting to hate it, but I didn't. I was actually interested and very moved, which I didn't expect to happen. I've always harbored ambivalent feelings . . . Everything about the Judaism I encountered when I was growing up in Scarsdale I despised. I swore at one time that I would never go into a synagogue again as long as I lived. On the other hand, of course, the world of Judaism resonates profoundly inside me. Even when I'm designing a set, to orient my thinking . . . I often go to several books I own with pictures of synagogues from around the world. A lot of plays I've done have had a hidden Jewish content. And more up front, I've recently written the libretto for a Yiddish musical, no less!

BERNSTEIN: Speaking of Yiddish musicals, I'm wondering what other philosophers have been important to you?

FOREMAN: Well so many. I spent many years trying to read Heidegger, I got further in Heidegger than into Husserl. And, as was for many painters, Merleau-Ponty was important; a little bit of Max Schiller.

BERNSTEIN: Marx? Kant? Hegel? Spinoza?

FOREMAN: Very little.

BERNSTEIN: You are one person who I actually think could stage Spinoza.

FOREMAN: The pre-Socratics, I've often thought of staging the pre-Socratics! In between them and Heidegger, aside from occasional religious thinkers, there's not much for me. I was interested for in Nicholas de Cuza, for instance.

BERNSTEIN: I notice about three feet of Wittgenstein on your shelf.

FOREMAN: That was because I felt obligated to read him at a certain point. But when everybody says you must be interested in Wittgenstein, I answer, yeah, but I'm more interested in Simone Weil. I certainly read Heidegger more carefully than Wittgenstein.

BERNSTEIN: What interests you about Simone Weil?

FOREMAN: Practically everything. Certainly the notebooks because as we've discussed -- I like reading things that I can skim! [Laughs.] No -- really I find Simone Weil a profound religious visionary. I wrote a play about her when I was at Yale. I forget the details . . . She was escaping, trying to get back to the war or something, and had to parachute out of her plane over Argentina and when she landed she fell in love with a young Argentinean Nazi. [Laughs.]

BERNSTEIN: And the French?

FOREMAN: Well, above all, Lacan, who I cracked my head over for many years. Really a very major influence. And so many others. George Bataille for instance . . . I did do a play of mine titled George Bataille's Bathrobe [1983] in Paris and half the Parisian critics thought I had discovered a new play by George Bataille, The Bathrobe. I'm interested in Derrida but I find him very tough to read. I keep going back to try and I read a lot of secondary material, but I find it hard to stick with his texts. To jump oceans, I was very interested in Alfred North Whitehead.

BERNSTEIN: You have an enormous collection of books!

FOREMAN: When I die, turn my loft into a library, please!

BERNSTEIN: What is your relation to book collecting? What is your acquisition of books about?

FOREMAN: My only sin. My only indulgence. I buy too many books. It's an escape, somebody talked about that, Balzac, or Nietzsche?

BERNSTEIN: You just like to have everything?

FOREMAN: Yes. And it's not that I don't read them, or at least sections of all of them. But I read so much, I've long been suspicious of my obsessive reading.

BERNSTEIN: Would you like to read less?

FOREMAN: I've read enough to last the rest of my life, yes. It's a silly thing to say because of course I keep reading. But I buy so many books. If I see something that peaks my interest it's impossible for me to resist.

BERNSTEIN: You mentioned before that during the time of your early work you were interested in contemporary independent filmmakers . . .

FOREMAN: I lived exclusively in that world. They were the only people I saw.

BERNSTEIN: You mentioned Jonas Mekas, Michael Snow. Were there others whose film work was influential?

FOREMAN: Jack Smith was a major influence, even though he managed to get angry at everybody, including me. But he was a great artist. I think Ron Rice's films were the first thing that made me sit up and say "Wow! What's going on here?" George Landau also. In that period from 1962 through the early 1970s there is no question that the only person who saw more film, who had a wider view of the whole scene, was Jonas Mekas. Every night, literally -- I would be looking at films, other times I would go to Jonas' loft and I would look at more films. I saw everything.

BERNSTEIN: You don't keep that up?

FOREMAN: I don't see anything now. Very little independent film.

BERNSTEIN: Is that because of your time and your schedule or because you have seen what you need?

FOREMAN: In the days when I was young, I was looking for new aesthetic procedures, to reorient myself. And those films were, for me, very beautiful yet totally "other." I was hooked.

BERNSTEIN: How about more conventional films?

FOREMAN: Oh, I was a fanatic, I saw everything.

BERNSTEIN: Were there particular art filmmakers of a more narrative sort that were very strikingly important to you, such as Alan Resnais or Jean-Luc Goddard?

FOREMAN: Resnais no. Goddard yes -- even though I didn't like his individual films that much. But still, I felt he rendered most other narrative films styles irrelevant. I had other favorites, but I don't like most of them now. I liked Kurosawa when I first discovered him.

BERNSTEIN: How about Ozu?

FOREMAN: I know he's the best but I wasn't a fan. I used to like my movies less understated -- the early Kurosawa, for instance, because of spectacularly staged theatrical effects. And like any film buff I loved obscure little things, some of them were very wonderful.

BERNSTEIN: The Blood of Jesus, for instance?

FOREMAN: Ah yes. Haven't seen that in a long time. But many of those black films by Michaux and Spencer Williams, who made The Blood of Jesus. Wonderful!

BERNSTEIN: That's a very odd film, even by odd standards. You made two video works in the mid-70s -- Out of Body Travel [1976] and City Archives [1977], then your own film, Strong Medicine [1979]. . .

FOREMAN: Yes, but after that I did my play Film Is Evil: Radio Is Good [1987; see TDR 31, no. 4 (T116)]. You see how much wiser I became! [Laughs.]

BERNSTEIN: How about the documentary videos of your staged plays? Are you happy with the way your work looks on video?

FOREMAN: Of course not. It's awful. It's embarrassing. I don't think plays look good on video. Mine worse than most, because they depend so much upon the collision of very different palpable materials; real flesh touching real objects, that palpable reality colliding with the abstract formalism of my plays, and colliding with that other palpable level of string, lights, noises, etc. When it's all reduced to the single level of the video dot, the video texture, it goes dead. The energy of performance can no longer bounce back and forth between the different realms of all those colliding elements which, in their specific interaction, are the very basis of my theater. So video records exist, but they lie. The plays vanish. That's why I have to keep making new ones. But there's still a frustration involved, because my work slowly evolves and the focus of my plays, their aesthetic emphasis, slowly evolves. And that doesn't mean I reject or "prefer" the somewhat more "literary," less abrasive style I work in today -- but rather that it's part of a continuum that's to be seen as a whole, like sides of an argument or facets of a personality. Yet each play vanishes, so the "whole" becomes lost. We videotape -- but that actually disguises and distorts what's been done, so in a way it's worse than letting each play sink into the oblivion of a very limited number of memories. Perhaps the only answer is what we've doing now, imperfect as it is. To talk, try to sketch a context, some of the mental orientation that underlies the growth of text and then production. After all, what's been more important to 20th-century culture as a whole, Artaud's pure theorizing or a given artist's theatrical productions? I think it's probably the former. Perhaps we can ignite a few sparks . . . There's a lot more to be done.

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