A NOTE: I first encountered Richard Foreman’s ONTOLOGICAL HYSTERIC THEATER: A MANIFESTO in Kate Davey ed. Richard Foreman Plays and Manifestoes, published by NYU Press in 1976. It also appeared in Richard Kostelanetz anthology ESSAYING ESSAYS: ALTERNATIVE FORMS OF EXPOSITION (Out of London Press, 1975), from which the above images are scanned.
I have included the essay in several workshops and gatherings of material – such as CRITICISM TOWARDS PERFORMANCE NOTATION, a short presentation as part of SPILL: OVERSPILL, and a workshop on the visual essay as part of the FREE PRESS workshop, some notes on which can be seen here.
Most recently, I returned to it as part of a presentation on artist uses of the diagram at London’s FormContent. I showed slides of Foreman’s essay at the point in my talk where I was trying to suggest what a diagrammatic artistic practice might be, thinking less about a practice of literally making diagrams and more about a practical and conceptual arrangement of a working practice as a diagrammatic spatial unfolding.
I also find myself thinking about this text in the light of current art debates on alternative forms of education.
Foreman’s text remains vital for me in how it links together together traditions of essay, performance script, and open field poetics, as well as its establishing of a creative interchange between spaces of page, mind, and stage.
I find here writing that comes before, during and after the act of theatre making itself, that is about an event and process, but also an intensity of experience now (a “now” that is ever adaptable: the moment of writing, the moment of reading both pulsate in this text), as well as being a projection and prosthesis for a theatre activity that will take place in the future.
An essay shifting between registers – reflective and impetuous, handwritten, typed, photographed and drawn – to create a space in which thought is actively taking place, or at least is a possibility.
Foreman has written essays like this throughout his career, although not perhaps with the eclecticism of approach evidenced here. See, for example, “How to Write a Play” and “The Carrot and the Stick” (both 1976), reprinted (along with Ontologic Hysteric Manifesto) in the PAJ Art + Performance anthology of essays on Foreman.
I’m struck, looking at these texts, by Foreman’s observation in interviews that his texts are far ahead of his directing, that the texts evidence a spatial and thematic complexity his theatre productions themselves lack.
I’m also thinking of his scenographic sense of the multiplicity of space, always creating multiple points of focus and intention, anti-absorptively interrupting a moment – strings criss-crossing the stage in photos of many early Foreman productions – how such forms of stage composition apply to the page and writing.
I’ve not seen Foreman’s work live, his work the prime exemplar for me of a practice whose relevancy and urgency to my own work is a reconstruction through text and image.
By re-printing the texts here, perhaps I’m hoping for the same effect as Foreman, when he posted his notebooks online with the invitation for others to use them in the making of a piece of theatre.
If those notebooks seem too close to Foreman’s own process to initiate an autonomous theatrical interpretation, perhaps the essay form – conceived by Foreman as an active think-performance-writing-space – can be prompt and tool for very different forms of writing, performance and other creative practice.
Regarding Foreman’s own practice, the manifesto re-printed here is testimony to an engagement with theatrical experience and space which now appears to be over.