The Irondale Ensemble Project is as close as we come these days to the Elizabethan acting companies that once presented Shakespeare’s plays to the Earl of Leicester, Sir Francis Drake and the Virgin Queen of England. ...What is on offer is the miracle of the word made flesh. I wish you joy in it.” —Lewis Lapham, editor of Lapham’s Quarterly
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An Intuitive History of the Irondale Ensemble Project.


1983-84: The Comedy of Errors as performed by the Little Theatre of Dubuque, Iowa, Circa 1936 (It’s just what the title implies. Shakespeare’s comedy was the jumping off point. The larger story is completely improvised. Barbara Mackenzie-Wood plays the female lead one night without ever having seen it or been to a rehearsal. The strangeness of this situation was simply became a part of the show’s scenario) The Jungle (long form story theatre, 90 minutes long and completely improvised anew each night. Ken Rothchild’s first show as designer (he’s designed upwards of 60 since) and our first Times review. Gussow didn’t get it. The Jungle was about socialism. Inadvertently it marked the beginning of Irondale’s political voice. At the end of the run, many people in the company leave.). Ethan Frome (Our tribute to Ruth Gordon and our time at the Long Wharf.) The Good Woman of Setzuan. (Our first Brecht. and last show at the Nameless on 13th St. for 12 years. Barbara MacKenzie-Wood plays Shen Te and then departs for Carnegie Mellon University where in time she will become Head of Acting while still maintaining close ties to Irondale)

1984-85: Jason and Medea (story theater ala Richard Schechner. Rehearsals include a number of banquets (a Schechner exercise featuring optional nudity. Equity reps arriving at the theatre to shut us down are met in the lobby by a naked Terry Greiss,) Story Dance (Annie-b ((later of Big Dance Theatre)) Parson’s debut as choreographer of an entire Irondale piece.), Galileo. (Jim Niesen and Annie-b co-direct for the first time. Paul Lazar plays the title role. Ken Rothchild accidently drops a speaker on Terry’s girlfriend’s head.)

1985-86: Ubu (an examination of Rough Theater, or as Irondale actor Josh Broder remarked in comic earnestness, “Why is a political theatre like Irondale doing a show about an outhouse?” Spring Rep and an upstate New York NYSCA tour of The Jungle and Galileo (Bertolt Brecht’s son Stephan won’t let us revive Galileo in New York City—a fiendish capitalist plot to keep New York “Brecht free” and drive up the play’s future commercial value), The Uncle Vanya Vaudeville Show (Terry as Dr. Jack Astrov the host of the Breakfast Club. Our first “collision “ piece in which a classic text is entwined with a completely separate improvised story)

1986-87: The Uncle Vanya Radio Show (Perhaps the most positively received show in the history of the company. It will be revived 3 more times), Spring Rep, Conversations in Exile A Work in Progress, (rehearsed in its entirety in the faculty smoking room of a grade school on the Upper Westside.)

1987-88: Conversations in Exile Finished Version (U.S. premiere Steve Cross, down from Canada, joins the company), Peer Gynt the Movies (Ibsen meets a tax delinquent Errol Flynn), Three Penny Opera (Steve and Paul double as Mac and Tiger Brown. Plattsburgh paper refers to us as “The Iron Curtain Project.”)

1988-89: The Inspector General (Based on the 1920 Meyerhold production. Last show at “The Chur,” 7th St and 2nd Ave), Outside the Law (Pretty Boy Floyd meets Rosalind in the Forest of Arden and together they take on her uncle the evil J. Edgar Hoover). 1989-90: Peter Panic Flying Underground (An evil Walt Disney inhabits the body of Walter Cronkite in order to do away with ‘60’s dissident Abbie Hoffman.), Happy End (Steve’s last show as a full-time Irondaler before departing back to Canada, creating a hole that still hasn’t been filled 20 years later).

1990-91: The Year of the Russians—Bilingual Vanya, Ivanov, Tour to Estonia, Siberia and St. Petersburg (Worst hotel ever? The St. Petersburg Youth hostel. Viktor commandeers a trolley to get us home after a late night rehearsal.), AIDS Show I (commissioned by the NYC Dept. of Health). Matt and Paul E. say hello. Dear Jodie says goodbye.

1991-92: Antigone (the clown show version), AIDS Show II (Directed by Molly Hickok and Nicole Potter. Michael-David’s first appearance.), The Hostage. (The last Irondale show for a lot of good people: Annie-b, Josh, Paul, Steve O. Molly, Montana, and Janet say goodbye).

1992-93: (Steve buys the rights to use the Irondale name in Canada for a dollar—a Canadian dollar). Antigone Tour (bringing us our first NEA grant and featuring the debut of Leese Walker.), St. Joan of the Stock Yards (With Nicole as the martyred Joan. Matt does the best pratfall in the history of the company and we have it all on tape. . .somewhere.), AIDS Show III.

1993-94: (Terry and Vicky get married at Winnebago) Danton’s Death (The actor playing the major role of Camille walks out on the show 2 days before opening. Ken attempts to prevent his exit by tackling him half way up the aisle. He threatens to sue. I threaten to expose to his girlfriend his illicit love affair with one of our actresses. Suit off. Rather than recasting, we write his part out of the show. Our best Times review ever. Nicole’s last show.), AIDS Show IV.

1994-95: You Can’t Win (Co-written (yes, actually written) by Josh T. and Jim. Right after closing in NYC we take it to Russia where it wins the Grand Prix award at the St. Petersburg Drama Festival), Ghost Sonata (directed by Johan Petrie of the Stockholm City Theater. Everyone says it looks so-o Swedish. Last show for Josh Taylor) 1995-96: We welcome Kate and a new Steve. A Family Affair (a manic Ostrovsky farce in which Terry gets sent off to certain death in Siberia. Michael-David performs a cartwheel while singing a Paul Simon song in the finale), The Bundle (Brecht by way of Bond. Hollis does the music. Everybody “says” they’re going to come. Hmm.).

1996-97: Maria joins us as a stage manager, soon becomes the Dr. Who of Irondale i.e. the magical, time traveling, all-purpose world shattering crisis fixer. Andrew Carnegie Presents the Jew of Malta (An attempt to return to the old collision pieces of the ‘80’s. Probably would have been more interesting if we’d just stuck to the Homestead Strike plot. Patrena’s first show.), The Seagull. (An environmental production in which Ken turned the entire Chino at Theatre for the New City into a Russian country estate complete with pond. Barbara takes a sabbatical from her duties at CMU to play Arkadina.)

1997-98: The Mother (First appearance by Damen Scranton. Score by Walter Thompson. Best remark by the translator: “I was pleased to see that your included at least a few of my original lines.” The Degenerate Art Show. (Entartete Kunst with sound painting by Walter. Hitler and Goebbels as a doubles act.

1998-99. Degenerate Art II (took this version to Oakland, CA for the state library convention), Much Ado About Nothing (The John Ford Western version. It seemed like a good idea at the time). The first year of Sven, our crazy, outrageous, teller of great jokes, much missed Sven.

1999-2000: Murals the Unfinished Version (Jack comes aboard as an actor after 5 years as an Irondale lighting technician. The “show” offers an inside look at the rehearsal process. Audiences see different sections of the play being worked on each night), The Pope and the Witch. (8 guys, Patrena and Heidi. Terry hangs from the ceiling. Oops, Terry falls from the ceiling.)

2000-01: Brecht on Brecht (co-directed by Jacques Levy of Oh, Calcutta fame. Everyone keeps their clothes on in our show.), Jungle of the City (the use of the singular city in the title was the translator’s choice. Terry takes his clothes off and engages in unseemly activities. Eat your heart out, Lars Eidinger).

2001-02: Peter Pan (Jack, as an acrobatic Peter pulls down the lighting grid .Ken has it up and running by the following day), The Murals of Rockefeller Center (Lindbergh, Dillinger and Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo explore the American fascination with hero as superstar. Patrena leaves us train at Purchase.)

2002-03: Comedy of Errors (Scarlet, still at Manhattanville College catches our attention singing for us at a student workshop--while lying across a piano.), Murals of Rockefeller Center. (Revived for the Ko Festival in Massachusetts. Theo comes down from Canada to play Diego and Laura does Frida. Terry and Jack play the evil capitalist Todds. We get it right the second time around.

2003-2004: Jim and Barbara travel to South Africa to set up the initial theater program for Global Camps—Phil Lilienthal’s international AIDS project using Irondale techniques. The Seuss Show (40 city National tour commissioned by Random House to celebrate the Doctor’s centennial.) Outside the Law (15 years later it’s still a good show. Terry revives his role as the twin brothers J. Edgar Hoover and Lord Baden Powell.)

2004-2005: Wasted (the history/mystery of U.S. Public Education. Utilizes the structure of The Big Sleep. The concept is right, but we need one more shot at the text. Maybe we’ll come back to it) Scarlet joins the company right out of Manhattanville College.

2005-2006: The I-Opener series Peter Panic, Wasted, The New Improv Revue. (First shows to play at S. Oxford St-- in the downstairs lecture hall.)

2006-2007: Hamlet Up Close (chamber version performed by 7 actors. Direction by Barbara), 9/11 Voices Unheard. (Based on video interviews with families of World Trade Center victims. Patrena rejoins the company, a polished and mature actress.)

2007-08: Construction begins on the new space the Irondale Center. The Great American All-Star Traveling War Machine (adapted from the premiere volume of Lewis Lapham’s quarterly history journal).

2008-09: Peter Pan (Revival of the 2001 production. Jack comes back from Seattle to play the title role. Opening night, Jack breaks the first window in the Irondale Center), London Cries (created and directed by Di Trevis), A People’s History of Ft. Greene. Nicole comes back for a year to rejuvenate the educational program. First performances at the almost completed Irondale Center. Mid season Blake joins her. Founding of the Irondale Young Company.

2009-10: alice, Alice, ALICE! (A traveling environmental piece limited to 22 participants each night. Scenes take place in the balcony, the lobby, and the attic and in a constantly changing auditorium.). Blake takes over as educational director.

2010-11: THE IRONDALE CENTER OFFICIALLY OPENS! The space is fully booked for the entire season. Guest companies include The Civilians and a new version of Treasure Island conceived and directed by B. H. Barry. Irondale shows include a revival of Alice in December and the company created The Murrow Boys the story of the young men and a woman who created CBS news in May. Terry breaks a hip the third week of October.

2011-12: Henry V, the initial installment of the 1599 Project, Color Between the Lines, the story of the Abolitionist struggle in Brooklyn. Presented in partnership with the Brooklyn Historical Society and the Weeksville Foundation.

2012-13: Julius Caesar, part two of the 1599 Project. A promenade production with the audience following the action about the theatre. Terry dies a thrilling death rolling down the steps of the Forum; the gender-bending cast includes a female Brutus and Marc Antony.

Click the Gallery button in the lower left corner below to see 2008/2009 photos.

Photos by Gerry Goodstein