Incubator Arts Project

New management takes over at Richard Foreman's old home in St. Mark's Church.

  • HATCHING A PLAN Sindelar, Regimbal, Naeymi, Just and Ksander meet to program a season.

HATCHING A PLAN Sindelar, Regimbal, Naeymi, Just and Ksander meet to program a season.

 

In this time of uncertainty, as long-established theaters close their doors (farewell, Ohio!) and broke directors consider a move to Berlin, we can finally report good news. The Incubator Arts Project, a group of emerging artists formerly under the aegis of Richard Foreman's Ontological-Hysteric Theater, has grown from fledgling status and will now be a year-round independent organization. The cheers you hear come from fans who have grown to love the Incubator's eclectic, generous programming; this year it mounted the Debate Society's hyperrealistic drollery in Buddy Cop 2, a hauntingly musical version of Susan Glaspell's Trifles by the Theater of a Two-Headed Calf, and this summer's strangest electropop opera, The Little Death: Vol. 1. Despite all this success, the Incubator has only just escaped Foreman's long shadow.

In some ways, history can be a burden. Few places have as much artistic baggage as St. Mark's Church on Second Avenue and 10th Street: Kahlil Gibran was once on the church's arts committee, and Sam Shepard's first plays stormed across its boards. Most downtown habitus know it as the Ontological-Hysteric, from which avant-garde titan Foreman has just yanked up 20-year-old stakes and headed off into a new career in film. The Incubator (including the award-winning Blueprint Series) was once a summer project run by Foreman's staff that filled months he was not in residence—finding a way to promote new work and also pay the rent. Yet all the time, Incubator's five young curators (none older than 34) have been quietly working toward total independence; last year, the entire season was Incubator-produced.

Despite the obvious continuity, the Project feels freshly hatched. "We're opening something new!" crows designer Peter Ksander, who mans the committee along with production manager Brendan Regimbal, composer Travis Just, and the director-producers Shannon Sindelar and Samara Naeymi. After an epic e-mail struggle over changing the name, the Ontological-Hysteric Incubator became the Incubator Arts Project this month. Naeymi still harbors some love for rejected moniker the Lonely Column. "It would have been the coolest name," she insists wistfully. "It would have been the hippest joint." Saner heads prevailed. Despite the by-now iconic single column that sits balefully in the middle of the church, the Incubator will continue to live up to its nurturing name.

In the communal garden tucked behind St. Mark's Church, the quintet banter, eat grapes and disparage one another's theater-naming abilities (that christening battle clearly left scars). They also seem giddy with their newfound freedom. Just, a straight-faced fellow with even straighter blond fringe, likens the previous year to "having a sword hanging over our heads." They're sanguine now, he says, but then, "We didn't know if we could plan even six months ahead."

Foreman, a figure universally revered by the five, took a great psychic weight with him as he left. In celebration of their independence, they gave themselves a brand-new floor. "It was like an exorcism!" says Ksander, a prolific set designer. "We were ripping up the ancient history of paint and finally putting down something new." Regimbal agrees. "For a long time, all our decisions were based on 'This is Richard's house,'?" he says. "Now we can open windows; we can change a speaker array. We can make it hospitable for different artists."

And these curating artists won't just be "emerging" anymore, either. The upcoming season features work from the major contemporary composer Robert Ashley and midcareer poet-playwright Karinne Keithley; Sindelar's sound-play company 31 Down has just opened a new show, Red Over Red, and Just's group, Object Collection, will have a slot as well.

Sindelar, who soon heads off to graduate school, will turn the producing-director reins over to Naeymi (the youngest, at 26), who talks about new fund-raising opportunities, strengthening networks with other arts groups in the building and an as-yet nebulous deal with Abrons Arts Center to extend residencies to groups who work in both spaces. But for all the arts-administrator jargon, Incubator is trying to accomplish something unique. "We're very different," notes Naeymi. "Everything is on the application process, and anyone can apply. And while we do sign contracts, ultimately, we give people the keys and say: 'Don't spend the night.'?"

That sense of freedom and radical access single out the Incubator in the theater scene. With the new regime comes energy, though Foreman's spirit does linger on in one clear way. "What brought us together was the Foreman method, a process-oriented way of working," Ksander says. "We still believe in that spirit of pure experiment." Just, as he has throughout the afternoon, has the last word. "We feel a lot of responsibility not to just do some schlocky, funny, dumb shit in there," he says. "There's some serious shit that went down in this building. Hopefully, we will carry that on for as long as we can."

Incubator Arts Project at St. Mark's Church is presenting 31 Down's Red Over Red.

See more Theater reviews

See more in Theater