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Read Bjork's2001 interview with Juergen Teller from the index archives.

Kathleen Hanna discusses writing and making music in this interview from 2000 with Laurie Weeks.

Isabella Rossellini spoke with Peter Halley in this 1999 interview.

Check out our interview with Crispin Glover by Richard Kern from 2000.
Alexander McQueen's 2003 interview with Bjork.

Richard Foreman, 1997


Dame Darcy reads the palm of

Even if we think we know someone, whenever Dame Darcy reads a palm we learn the most unexpected and revealing things.  And Richard Foreman was no exception.  He’s been staging plays since the late ’60s, and they still feel as wondrously odd and experimental as ever.  The only difference is that now, as he himself remarks, most of the audience doesn’t walk out after the first twenty minutes.  In fact, his latest play, “Paradise Hotel,” has been sold out night after night, and goes on to a European tour after its New York run.  He told Dame Darcy that he’s always hated the theater, which wasn’t exactly a revelation.  But when asked what made him interested in the first place, we went back in time to a second grade Christmas play, and a shy kid whose only line — “Here comes the Yule log” — was taken away.  The rest, as they say, is history.

Dame Darcy:  Are you right or left-handed?
Richard Foreman:  I’m right-handed.

DD:  Okay.  I can tell that you pay a lot of attention to details.  Minute aspects of things are important to you.
RF:  Yes and no.  I mean, I combine that with being extremely sloppy and casual about other things.  I pick and choose what to pay attention to carefully.  In the old days, I used to close my eyes and go from page 20 to page 50 in my notebooks, and whatever was there, I would say, “I’m going to stage that and I’m not going to change a word.”  These days, I rewrite a lot.

DD:  So what are you sloppy about?
RF:  I’m sloppy about a lot of things in life.  I’m not very interested in life ...  But I’m saying that and then I realize: That’s not true.  I guess it’s just that when I’m not doing a play, I’m very lethargic — I lose all energy and spend half the day sleeping on the couch. [both laugh]  I’m obsessive when I’m directing a play.  We go over things millions of times.  We rehearse fourteen weeks.

DD:  Well, practice makes perfect, right?  I bet rehearsals are probably just as interesting as the end result.
RF:  For me, it’s just problem-solving.  The play is an hour and fifteen minutes, and every minute has five or six problems.  That’s the way I look at it.  And after fourteen weeks, you solve all the problems.  But there are lots of times when it goes horribly.  I mean, the many years I have — within a week to when a play is supposed to open — assembled a cast and said: “Look, I’m going to pay you all, don’t worry.  But unless something happens I can’t open this play.  It’s too embarrassing.”  And then finally some solution is found.  But I go through that every single time.  Six days a week for twelve to fourteen weeks.

DD:  No wonder after it’s done you lay on the couch.
[both laugh]  What sign are you?
RF:  Gemini.  June 10th.

DD:  Me too, the 19th.
RF:  The same day as Judy Garland.

DD:  I can’t remember who else has that date, but I think the fact that I’m related to John Wilkes Booth has more to do with my character ...
RF:  I don’t know who I’m related to.  I found out when I was thirty-two or so that I was adopted.

DD:  Really?  Why didn’t they tell you?
RF:  Well, I never told my parents that I found out.

DD:  How did you find out?
RF:  I wanted my horoscope drawn.  And I called my mother and said, “Where’s my birth certificate?”  And she said, “Oh, uhmm ... I think it was lost in a fire.”  And my wife, my first wife, said, “Don’t you remember that friends of ours told me you were adopted?”  Well, I did have a birth record from Staten Island.  So I went to the Staten Island records and they said, “Yeah, you’re adopted.”

DD:  Why didn’t they tell you?
RF:  I think, looking back on it, that they think they did.  Because I remember the first book that I was read to as a child was about where babies come from.  And they talk about going to the baby factory and seeing all the babies lined up and they picked the one they liked best.  So they must have thought that at five years old that clued me in for the rest of my life — that I was adopted.  I had a friend who worked with an organization that insists you’re supposed to find your real mother.

DD:  Were you curious?
RF:  I thought: What the hell?  So I spent about three hours looking down the lists of births for that year in Staten Island, which fortunately is a small borough, so it didn’t take too long.  And I found my number and I saw that my name given at birth was Edward L. Friedman — by my real mother.  But it’s much more bizarre than that.  Because I’ve had this theater in St. Mark’s Church for six years now.  The head of the Poetry Project there, who called me up and said, “Richard, the theater’s becoming available.  Would you like to use it?” — the person who got me into St. Mark’s Church — is a poet by the name of Ed Friedman.

DD:  Wow.  Serendipity.
RF:  Yeah, yeah.

DD:  So, do you have any particular questions before we start?
RF:  I used to look at hand analysis books and I would be petrified because I didn’t see any line of talent. [laughs]

DD:  Actually, you do have it.  The signifier of talent or artistic thought or expression is this line that looks like an M.  It connects your heart line with your head line.  Some people don’t have that connecting line.  You definitely have it, and it’s very strong.
RF:  Thank god.

DD:  Yeah, thank god, you’re really an artist. [both laugh]  You have a really strong life line that goes in one particular direction and is very deep.  When you were younger you might have been more flighty and disconnected ...
RF:  No, I was never disconnected.  It’s just that I can never decide: Should I go in this direction with what I’m doing?  Should I go in that direction?  I’m continually torn.

DD:  Still today?
RF:  Oh, yeah.

DD:  That must be good for a driving force though.  And it seems that what you are doing is what you should be doing.  And you have a lot of spirituality.  These lines that come off your thumb and cross over your life line are the lines of God.  You have a lot of these lines.  When you were younger you had a lot more questions about spirituality.  And now you might think you’ve figured it out a little more because they’re not as prominent.
RF:  I haven’t figured it out more.  It’s just that through most of my life I used to tell people that my work was really closet religious.  I read obsessively.  But for many years, from the time I was in my twenties until about ten years ago, I read deeply in all kinds of spiritual traditions.  But it’s sort of worn out for me and I’m no longer as obsessed with chasing down everything I can find in that area.  I’ve been sort of surprised at that.

DD:  You have an astounding amount of books here.
RF:  That’s about a third ...

DD:  It’s like you’ve opened your own library.
RF:  There are a lot more in other places.  I thought it was amusing though that you say I’m focused, because for a while I felt guilty that I was too focused.  Years ago, there were two musicians in a play who used to be two of Zappa’s musicians.  And I remember sitting here one evening and one of them turned to me and said, “Gee, you’re very ... focused, aren’t you?”  And I thought that was the biggest put down I’d ever received in my life. [laughs]

DD:  Really?
RF:  Well, sure, because back in those days the whole thing was to be totally relaxed.

DD:  But it seems that in the context of your plays everything’s focused but really wild.
RF:  I’m a very conventional kind of person.  So I make this art that, to a lot of people seems kind of wild, but it’s all within such carefully framed areas that I’m protecting myself.  It’s like all my life I’ve been disappointed that I haven’t been able to be really wild.

DD:  You will live a fairly long time ...
RF:  But I’m getting old.  I’m sixty-one.

DD:  You’ve got another twenty years — easy.
RF:  I don’t think I have enough plays for another twenty years.  What the hell am I going to do?

DD:  Your life line sort of runs into your travel line more near the end of your life.
RF:  Oh, that would be great.  You mean I’m going to die in a plane crash going to some exotic location?  [laughs]

DD:  No.  It’s more like you might spend the later years of your life traveling.
RF:  I used to spend half my time in France, which I love.  For about twenty years, that was the big love affair of my life.  But it’s sort of worn out, as love affairs do.

DD:  As far as your love line goes, when you were younger you really liked the ladies and had a hard time deciding, because you have a lot of these little lines that define that ...  And you’re very romantic.
RF:  But I’m also a total anomaly in that I’ve always been extremely faithful.  So I haven’t had vast experience with vast amounts of women.  Because when I get committed to somebody, that’s it for me.  I was screwed up in that way by my parents.  Never in my life — and people can’t believe it — did I hear an irritated word pass between my parents.

DD:  That’s astounding.
RF:  My first wife’s parents would scream at each other all the time and I couldn’t believe it.  I was totally shocked.

DD:  That would be such a relief not to have parents who fought.  So you thought that most people were like that?
RF:  And still, it’s hard for me to not be terribly upset when I see people who are together not being nice to each other all the time.

DD:  You’re not one of those types that throws the dishwater out the window?
RF:  No, I have done that.

DD:  You can’t expect to be perfect.  You say everything that’s on your mind and yet you have another level of things that are on your mind.  So you have one level people are seeing — maybe the director side — and then another that worries or troubles you ...
RF:  Oh, sure.  Well, doesn’t everybody? [laughs]

DD:  Yeah, but for some reason with you, it’s a stronger characteristic.
RF:  I’m a very asocial person.  One of the reasons I stay in the theater, about which I am very ambivalent, instead of just going off and becoming a painter, which in many ways appealed to me more, is that if I didn’t force myself out to deal with my casts, I would never see anybody.

DD:  Really?
RF:  I would just be a total hermit.  So that keeps me deciding: “I better make theater, because I know I need that interaction with people.”  But I find it very difficult.  I’m very shy.  I hate going into crowds of people.

DD:  Really?  That’s so not Gemini of you.
RF:  Oh, well, that’s the way it is.

DD:  It’s good that you know that, rather than just being a hermit and going out of your mind.
RF:  Oh, yeah.

DD:  You have a practical nature, but a lot of what you do and how you function exists in the realm of dreams.  That’s signified by how your fingers taper, rather than being blunt.
RF:  I used to really be fascinated by dreams.  I mean, I love to sleep.

DD:  [laughs]
RF:  No, I do.  And dreams for me always had that aura of surrealistic paintings, very exciting and very alive.  And it’s strange.  Because akin to what’s happened with my active spiritual pursuits that have fallen off, dreams for me no longer have that aura of special magic.  The dreams are just as irrational, just as dreamlike as always, but they no longer have that vibration of some unfathomable magic — which is curious.

DD:  Is that sad?
RF:  Not particularly, no.  As a matter of fact, I feel that I’m freed of a kind of romantic yearning for that magic.  In Zen, when you get enlightened, first the ox is the ox; then the ox is something else.  And in the end, when you’re really enlightened, the ox is the ox again.  So maybe I’m getting back to seeing the ox as the ox again.
     I’m just less oriented in that whole direction.  What am I oriented towards instead?  Huh ... I really don’t know.  I’ve always been absolutely fascinated by what you can’t scan mentally.  I’ve always been fascinated by the unsayable, the untouchable, the unthinkable.  That’s the big thing that drives me.

DD:  I think secretly that’s the fabric that holds everything together.
RF:  And I think that dreams seem to be a part of that.  So maybe if I have a positive take on the dreams wearing out for me, it’s just that I realize that’s another facade behind which there’s something even more mysterious that you can’t really get into your consciousness yet.

DD:  Right.  Well ... heavy ... [laughs]  Make a fist.  You don’t have any children?
RF:  No.

DD:  I don’t see any children on your palm either.
RF:  I never really wanted children.  If either of my wives had wanted children, I would have gone along with it.

DD:  I don’t want children either.  But I still have a child line, which signifies I’m going to have one anyway.  But I might want to adopt.
RF:  Well, you can adopt me. [laughs]

DD:  So do you have any other particular questions?
RF:  Well, what should I do next?  What direction should I go?  I know.  Wait a minute, wait a minute.  One of the big crises in my life always — I’m interested in very esoteric stuff, in art and so forth, and yet I’m pretty unhappy about the world around me and I always have been.  That’s why I escaped to France for many years.  But I’m an American.  I have to be here in America.  And I really can’t decide how much I should push towards making more accessible work or work that’s going to speak only to the happy few.  Because that’s what I did for many years.  I’m always torn between those two options.  The play that I’m doing now, “Paradise Hotel,” represents for me the most populist thing that I’ve done, the biggest crowd-pleaser ever.  But in the context of this society, should I continue operating that way?  Or should I do something that is really esoteric and a lot of people are just not going to know what to make of it?

DD:  Maybe you could do both.
RF:  I bounce back and forth.  I have sort of alternated in certain ways for many years doing one kind of thing, doing the other.  But it still remains problematic for me, very problematic.

DD:  I think it’s really wonderful that you’re questioning things.  Even though you’re not a kid, you’re still questioning things like a kid.
RF:  Oh, I am like a kid.  I’m very adolescent.  I think all Americans are pretty adolescent.  But I’m one of them.  And I’m well aware of the fact that it shows up in my work.

DD:  That’s not bad.
RF:  Oh, I don’t care.

DD:  Who influenced you to be this way and to work like you do?
RF:  Now literary influences are one thing.  People like, for many years, Brecht, Gertrude Stein — neither of whom interest me that much anymore.  But there are two people who really changed my life, and one was Jonas Mekas.  Do you know who that is?  He’s the head of what was originally in the ’70s the underground film movement, and now he runs the Anthology Film Archives.  Jonas was a totally selfless person, a moral example, a kind of St. Francis in those days of the artistic movement that was independent film in America.  He opened me and many others to the realization that really wonderful art was being made by young people who were starting to make movies all by themselves, which was unheard of ...

DD:  In the ’70s this was?
RF:  Yeah.  And not ashamed of the awkwardness of their efforts, which had a certain beauty.  That was profoundly important to me.  I had gone to the Yale Drama School to be a playwright, and I spent many years trying to write my plays so that I did not hear my mother’s voice in them.  My mother used to read stories to me and my sister at night.  And when I would write a play, as I’d read it back to myself, I would hear my mother’s voice reading it.  And I thought: “Oh, my god, I’ve got to sound like Sartre or Tennessee Williams.  I can’t sound like my mother.”  So I’d rewrite and rewrite.  But through the influence of Jonas and the work of all the filmmakers around him, I finally realized: “You know, if I’m going to sound like my mother, I’m going to sound like my mother.  That’s me.”  So it was very important.

DD:  That’s actually really touching.
RF:  My other big spiritual influence was George Maciunas, who started the Fluxus movement — and who started SoHo.  George set up the first artists’ co-ops in SoHo.  He would get artists together, buy a building and make a co-op.  This was in the days when it was illegal to live here.  This building that we’re in now, where I live — one day I went to George and said, “Well, I’ve screwed my courage to the sticking point, I too want to move down to SoHo.”

DD:  When was this?
RF:  It was 1970.  In those days, it cost $10,000 to buy this space.

DD:  Oh, my god.
RF:  Well, it wasn’t like this.  It was a doll factory.

DD:  A doll factory?  Wow.
RF:  So George had armies of starving artists who at dirt cheap rates would come — and I helped too of course — and build these lofts.  He was such a selfless, crazy person ...  the head of Fluxus, which was a kind of neo-Dadaist movement in New York.  And the example of George, just killing himself for his totally wacky visions about all kinds of things, was the other big influence in my life.  So these were my gurus really — both Lithuanians who came here after the war.

DD:  So how were those films an influence?
RF:  They were totally personal, idiosyncratic visions, real personal visions.  These filmmakers were doing something that spoke to me, and theater did not.

DD:  I don’t really know that much about the theater.
RF:  Well, there’s no reason you should.  I mean, I hate the theater.  I’ve always hated the theater.

DD:  [laughs]
RF:  I never go to the theater.  Never.

DD:  What made you interested in the first place?
RF:  When I was in the second grade, we had a Christmas play.  Everybody was given a line and my line was, “Here comes the Yule log.”  But I was so shy that I couldn’t say it loud enough, and they took my line away from me.  So I said, “I’m going to show them.”  And when I was about fourteen, I was still shy, but I started putting on my own plays with my schoolmates because that was a way in which I could relate to people — in the context of doing these plays.

DD:  Just like now.
RF:  Yeah.  And although I soon began to realize that things in other arts were much more interesting, the theater was what I knew, and I thought it was a challenge — if you could do serious art in the theater of all places, that was a better achievement.

DD:  Do you still think that?
RF:  Probably.  I mean, I made one feature film in the late ’70s, and at the time I thought I was going to give up the theater and make films.  And then I realized, my film is pretty interesting but it’s too theatrical and I’m not a filmmaker.  From the time I was a teenager, I would go see plays.  And I would never see anything that I didn’t think, rightly or wrongly: “I can do that, I can do it better than that.”  But I have to admit that I see films sometimes and think: “I never would have thought of that.  I never would have thought of doing it that way.”  So I don’t think it’s in my blood the same way that theater is.

DD:  Theater is so much more organic.  It’s alive and you’re living your life right there on stage with the audience at the same time.  Films are so disconnected in a way.
RF:  Yeah, spiritually that doesn’t bother me.  Or maybe it does without my knowing it.  But I sort of hate that about theater.  I hate the pressure to reduce the audience always to the lowest common denominator.  Like: You’re going to have the reaction of all those people at once and then it’s over.  I really resent that.  And I resent the pull that I see in myself to be nervous about: “Well, are they responding?  Are they liking it?”  I think that’s corruption, and that’s what you have to fight in the theater, and I think most theater does not.

DD:  So you think you should just do what you want?
RF:  Oh, of course.  Now it’s very hard to sustain that.  It was easier for me to sustain that programmatic approach when I was young.  Because for the first six years that I did my plays, really two-thirds of the audience would walk out after twenty minutes.  But in those days, we all thought: “Hey, that proves we’re doing great art.  These people can’t take it.”  And I don’t think I have the psychic strength to be able to go through that again.

DD:  I can’t wait to see your play.  I’m so psyched.  I saw stills and it just looked so interesting.  I was dying.
RF:  By the time this comes out, I’ll be thinking about my next play.  I change titles a lot, but I think the play next year is going to be called “Great Psychotic Person.”

DD:  [laughs]  That’s great.
RF:  Well, “Paradise Hotel” — that’s not the title.  We had to use that title because the people who raise money for me — and we don’t raise much money anyway — they said that foundations would never give money to the real title of the play ...

DD:  Which was?
RF:  “Hotel Fuck.”

DD:  [laughs] I love that.
RF:  Who taught you to read palms?

DD:  My great uncle bought me a book when I was nine, for my birthday.  It was from the 1800s, and it had all these illustrations of different hands and what all these things signify.  It had pictures of murderers’ palms — people who’d been hanged — and newborn baby palms.  It had Mark Twain’s palm and Sarah Bernhardt’s palm.  I read the book and was really obsessed with it.  So I’ve been reading palms since I was ten.
RF:  Do you ever see a palm where you think: “Oh, my God!”

DD:  There are some pretty bad ones.  Sometimes I see something really bad and I don’t want to tell them.  But you try to phrase it in a way so they won’t freak out.  But usually everything’s okay.  Although your palm can change over the course of your life, and it’s a little frightening when that happens.  Because it’s a road map to your life that was formed when you were a fetus.  But a palm reading is sort of like advice — it’s not words to live by.  You can look at a map and it doesn’t mean you have to take that direction.  The lines in your hand just show that you’re more predestined to go one way rather than another.
RF:  Oh, look, we forgot about this line right here.

DD:  I know, that little one — that’s from when you broke your shoelace when you were five.


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