Foundry gets literal with ‘Open House’

N.Y. theater turning apartments into show's stage

NEW YORK — All the world may be a stage, but do you want your living room to be one?

For some people, the answer is obviously yes, since two dozen New Yorkers are letting the Foundry Theater turn their apartments into the venue for a new play.

For each of its 24 performances, running through March 16, Aaron Landsman’s quirky drama “Open House” will play in a different Gotham apartment, complete with lighting, sound and however many patrons can cram onto the nearest ottoman.

Creatives see this concept as both a political statement and a chance for the company to goose its audience outreach.

“We didn’t want it to be just a gimmick,” says Landsman. “We want the play to exist in each space for a reason, and I think putting it in people’s houses engages the city in a different way.”

Designed to address Gotham’s constant anxiety over housing costs and neighborhood change, the production is modified to suit each locale.

During each 70-minute perf, the apartment’s residents give a speech about their area, and the surreal plot — involving a young couple in crisis and a mysterious real estate agent — is tweaked to reference the day’s location.

Since most auds will exit not into a commercial theater district but onto a residential street, the hope is that the play will start conversations about gentrification and neighborhood identity.

This topicality has enticed Gothamites to loan out their homes. “The subject matter is as much of a draw as the fact that these people love the theater,” says Melanie Joseph, the Foundry’s producing artistic director.

But still, finding the apartments was a chore. The process started with an email blast to the theater’s mailing list, which was widely forwarded. Respondents were screened, resulting in roughly 75 site visits to find 24 appropriate rooms — the show requires enough space for a couch, three actors, three crew members and at least 10 spectators.

Unusual privacy measures are also in place, such as revealing only the general location for each performance. Patrons don’t receive an exact address until they buy a ticket.

The payoff is a group of “co-producers” (as Joseph calls the apartment dwellers) covering a broad geographic and economic spectrum. Every borough will host at least one show — including Staten Island — with the apartments ranging from artsy Brooklyn flats to high-class Upper East Side digs.

For Landsman, who often creates site-specific performance work, this could be a valuable introduction. “A lot of the people in these homes have no relation to what I think of as my typical audience,” he says.

While this type of theater has been seen before in New York, it’s usually been pulled together on a smaller scale by less established companies. The Foundry stands to brand itself more effectively through the production, since the company’s slate of experimental work and international transfers doesn’t always foreground its identity.

“We don’t logo ourselves to death,” Joseph says. “Through this process, we have found people who have seen five of our shows and didn’t realize they were all from us.”

Extending audience base is a primary goal for most theater companies crowding Gotham’s fringe market. With “Open House,” the Foundry stands to attract a bevy of nontraditional theatergoers. Apartment residents are responsible for recruiting half of their evening’s audience — which can number as high as 60 –from their own address books. Seven of the upcoming perfs already are sold out.

Not that anyone is expecting to get rich. “Open House” may have a modest budget — use of all the apartments is donated, free of charge — but there are just not that many tickets to sell.

“This is a genuinely not-for-profit production,” Joseph says. “It’s never going to make money — ever. But I really believe this type of work is what nonprofits are for.”

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