We began in 1978 as a collective of three: Barbara Mackenzie-Wood, Jim Niesen and Terry Greiss. We met while working together at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut, and began making work that represented our shared philosophy and aesthetic. We did this for five years.
In 1980, Jim and Terry were on a train returning from Connecticut after doing improv shows. We had been searching for a name for our “company,” because we were being honored by the Connecticut Arts Council. Jim was writing a play about childhood, centered around his grandparents who lived in Irondale Missouri. Terry asked how the “Irondale project” was coming along, and Jim said “That’s a good name.” The rest is history.
By 1983, we decided it was time to create our own theatre company--a true ensemble of artists coming together to explore the nature and uses of theatre. On a February evening (actually at Jim’s birthday party), Irondale was born.
From the earliest days, we were convinced of theatre’s ability to engage as well as entertain. Our education programs became central to our goal of creating the kind of theatre we wanted to see: art that provokes thought. We found audiences in public schools, prisons, shelters and other non-theatrical spaces. Over time, we have taught thousands of workshops from Staten Island to Cape Town and our work has been seen on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, in the former Soviet Union and in many places in between.
From 1984–1999 we focused on improvisation and its application to text, both classical and contemporary, with the goal of bringing a strong sense of aliveness to scripted performances. Shakespeare, Chekhov and especially Brecht provided source material and were our “playwrights in residence” and we performed their work regularly.
In 2008, we developed our own theater from an abandoned, 152-year-old church. When we opened The Space at Irondale, we made a deeper commitment to a geographic community. We had a home, but we were in danger of becoming an “institution,” which (in true Irondale form) is something we still grapple with. Thanks to our space, we are able to present our own work and the work of other companies we admire. We also rent the theater out and offer subsidies to emerging and under-served artists, so that their voices can be heard.
Today, with some 60 productions under our collective belt, our work remains true to our original principles.
We continue to bring our programs to public and private schools, and we also offer multiple youth education programs on-site in our space, including our flagship Young Company teen ensemble.
We are proud of our journey and where we have arrived. We have toured to Russia three times, helped create the Network of Ensemble Theatres and the Downtown Brooklyn Arts Alliance, mentored other ensembles and encouraged our alumni create their own companies, including Big Dance Theatre, Epic Theatre Ensemble, Strike Anywhere Performance Ensemble, Letter of Marque, and the Irondale Ensemble Project of Halifax, Nova Scotia.
As Irondale celebrates its 40th Anniversary, we are looking to the future as we remember the accomplishments of the past. Please make a contribution of $40 to help us getting number 40 off to a great start.
Your gift will be fully tax deductible.