about

our history

Irondale Three Windows Icon
1978

A COLLECTIVE OF THREE

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. Edgar Rosenblum and Arvin Brown hired the three of us and we began making work that represented our shared philosophy and aesthetic. We did this for five years.

1980

WHAT'S IN A NAME?

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.

1983

TRUE ENSEMBLE

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.

EARLIEST DAYS

ART THAT PROVOKES THOUGHT

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.

1984-1999

IMPROVISATION

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.

2008

OUR OWN THEATER

In 2008, we developed our own theater from an abandoned, nineteenth century 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.

2015

TO PROTECT, SERVE AND UNDERSTAND

In response to Eric Garner's murder by police officers, Irondale created a workshop program that brings cops and civilians together for 10 weeks of intense improv training, story-telling and courageous conversation at the theatre. You cannot force empathy but theatre can give it space to grow.

2022

FROM UKRAINE TO BROOKLYN

After reading a small article in the NY Times about a group of school children who put on a play in a Lviv bomb shelter, Terry and Jim decide to bring the kids to Irondale to perform their play Mom on Skype. It took some mountain-moving by the entire Irondale team and some help from our local politicians, but it happened. In August, nine Ukrainian children, ages 7-15, performed for two nights at the theatre and touched all our lives, deeply. The ticket proceeds from their shows were donated to Ukrainian war and humanitarian efforts.

2023

40 YEARS OF IRONDALE

In 2023 Irondale reached a new milestone: 40 years of making theatre together. Theatre of the moment and theatre in the moment. Our gala celebration, Inspire honored Irondale founder Barbara Mackenzie-Wood with the M. Edgar Rosenblum Award (We’ve come full circle and Edgar is still a presence in our lives and work). A special second award was given to the brave Children of Ukraine, accepted by Olena Kondratiuk, Deputy Chair, Ukrainian Parliament.

TODAY

CITIZEN ARTISTS

Today, with 70 productions that span 40+ years, “we’re still here!” Our work remains true to our original principles. We continue to bring our programs to public and private schools, and we offer multiple youth education programs on-site in our space, including our flagship Young Company teen ensemble.

LOOKING BACK

AND MOVING FORWARD

We pay tribute to the hundreds of artists that have comprised the ensemble since 1983. They too, are part of this history. We are proud of our journey and where we have arrived and we are excited to see what comes in our future. We have toured to Russia three times, helped create the Network of Ensemble Theatres and the Downtown Brooklyn Arts Alliance, mentored other ensembles, supported emerging artists 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.

on stage
past productions
press
Irondale was born out of a dream that started with Jim, Terry and Barbara, but it has grown much further than that. It affected other artists and collaborators, it got the attention of donors and foundations and, most importantly, it has reached you – our audience! We are humbled to see that the art we create still makes sense to you as it does to us. And we can't wait to see where the future will take us!

While we are still creating such a future, watch this video to hear what our founders and directors Terry and Jim have to say about how and why Irondale came to be what it is today - and what has been for the past 40 years. 
Don’t let us stop now! Donate today and keep supporting this grassroots ensemble theatre company.

For more than 40 years, Irondale has been a place where artists and audiences matter.

To do the work we do, we count on our community of friends, neighbors and citizen artists who share our value of creating projects that speak to the issues of today.

We are entirely in debt with our community. Your support makes it possible.

DONATE TODAY to help us guarantee the future of our company, artists & staff.

YOUR SUPPORT MAKES IT POSSIBLE

SUPPORT
The space at Irondale Building
Phone: (718) 488.9233Fax: (718) 788.0607info@irondale.org
85 South Oxford Street
Fort Greene, Brooklyn 11217
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