SAN FRANCISCO: FoolsFURY Theater Company, once hailed by SF Arts Monthly as “one of the brightest stars of the San Francisco experimental theatre scene,” recently announced that it will close operations over the next several months. On Nov. 20 at 3 p.m., foolsFURY will hold a public “wake” at Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts, where an altar, created by members of the company as a “ritual of dismantling,” is already on view.
Over 23 years, the company earned national recognition for its adventurous, physically oriented productions of new plays, its introduction of works by European playwrights to English-speaking audiences, and its tireless evangelism for the practices of ensemble theatremaking.
The company cites multiple causes in its decision to close shop, including the 2020 departure of founding artistic director Ben Yalom, the 2020 wildfires that destroyed the Sonoma County home and artist retreat center of current artistic director Debórah Eliezer, and the global pandemic, which destabilized the company’s already precarious infrastructure, a characteristic typical of small nomadic companies.
Founded in 1998 by Yalom, foolsFURY first garnered wide attention with the world premiere of Monster in the Dark by Doug Dorst, a co-production with Berkeley-based Shotgun Players, followed the next year with the U.S. premiere of Fabrice Melquiot’s The Devil on All Sides, which toured from San Francisco to Performance Space New York (formerly P.S. 122). FoolsFURY has supported many new playwrights through new commissions, including Sheila Callaghan, Katie Pearl, Angela Santillo, and Kate Tarker.
Over the last several years, with key leadership by Eliezer, foolsFURY made strides to address long-standing inequities within the company and the theatre field more broadly. The company hired new staff with an eye toward diversity and inclusion, increased wages, and produced two digital conferences by and for ensemble theatremakers, with panel discussions and workshops around “Economic Equity and the Nonprofit Industrial Complex” and “Indigenous Digital: Contemporary Native Storytelling.”
After this month’s closing rituals, Eliezer plans to archive foolsFURY’s legacy with oral histories of the company’s 23 years of activity, which she hopes will eventually be housed in a public library. As part of its legacy, two groups affiliated with foolsFURY will be honored with monetary awards to support their continued work: Kanyon Konsulting directed by Kanyon Sayers-Roods, and the Trans Advocacy Collective, directed by Nicky Martinez, which was formed in foolsFURY’s Ensemble Liberation Lab program.
FoolsFURY’s legacy will live on through two touring projects: Burning Wild, currently in development by Eliezer in collaboration with Noor Adabachi, Cynthia Ling Lee, and Vidhu Singh, which began as a response to the California wildfires of 2020, and (dis)Place[d], in which Eliezer unravels her identity as the daughter of an Iraqi Jew, refugee, and spy.
“As artists, we know change keeps us on the live edge of growth,” said Eliezer. “FoolsFURY is an important reason why the model of ensemble is alive and well—and growing—in the Bay Area and nationally. As artists, we are departing with the least amount of harm and the maximum joy, practicing being in relationship with discomfort, and dismantling with grace as a part of our civic contract.”
Creative credits for production photo: “The Unheard of World,” translated and directed by Michelle Haner, set design by Noor Adabachi, music by Dan Cantrell, lighting design by Beth Hersh, visual art by Freya Prowe, costume design by Martha Stookey
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