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This fall, the Foundry Theater at Antioch College — a longtime community performance space — will enliven with a full season of programming and three new artist-in-residence groups: The World House Choir, GravityWorks and Mad River Theater Works. Pictured outside the Foundry’s front entrance are Chris Westhoff, left, who was recently hired as the theater’s director, and Provost and Principal Academic Officer Brian Norman, who spoke with the News this week about the Foundry’s new direction. (Photo by Lauren "Chuck" Shows)

Lights up at the Antioch College Foundry Theater

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The Foundry Theater at Antioch College has been a centerpiece for community engagement since 1955, when the foundry that would go on to become Morris Bean moved out of the building, and the professional company Antioch Area Theater moved in. The company made the Foundry Theater its home until the Antioch Amphitheater was built six years later.

Since then, the theater has hosted many community music and theater performances, as well as other events, particularly since its last renovation in 2013 — but since Antioch Area Theater’s departure in 1961, the last artistic group to hold an official residence in the theater was Yellow Springs Kids Playhouse. The long-running youth theater company, which dissolved last year, moved out of the theater in 2019.

This fall, however, the Foundry will again be the home to not just one group of artists-in-residence, but three. At the same time, the Foundry is gearing up to launch a full season of programming featuring both local and national acts for potential audience members in Yellow Springs and the wider Miami Valley.

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According to Chris Westhoff, who was recently hired as the Foundry Theater’s director, these revived avenues, along with continuing to rent the theater’s space to area groups, are the “legs of the table” that will support the invigoration of the Foundry Theater.

“We’re really excited to launch the season at the end of this month … and be in partnership with these area groups to activate the space,” Westhoff said.

The News met with Westhoff and Antioch College Provost and Principal Academic Officer Brian Norman at the Foundry this week to speak about the upcoming season and the importance of the theater to both the college and the wider community.

“Something beautiful is emerging,” Norman said.  “We’re seeing it in the way that we are both rekindling long-standing partnerships and making new connections and new possibilities in this space.”

Making new homes at the Foundry Theater are GravityWorks, an aerial dance and theater company originally founded in Mexico, with a sister program founded in the village this spring by Maya Trujillo and Kayla Graham; and Mad River Theater Works, a longtime theater company with Yellow Springs roots that returned to the village after more than 30 years this January, when it debuted “Freedom Flight” at the Foundry, and a two-week youth theater residency this summer.

Westhoff — who, in addition to his new position at Antioch College, serves as managing director for Mad River Theater Works — said holding  the theater company’s events at the Foundry was a way to “dip his toes in the water” to determine what a working relationship with the college theater might look like, and whether the Foundry might support expanded programming.

“We have had now a string of experiences which keep saying ‘yes’ —  and when you get ‘yeses’ in life, you follow them,” he said.

At the same time, Westhoff noted that the Foundry’s sprung-floor dance studio has been underutilized in recent years, making it a good match for GravityWorks, which aims to hold regular aerial movement classes for youth and adults and eventual ensemble performances.

In addition to these new connections, the Foundry is making official its long-standing partnership with the World House Choir, a community group that has rehearsed and performed in the theater for much of its 10-year history.

“They’re a community-based organization, and they do fabulous work,” Westhoff said. “So asking and encouraging them to get on board as an artist-in-residence company was pretty easy, because they want to be here and they’re already here, and we have a wonderful working relationship.”

The World House Choir’s 10th anniversary concerts, “Standing on the Side of Love and Justice,” will kick off the Foundry’s 2023–24 season of programming Thursday–Saturday, Sept. 21–23; a full story on the choir’s history and its anniversary concerts will appear in next week’s issue of the News.

Following the World House Choir’s season-debuting performances, the lineup of programming includes film, live music and theater; see the sidebar on this page for a full listing of shows.

Westhoff noted one upcoming performance, Electric Root’s “The Sound of (Black) Music,” a revue that, according to a press release, reimagines the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical “through a utopian, Afrofuturist lens.” The performance, Westhoff said, is indicative of the Foundry’s aim of reflecting an alignment with Antioch College’s overall mission of education with an eye toward social justice.

“[‘The Sound of (Black) Music’] is created by a BIPOC company with a BIPOC cast; it’s a really joyful celebration of music,” he said. “The programs in this coming season are about people and ideas who are searching for their sense of identity, who are generally marginalized in one way or another — and who are very graciously giving back to the world.”

Norman echoed Westhoff’s assessment, saying that the college has identified the Foundry as one of seven “learning hubs,” which also include the Coretta Scott King Center, the Herndon Gallery, the Antioch Farm, the Wellness Center, the campus shop and the currently suspended literary journal The Antioch Review, which he said the college is working toward reviving.

“[The learning hubs] are places of putting learning into action … and expanding our revenue, reputation and our reach by becoming places for us to connect to community, and the community to connect to us, in different ways,” Norman said.

In addition to connecting the town and gown, Norman said supporting and enlivening the Foundry is a strategic choice for the college.

“It’s no secret that Antioch has been on the ropes financially for a long, long time — probably since it opened in 1852 with a deficit budget,” he said. “[The college is] at a moment where we think we have a good plan to be a full version of ourselves in activating these learning hubs as a way to both fully live out our mission and have a financial model that can fund that mission.”

With that in mind, tickets for most performances hosted at the Foundry this season will be $30 for general admission, and $15 for Antioch students and those ages 17 and younger; the World House Choir performances will be free, with donations accepted. For those interested in seeing more than one show in the lineup, a limited number of “Season Supporter” packages will be available for $125, which will allow patrons to see their choice of five shows at a discounted price.

Looking ahead, the Foundry intends to enrich the education of Antioch students by providing work experience in the theater itself — on the day of the interview, Westhoff was set to attend a campus job fair to put out feelers for students interested in working as part-time production assistants — and by connecting students with co-op opportunities with touring groups that perform at the theater.

At the same time, the theater’s spaces will continue to be used to intersect with Antioch College courses; during the interview, in the Foundry’s black box theater, Visiting Associate Professor of Social Sciences Queen Meccassia Zabriskie was in the middle of leading a class on race, performance and community-based work. Norman noted that Zabriskie is on leave from a position at New College of Florida, a previously progressive public liberal arts institution currently in turmoil after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis restructured the school under conservative leadership.

By contrast, Norman said Antioch’s investment in its learning hubs, including the Foundry Theater, are an opportunity for Yellow Springs’ own progressive liberal arts college to dig deeper into its mission.

“This is not a luxury,” he said. “This is a central part of the college’s future and how we are connecting to the village and the surrounding region.”

For a full schedule of Foundry Theater events, go to antiochcollege.edu/2023/08/30/foundry-theater-programming.

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