The Blog

Mabou Mines: A Collective Approach to Theatre

The company's non-hierarchical structure which, like any organism, developed its own unique composition, and the collective ethos provides a "deep bench" of artists leading and supporting each others work.

In the summer of 1970, a group of artists that included British actor David Warrilow, American actors/directors Lee Breuer, Ruth Maleczech, JoAnne Akalaitis, and composer Philip Glass, retreated from New York City to Philip's summer house near Mabou Mines, Nova Scotia in Canada to create their first theater piece, Red Horse Animation. Thinking it sounded like a rock band, the company took the name and Mabou Mines has since been a collective of, not only artists but of ideas, and approaches. "Our jobs", as co-founder Ruth once put it, "are to infuse as much artistic wherewithal as we can into one another's work. Other than that, we have our singular job, which is to pursue our own idiosyncratic artistic vision and to get it out there."

In a 2011 American Theater magazine article, "Mabou Mines: A Love Story," the author declared, "Mabou Mines is the astronaut of experimental ensembles, the others are only jet pilots" The galactic mission continues as an artist-driven experimental collective, generating original works and re-imagined adaptations of classics through multi-disciplinary, technologically inventive collaborations among its members and a wide world of contemporary composers, writers, musicians, choreographers, puppeteers, visual artists and filmmakers.

The company's non-hierarchical structure which, like any organism, developed its own unique composition, and the collective ethos provides a "deep bench" of artists leading and supporting each others work. During the course of forty-plus years the company has been, at various times a "tight collaborative hive", and at others a "loose confederation of warrior ants". The endurance of Mabou Mines stems from a commitment to inviting all interested players to the "creative party", and a savvy flexibility in adapting to "accordion economics" in an insanely corporatized/capitalistic world.

The company was born out of the influences and inspirations of Europe's seminal avant-garde theater collectives. Before arriving in New York 1970 the would-be ensemble spent five years in Europe observing and studying at various times, the working methods of the Berliner Ensemble, the politics of the exiled Living Theater and, after visiting Jerzy Grotowski in Poland, the realization that, as co-founder Lee Breuer saw it, "If four or five people really plugged into an idea, you can really make a dent." Since that time, the company has created more that 100 works, toured to more than 1000 cities worldwide, and won more than 100 major awards.

Today the company's artistic directors, Lee Breuer, Sharon Fogarty, Karen Kandel, and Terry O'Reilly together with many, many collaborators work to tap into the poetics of literature, the mystery of language, the expressiveness of physical performance, and the abstraction of visual arts/media - a process of layering metaphors; visual, aural and intellectual - and seeking a poetic resonance in the ephemeral.

On 7 May, The Brighton Festival will host Mabou Mines at the Theater Royal, with Lucia's Chapters, based on the life of James Joyce's daughter Lucia and her influence on and reflection in his work. As a theater company founded by composer Philip Glass, music has always been essential to all of Mabou Mines' work. Lucia's Chapter is no different. Among the superb artistic collaborators, composer Carter Burwell, best know as a film composer on the Coen Brothers and the Twilight movies, has created a rich and haunting score; The visual alchemy is whipped up by designer Jim Claybugh one of the founding members of the Wooster Group, and projection designer Julie Archer, a long time collaborator and whose sorcery has been behind much of Mabou Mines' work. Finally, the celestial Maria Tucci, a Tony nominated actress and well known as a premier stage interpreter of Tennessee Williams' work, will play the title role.

Lucia's Chapters of Coming Forth by Day is at Brighton Festival on Thu 7 & Fri 8 May, 7.30pm and Sat 9 May, 2.30pm & 7.30p. For more information visit