BWW Interviews: ROBERT LYONS of the New Ohio Theatre

BWW Interviews: ROBERT LYONS of the New Ohio Theatre

Robert Lyons is the Artistic Director of the New Ohio Theatre, where he has produced, presented, and developed innumerable productions since 1989. Robert cultivates artistic relationships, oversees operations, and develops and co-curates the various New Ohio programs. June 24th will mark the beginning of the 22nd Annual OBIE Award-winning Ice Factory Festival. Productions developed and presented by the Ohio Theatre have gone on to garner multiple Drama Desk Awards and nominations, OBIE Awards, Audience First Awards in Edinburgh, Off-Broadway productions, commercial runs, and national and international tours. In 2010, after twenty-two years in Soho, Robert successfully navigated the organization's transition to its current home in the West Village. In the new neighborhood, he is the co-creator and co-curator of the Archive Residency, a two-year development and presenting program, in conjunction with IRT Theatre (also located in the Archive Building on Christopher Street). The New Ohio is also a co-founder of THEATER: VILLAGE, an annual West Village festival, in partnership with Rattlestick Theatre, Axis Theatre, and The Cherry Lane Theatre. Under Robert's leadership, the New Ohio Theatre has garnered two OBIE Awards for sustained artistic achievement, and has become widely recognized as an indispensable pillar of the downtown theatre community. Robert is a playwright and director with more than thirty New York premieres to his credit, and also serves as Creative Director for the Sarah Lawrence College Theatre Program. had the opportunity to interview Robert Lyons about his career, the New Ohio Theatre and the Archive Residency.

What was your earliest interest in theater?

I didn't get interested in theatre until after I graduated from college and I was bumming around the East coast, and I saw a theatre company do an opening act for Luther "Guitar Junior" Johnson in a dive bar in Gloucester MA. I hung out with the actors and director at the bar during the set, and I thought they seemed pretty cool. That night I rewrote a short story into a play and that's how I got interested in theatre.

Tell us about some performers and performances that have inspired you.

Sometime later I did an internship at People's Light and Theatre in Pennsylvania. My first exposure to the actual theatre process. A guy named Murphy Guyer was the star of the summer festival, he wrote one play, directed another, and acted in another. I was the ASM on the show he directed. He was my role model. At the end of the summer we did an intern show and I directed a play I wrote and I won $50 for Best Intern Show. I was pretty much hooked.

When I finally made my way to New York, the first show I saw was Richard Foreman's collaboration with The Wooster Group called "Symphony of Rats". That blew my mind and changed my idea of what theatre could be.

When did the concept of the Archive Residency begin for you?

This has been kicking around in my head for a while. But it all clicked into place when we moved to the Archive Building. I met Kori Rushton, the Artistic Director of IRT Theatre (upstairs in the building), and we started brainstorming about ways we could work together. Then it all came together very quickly.

Tell me a little about the reactions you have received about this incredible opportunity.

So far, so good! The main things independent theatre companies need are space, money, a development process, and deadlines. And we provide all four! Or as we like to say: we provide an artistic home. So far, the artists have been extremely appreciative.

Do you see the role of the Archive Residency expanding in the future?

I'm not sure. I don't see it getting longer. I like the pressure of producing a new work in two years. It keeps everyone focused. I could see bringing a third company in each year, bringing the program's full capacity to six. But not this year. We're still waiting for the serious funding to kick-in!

Tell us some of your own artistic plans for the future.

Right now I'm working with Kristin Marting on an adaptation of The Idiot by Dostoevsky. I'm pretty psyched about it. We adapted it together. I'm doing text. She's directing. We're showing a work-in-progress this summer in Ice Factory at New Ohio. It will premiere at HERE in spring 2016.

I also just got one of those Sloan Science commissions from EST. So I'm starting a play about Emile Zola's infatuation with the Scientific Method, which was sweeping through Paris in 1870, and how he applied it to a new radical experimental theatre style he was championing, called "naturalism."

For more information about the New Ohio Theatre, 154 Christopher Street in NYC, visit

Photo Credit: Andrea Reese

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