Street | Theater

Grind Arts Company debuts with 'Sweeney Todd'

The Grind Arts Company, a new theater company established on campus earlier this year by Eamon Foley ’15, will present its first production, “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” April 24 – 27 at Jadwin Loading Dock.

Yep, the performance is taking place at Jadwin Gymnasium Loading Dock. Offbeat? Yes. Risky? Yes. Grind Arts Company? Yes.

Grind Arts Company focuses on pushing boundaries and taking risks in collegiate theater, Foley explained. Foley directed “Nine” last year with Princeton University Players, and the show, he said, was a huge success.

“I felt like fucking Mother Teresa, I brought art to the world,” Foley said of his experiences directing “Nine” for PUP. “I finally felt like this passion of mine wasn’t so selfish; it was community.”

But when he wanted to do an unconventional take on Sweeney Todd, he ran into a roadblock with PUP, simply because his vision was too technically risky.

“They were nervous about completing the technical elements, which was really upsetting, because I felt that there were actors on campus who were excited about doing something different — they wanted risky,” Foley explained. “I felt like [on] this campus, it was time for risky, and the fact that risky had gotten in the way was infuriating.” So, Foley forged his own path, founding Grind Arts Company to make his vision of Sweeney come to life.

“I was like, I have two years left on campus. I’m trying to be a director in real life. This is my education,” Foley said. “We had to have the company to do the show.”

When it came to the show itself, Foley need three things: money, space and actors.

He spent his summer meeting with potential sponsors and investors for the show, but ended up funding most of it through a successful Kickstarter campaign launched in February, raising $5,167 in one month.

He found his space similarly unconventionally, as most theater spaces had already been taken by the time the company was founded, and he was not allowed to use certain other outdoor spaces.

“The story is, I needed to find a space … and I walked around this campus,” Foley said. “I came to the Jadwin Gym loading dock, and something about it was so amphitheater. It was so broken down, disgusting amphitheater. It was just begging to tell a story. I found it through this back walkway, not the correct way to get there. I found all these different spots … all the stuff that Princeton doesn’t want you to see.”

There were meat-grinders already there, Foley said, as though the dock was just waiting to put on a production of “Sweeney Todd.” Working closely with Nick Robinson, Director of Campus Venue Services, Grind Arts secured the space for the show.

“People don’t think in this artistic way, that there’s this need to tell the story there; they think ‘No, from 8 to 3 we have trucks going in and out of here, we can’t have a show’ but [Robinson’s] excitement, I think, got people behind it,” Foley said. “I’ve been working with Public Safety, Fire Safety. It’s amazing the complications that come with having an outdoor space.”

Graham Phillips ’16 plays Anthony in the show, and said the edginess drew him to the production. Both Phillips and Foley said that they felt that they did not fit into the current theater scene and that they realized many other students also wanted to try something new and pre-professional.

This is Phillips’ first show on campus, and although he does work professionally off-campus, he said he had never really gotten into the University theater scene.

“I just sort of delusionally saw it as Broadway Junior, in a way, as people’s first experiences trying to do something that seems professional, and I didn’t see what I could take away from it,” Phillips said. “And Eamon came to me, and made me realize that collegiate theater that’s outside the professional realm is so special because it’s outside the professional realm — because you can take risks without having twenty financiers and other interest groups that are sort of homogenizing all of your ideas.”

The cast, Foley says, is “literally off the chain,” and includes many students who have worked both on campus and professionally. The show features, along with Phillips, Ben Taub ’14, Deirdre Ricaurte ’16, Olivia Nice ’14, Heather O’Donovan ’16, Lachlan Kermode ’17, Allen Hernandez ’16, Michaela Milgrom ’16, Erin Purdie ’15, Ryan Gedrich ’16, Chris Prisco ’14, Nathalie Ellis-Einhorn ’16 and Charlie Baker ’17.

In thinking about the future of Grind Arts Company, Foley hopes it stays on campus, but would like to continue his work with the group after he graduates.

“When we think about theater differently, it’s not just ideas. We think about theater differently so we can culminate new theater. It’s not just for fun, and fucking around and throwing around the idea of like some drug-induced, trippy Seussical,” Foley said. “It’s like, if you really want to do that drug-induced, trippy Seussical, and you have that vision, then by God, hopefully this project can show people — pursue that! Do that! Follow your vision!”

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