By Jean Hanff Korelitz
Guest Columnist
New York, NY, USA

Eamon Foley grew up in Connecticut and made his Broadway debut at the age of nine in Gypsy (2003), starring Bernadette Peters. Other Broadway appearances followed, in Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins (2004), Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas (2006 and 2007), 13: The Musical (2008) and Sheri Renee Scott’s Everyday Rapture (2010).

Foley entered Princeton University in the fall of 2010 as an actor/singer/dancer and emerged four years later as a non-performing director/choreographer and as the founder and artistic director of Grind Arts, a company whose theater and film projects focus on reconsidered classics and non-traditional performance spaces.

Stay Thirsty spoke to Foley about his transition from performance to direction and choreography, his growing body of work in theater and dance, and where he and Grind Arts are headed next.

STAY THIRSTY: You began your career as a child actor/singer/dancer on Broadway. What made you want to perform?

EAMON FOLEY: I was obsessed with anything dance-heavy. Movies like A Chorus Line, Disney cartoons like Hercules, performances that rolled through town such as The Nutcracker, would stay with me for months. I’d use the TV as a mirror and compulsively make up my own dances to them. My dream was to be the prince in The Nutcracker, so I begged (for dance lessons), and that was the start. Dance competitions led to an agent which led to auditions which led to my first show, Gypsy, when I was nine. I found an amazing community during that production and was hooked. 

STAY THIRSTY: What were some of your favorite experiences as a young performer?

EAMON FOLEY: My favorite experiences were the glimpses of creative partnership with the directors and choreographers I worked with. I was most ecstatic when a director listened to an idea, or a choreographer used one of my moves or let me choreograph a solo. Any sliver of creative ownership did it for me, which is why I was sometimes frustrated at being in the ensemble. During 13: The Musical, I directed and choreographed our cast’s performance for Gypsy of the Year, the annual Broadway Cares Equity Fights AIDS benefit show. Creating something from scratch and seeing it on that big Broadway stage was a high I’ll never forget. That’s when I realized I wanted to be a director-choreographer.

Eamon Foley

STAY THIRSTY: You made the decision to attend university rather than a performing arts conservatory, or just skipping college and continuing to work professionally. What went into that decision?

EAMON FOLEY: My final Broadway show was Everyday Rapture, which was written and performed by one of my favorite Broadway divas, Sherie Rene Scott. Hearing her talk about how fulfilling writing was, perhaps even more fulfilling than performing, struck a chord in me. I realized that I was having more fun directing and choreographing backstage than I was having onstage. This was right around the time I was getting ready to apply to colleges. I figured, to be a theater maker, I needed a wider breadth of knowledge to pull into my work than a theater education could provide, so I attended Princeton University and got a degree in Anthropology, which turned out to be quite apt.

STAY THIRSTY: The company you founded as an undergraduate, Grind Arts, is still active and thriving. How did Grind Arts come into being and what were some of its earliest projects?

EAMON FOLEY: I had a vision for Sweeney Todd that I desperately wanted to make happen, but I didn’t have a company or theater interested in the project. Needless to say, I was frustrated. I stomped around campus and discovered a beautiful, derelict loading dock on the outskirts. The industrial vibe, the natural stage area, the recycling compactors, they all screamed Sweeney at me, so I founded the company, raised the money, and did a 360-degree, site-specific production at the loading dock with some of the most creative, generous performers I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. The show caught fire, students showed up in hoards with their own chairs, and Grind Arts Company was born. Our mission is to reinvent musical theater, which we’ve endeavored to do with The Last Five Years, Cyrano, Paradise Lost, along with many short films.

STAY THIRSTY: How can young companies like Grind Arts continue to make art in the current dance and theater landscapes? What are your plans for Grind Arts in the future?

EAMON FOLEY: My advice is to lean into new mediums. When Grind Arts couldn’t afford to make live theater, we created dances on film, which eventually led to our virtual reality work. This exploration into film broke new ground for us in music videos and immersive events, and now we are back to making the musical theater we came together to create.

Grind’s future looks like a lot of original work. We are working with many writers and composers to develop daring musical theater experiences. Though we were originally interested in reinventing classics, our mission has expanded to breaking the genre of musical theater open as a whole. 

HERO - An Aerial Dance - Rock Musical - Written, Choreographed & Directed by Eamon Foley (excerpt)

STAY THIRSTY: Last year you choreographed a production of Annie at The Hollywood Bowl. Did your own experience as a young performer help you to work with the little girls in the cast?

EAMON FOLEY: Did it ever. The directors that got the best work out of me, particularly Joe Mantello and Michael Meyer, never compromised their expectations just because I was young. The secret about professional children is that they’re hungry to prove that they are just as capable as the grown-ups. They adopt a can-do spirit that adult actors often lose. They thrive when they are given responsibility and love to overcome challenges. Which is why, when I work with kids, I don’t dumb it down. I treat them like professionals, and they appreciate not being condescended to. They work hard to live up to the high bar you set for them, which gives them an immense amount of pride when it’s achieved. I generally become very close with the young actors I work with because they can tell that I see them as more as artists than kids.

STAY THIRSTY: In honor of this year’s World Pride month, you revisited the song “Up the Ladder to the Roof” from one of your own Broadway shows, Sherie Renee Scott’s Everyday Rapture, creating a new work produced by Grind Arts and shot on a rooftop in New York City with three dancers (Travante Baker, Justin Mock and Trent Kowalik, a Tony Award winner for his work in Billy Elliot: The Musical .) What made you return to this particular song and what was your vision for the dance you choreographed and the film you made?

Up the Ladder to the Roof - Choreographed by Eamon Foley

Ah, this was a fun one. That song had been blasting in my head for ten years, and I’d been dying to dance to it. I was just coming off a project and wanted to make something short and sweet to avoid the post-show bluesies. It happened to be World Pride and the tenth anniversary of Everyday Rapture, and as I listened to the lyrics to “Up The Ladder” they became a gay, coming out anthem that resonated with me. The women in that show (Broadway stars Lindsay Mendez and Betsy Wolfe in addition to Sherie Renee Scott) were integral in helping me come to terms with my sexuality, and I wanted to do the piece for them. I had no idea it would be so cathartic. Three boys dancing to this musical theater banger with such joy and abandon struck a nerve, particularly with the gay community. It was about releasing shame, learning to love yourself, and just comfortably be, which I work on every day of my life.

STAY THIRSTY: What are some works you would particularly like to choreograph or direct?

EAMON FOLEY: A major engine behind my work is exploring movement in places it hasn’t yet existed. Shows I’d like to direct and choreograph aren’t necessarily the big dance musicals, although I’d love to reimagine many of them. It’s the sensitive pieces in which movement has yet to be explored that excite me. The musicals I’m most excited to explore conceptually and choreographically are Stephen Sondheim’s. There is endless unmined space for movement and Shakespearian-esque reinterpretation in his musicals, such as Passion, Sunday in the Park with George, Sweeney Todd, A Little Night Music, and more. Other pieces that could benefit from movement exploration are The Light in the Piazza, The Last Five Years, and Adding Machine.  

Color + Light - Choreographed by Eamon Foley

STAY THIRSTY: Who are your favorite choreographers and why?

EAMON FOLEY: Alexander Ekman is a big inspiration. His movement is extraordinary because it doesn’t try to impress. It’s an organic expression meant only to feed the music, emotion, or picture, and the result is visually sumptuous performance art. His brain settles on the larger visual stroke and it’s very theatrical. Also, cirque nouveau artists such as Sept Doigts de la Main and Aurelien Bory are discovering brilliant, superhuman ways to move bodies through space. I’m a big fan of contemporary aerial dance and always love the opportunity to dance in the sky.

Eamon Foley
Jean Hanff Korelitz


Jean Hanff Korelitz is a New York Times Bestselling author. Her most recent 
novels are The Devil and Webster and You Should Have Known.

All opinions expressed are solely those of its author and do not reflect the opinions of Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.