A Call For An Indie Theatre Repertory

Tuesday, September 29, 2009 Leave a Comment

One of the greatest challenges facing the indie theatre field (and so the whole NYC theatre field) is the ability of Equity Showcase productions to transfer to longer runs. The focus of this challenge has been primarily directed towards Equity and the showcase code itself, but there may be something we as field can do (preferably) with or without code reform.

An Indie Theatre Repertory company: the best of indie theatre given a longer life through production in repertory.

Imagine a theatre where in one week you could see productions of Universal Robots, MilkMilkLemondae, Fight Girl Battle World and Infectious Opportunity. Where a production of Pretty Theft in the afternoon could be followed by Artifacts Of Consequence in the evening. Where all of the artists are getting paid an amount worth their initial investment.

The structural model could be like the FringeNYC Encore series in miniature. A 7:00 weekday showtime of one production would allow you a 9:00 performance of another, with three show days on the weekend (similar to our Trilogy production schedule, only a little more so). A production could see anywhere from 3-5 shows a week. As one show in rep was ready to end, a new show would be brought in to keep the rep fresh.

The challenges are obvious: difficult change overs, diminished design elements, and yes, union contracts.

The benefits, however, are substantial. Not only would worthy Indie theatre productions gain an extended life, but supported by the other shows, they would not need to prove immediately profitable. They would get the time they need to grow the audience they deserve. The premiere-itis of our major non-profits would be countered. Audiences previously made of friends and family would overlap, and over time, a legitimate following for the best of Indie theatre would develop. Plays that did especially well could transfer into commercial Off-Broadway runs, and/or gain an increased publicity that could lead to regional productions.

Everyone might benefit: commercial Off-Broadway would be revitalized with an in-town try-out for daring new work; artists who commit to an Equity Showcase would stay with the project long enough to reap the financial rewards of their efforts; audiences would be exposed to the work of the best new Indie companies; and the producing theatre(s)/producer(s) would have a thriving hub of new work.

The plays could be chosen by savvy producers; or the NYITA could provide a forum for audiences to vote their favorite work into a longer run, giving the audience a greater sense of ownership; maybe a little of both.

The initial investment of resources seems to me to be the biggest obstacle facing this idea; but the payoff would be tremendous. No longer would plays like Sleeper and Rattlers have to disappear just as they're picking up steam. Instead, they would have their lives extended by an organization dedicated to celebrating the extraordinary work happening at the Indie, Off-Off-Broadway level. We may be the stuff of dreams, but not all great plays need be roses, whose fair flower, being once displayed, doth fall that very hour.

11 comments »

  • Heather said:  

    This idea arose out of a conversation about the upcoming Grantmakers in the Arts conference - "2009 RECESSION Conference: Navigating the Art of Change." Our fiscal sponsor, Fractured Atlas, asked Flux to participate on a panel at this conference called Changing the Game: New Models, New Leaders, New Ideas for the Arts. http://conference.giarts.org/sessions/wed07.html
    I will be representing Flux on this panel. If there are other new ideas for fundraising or new models that you'd like me to share at the conference, please comment here.

  • tim said:  

    I would absolutely go to a theater like that, pulling in all the great indie shows for second runs....

  • joshcon80 said:  

    "Imagine a theatre where in one week you could see productions of Universal Robots, MilkMilkLemondae, Fight Girl Battle World and Infectious Opportunity. Where a production of Pretty Theft in the afternoon could be followed by Artifacts Of Consequence in the evening."

    Well, that would be about the best damn theater I could imagine. The common denominator here is space.

    Somebody would have to open, fund, and run a space that does this exclusively. How can we make that happen? how did those brick guys do it?

  • 99 said:  

    I'm with Josh: the first issue is the space.

    My other question is: would these be new productions or re-mounts? Would it be a partnering situation, a la The Brick or Horse Trade?

    If we're talking about remounts, then yeah, Equity rules kick in and it gets messy. (Unless you're Avenue Q, natch.) If it's new productions, how is that different than what Horse Trade or the Brick is doing?

  • joshcon80 said:  

    @99

    I was thinking he meant remounts, which would be an Equity problem. I hadn't thought of that. To use my show as an example, we'd have the the following options:

    1. Pay my two equity actors a salary. We'd actually talked about this, because we really want to remount. Basically, in our case, the actors would agree to just donate the salaries back to the company, which is annoying and stupid but the only way we could keep them in the show and not be in trouble with equity.)

    2. Recast.

    Sometimes I wonder if it would be better to not cast equity actors because of stuff like this, which seems to be the exact opposite of equity's purpose.

  • Isaiah Tanenbaum said:  

    This is fascinating stuff, Gus. I see this as a logical continuation of the line of thought that brought us the "agricultural cooperative" model of theater a few months back. How do you keep coming up with entirely new ways of doing things? I'm impressed if I can come up with a moderately innovative sandwich.

    Anyway. Some questions to spark further thought:

    If it was first-run shows, which is what I got the impression that Gus was referring to (rather than remounts of already-successful shows) how do we as producers ensure that we don't turn into another NY Fringe? I love the Fringe (acted '07 and '09, Fluxed '07 and '08), but there's a definite quality/consistency issue there. It's worth noting that the only successful major transfer from the Fringe, ever, was Urinetown, I believe, which, while brilliant, didn't last long. Not exactly a great track record if your hope is to provide a leg-up to shows in need of a bigger venue.

    One solution might be to only offer to repertorize with a few other Indie companies that we really respect and whose work we already know to be compatible with ours.

    However, if we do that, are we okay with letting other companies try to hack it while we take ourselves, Electric Pear, and Gideon off into the OOB stratosphere? And how could a new, unproven indie company (say, Flux circa 2007) break into that?

    And yes. Space.

  • Heather said:  

    I believe the idea is more like a Fringe Encore type thing, but for already proven successful Indie productions. So, definitely not new productions. Ideally, a show is going really well, and it can move soon after into this extension opportunity. yes, the trickiest aspects are Equity, space and of course, funding.

  • 99 said:  

    In a weird way, I wonder if, if we do focus on brief remounts, some of the other tricky aspects become less tricky. So, given we're talking about shows that have already had short, but successful runs. Presumably, they have press and box office numbers to back up their popularity. They may even have a backer or two lined up, but don't have enough cash to do a remount on their own. Pooling resources with four or five other companies might be just the thing.

    Horse Trade and the Brick have already been bandied about and they might be good venues. I'm sure there are a few other spaces that maybe aren't on the radar just yet that might be appropriate. And, depending on the number of shows involved, the funding could potentially be there to step up a bit.

    Equity is the last hurdle and would probably prove the trickiest. Though, since they are willing to hand out dispensations, there might be negotiation room.

    I guess the next question is who is ready to produce it.

  • August Schulenburg said:  

    Thanks everyone for the helpful comments - Heather has helped clarify the intention - 99, I agree that this may be more possible than we think, and later today I'm going to do a new post on how - but of all the potential destinations for something like this, my favorite would be one of the theatres at the Public - more on all of this hopefully after 6PM today

  • Lucy said:  

    I'm just lurking as a theater enthusiast here (NYer transplanted to Bay Area) but I really LOVE this idea. This is exactly the problem you always face - finding where they are and getting there before they close and not the day after someone tells you and they've closed. And to have a steady stream of plays, curated with a known aesthetic - sign me up.