Further Thoughts On An Indie Theatre Rep
First, thank you to everyone for the great comments and shout-outs about this idea. A lot of helpful questions and suggestions were raised, and it seems like there's a genuine hunger for some version of the Indie Theatre Repertory idea. Here are my initial responses, a little further down the brainstorm:
Remount vs New Production: I think it is essential that the intention of the ITR is to remount successful productions, ideally moving them as quickly as possible from their initial productions into the extended run. Partially, this is practical (taking advantage of momentum), but it is also a statement of values: the artists who were originally responsible for the success of the production should recieve the fruits of their labor.
Equity Issues: This is, in addition to space, the primary challenge. My hope would be that if a coherent model could be presented to Equity, they would be willing to consider a transitional contract for these productions with the intention to move them to a more traditional Off-Broadway contract. And, if the field were to present a working model to Equity that moved Showcase code productions successfully into full contracts, I think it would be easier to gain greater purchase on Showcase reform. However, the ITR would need to build a model that did not rely on change at the Equity level, or the ITR might never be built.
Space: Ideally, the ITR would function under the umbrella of a larger organization like the Public. The Public, both conceptually and practically, is an ideal partner in this enterprise. They gain an infusion of new work and new audiences, we gain the legitimacy, funding streams and structural support of the institution. They have the space available, and have already opened their doors to project like this with Under The Radar. On the Clyde Fitch Report, Jesse Alick, the assistant to Oskar Eustis (and AD of Subjective), mentioned that the Public would be receptive to helping the Indie theatre community if Indie theatre could speak in a unified voice to make their request. Maybe this is that request? (It's a great interview, make sure to read it if you haven't already, to read the quote in its original context).
However, ITR cannot wait for a knight in shining armor to open the gates of the palace. There are other alternatives. For example, at the Crain's "Future of New York" conference last Wednesday, an initiative was announced to support new exhibition and performance space in New York City. Depending on the details (not yet released), this could be an ideal platform for the ITR.
The ITR could also partner with Chashama, which has a long history of finding unconventional space for theatres. These tend to be temporary homes, however, and for the ITR to succeed, it would need a more stable location.
My sense is that the Brick, Source and Horse Trade are already doing the essential work of bringing first productions to light; furthermore, the Brick currently only has one space, and so taking on the ITR would be at the cost of their current mission.
Flux is currently a resident at the NYR studios, which already have a theatre with the possibility of growing additional performance space. While this possibility has many obstacles, if other leads grow cold, Flux could advocate within the other resident companies to house the ITR there - but this really can't happen in the short term, if at all.
However, I think the planning for the ITR could begin immediately, so that when an ideal space opened up, a clear and persuasive case could immediately be made.
Leadership: Ideally, the ITR would be hosted by major theatre like the Public and administered by an Indie theatre organization like the League of Independent Theaters and/or the New York Innovative Theatre Awards. However, while the ITR is related to the missions of both organizations, producing or even helping administer the production of ITR does not fall squarely into their current activities.
The ITR could be led by a consortium of theatre leaders like Isaiah describes in the comments; but most theatre leaders I know are too busy leading their own companies to take something like this on.
What I do know is that bringing in an impresario like Mark Russell to lead an ITR feels wrong. Indie theatre has a diversity of aesthetic that does not always find a home at PS122, HERE and the curated festivals. This is not meant as a slight towards those organizations - there is a great need for singular curatorial vision. I'm interested in exploring an alternative with ITR.
Selection Process: If space and unions are the primary practical challenge, how to choose plays for ITR is our primary conceptual challenge. As stated above, a singular curatorial vision is unattractive to me, mostly from fear that a narrow aesthetic will play against the diversity of the field. But as Playgoer rightly points out, a poorly administered audience vote could be rigged. But NYITA offers an example of a successfuly administered audience voting process, and balances the audience votes against 3 peer judges, a great way of preventing the most organized companies from winning through sheer ballot stuffing.
I'd be interested in exploring a version of this audience vote/peer judge balance with ITR - maybe members of the League of Independent Theatre, or Leonard Jacob's consortium of theatre bloggers, acting as a counterweight to an NYITA led audience vote.
The most important thing, however that selection process happens, is that the artists and audiences of the Indie Theatre field feel like this process belongs them; a sense of ownership is essential.
Thoughts? Flux is in rehearsal now, so I won't have as much time as I'd like to pursue this idea into specifics, but I don't want to wait on it, either. To quote Kennedy in 1960 (we worked that scene today) "I think we're ready to move".