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Further Thoughts On An Indie Theatre Rep

Sunday, October 4, 2009 Leave a Comment

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".

5 comments »

  • Catherine said:  

    Alas, the details of the Crains breakfast initiatives have been released, and it's pretty much just 5 specific outdoor spaces on the water that they want to offer for performance. (There are other spaces being made available for visual art - no mention why performance has to be outdoors, but there ya' go.) So I'd guess most of the works in the rep wouldn't work outside.

    I think the obstacle of cost needs to be addressed. It's esp. an obstacle if working within the current Equity framework. This initiative would work best, probably, if approached as a self-sustaining model, not dependent on foundation grants or public funding. That pretty much leaves individuals and special events (and corporate, but good luck there0. Or, something else? I saw Conni's Avant Garde Restaurant a coupla weeks ago, and am loving the "dinner theater" model myself...

  • August Schulenburg said:  

    Catherine,

    That is a bummer about the Crains spaces.

    The obstacle of cost is indeed a big one, and I'm always interested in thinking about sustainable models for the theatre that don't involve grants. I love Conni's restaurant, too, and think that when we took the beer out of theatre, we lost a big revenue source. I wonder how much income movie theaters generate from popcorn and soda versus actual ticket sales. And I wonder what kind of theatre we'd make if we had to compete over the suds and kernels - if it would somehow be more vital for it, or just louder.

    That said, I think pursuing traditional funding sources could continue along side brainstorming more innovative tactics.

  • Ken said:   This comment has been removed by the author.
  • Ken said:  

    A trio of tangential thoughts:

    I just saw a movie at a Maine Theater--$6 ticket and $5 popcorn. Sell enough popcorn...

    Thinking about Internet connectivity---How about a theater bank. A clearing house of available space to match up with theater companies, with remountable shows, that are ready to go. The space might come available for a few days only and the companies would list available plays that prospective audience members could conditionally specify as something they would like to see if it was available. An email could go out to interested parties as soon as a matchup is made. This form might avoid quite a bit of infrastructure and the spaces would be priced at a very cut rate as they would be, otherwise, unsalable.


    I'm not totally comfortable, by the way, with a large organization being a gatekeeper for smaller diverse groups that are finding their way. The pressure to conform to outside conditions can corrupt a fragile zeitgeist and harm a tender process. What I as an actor supplier of art need is unconditional theater love: some entity that won't tell me that I can be seen only if the uninvolved committee likes me. Better for the young group to find a small town hungry for art and service the needs of that town as the theater collective stretches its wings and learns to fly.

  • 99 said:  

    Good, good stuff. Clear, concise and cogent. Let's see if we can move the ball ahead.

    I wonder if a group like ART/NY would also be of use in this kind of venture, at least as a middleperson. They might have venue suggestions that have gone missed or useful in-roads.

    I wonder what constitutes having the indie community speak with one voice? Does there have to be a petition? A joint resolution? Why not just do the thing and see who shows up?