Thursday, July 24, 2014

Theatre isn't just in the Theater

Contributed by Gyda Arber

Been really enjoying the posts this week! Thank you, Sean, for having me, and for James and Shaun for getting our discussion off to such a great start. To follow up on both points, a bit, I'd like to discuss video/technology in shows, and also, unfortunately, the Showcase implications as such. I totally appreciate Shaun's suggestions for improving the showcase code—I think both would really help. But the biggest stumbling block in my experience has been with video.

As anyone who's talked to me at length knows, I once assistant directed Michael Gardner's production of The Ninja Cherry Orchard. Amazing show, had about 2 dozen actors, anchored by brilliant performances from Aaron Baker and Kelly Rae O'Donnell and fight choreography by Qui Nguyen and Alexis Black. It was a lot of fun. So: Crazy! CBS Sunday Morning wanted to film an itty bitty bit of it for their show! Amazing, right? So we IMMEDIATELY called Equity. We were told oh, they'd leave a message for the Film/TV person. Okay, next day, no answer. CBS is getting super antsy. We call back, still nothing. Call back the NEXT day. We're told by CBS we only have hours to confirm or they're pulling the story. We've reached out to the cast, which is 100% in agreement that they want to be filmed. We finally get someone on the phone. "It's not in the contract" we're told. We explain that yes, we know, that's why we've been calling (and calling and calling) to see if we can work something out, the cast is for it, etc... "But it's not in the contract." This line got repeated and repeated to us. There was no budging.

I've been pretty fortunate with press. I've had shows filmed by NY1 and twice by the BBC. In all 3 cases, the TV coverage really helped ticket sales, and it's also completely awesome to be able to point someone interested in your work to one of those professionally produced videos (my technological mash-ups are particularly hard to explain, it's easier to just watch the video). But mostly I've been lucky that Equity actors weren't involved in those shows (not by choice, just coincidence). Sadly, it's made me more and more reluctant to cast Equity folks. What if the show DOES take off? What if we DO get asked to do additional performances at Lincoln Center (which happened with FutureMate)? The current showcase system, sadly, does not account for ANY kind of success. I thought the point was for the showcases to get picked up and produced with real budgets and then pay the actors some actual money and everybody wins? Without allowing for real press, that goal is even more difficult.

And don't get me started on grants. More and more they're requiring filmed segments—which means you either have to film in blatant disregard of the showcase code, or not have video, which makes your application MUCH less appealing to the committees, if you can even apply at all.

Social media is another factor. We filmed a short piece for Theater of the Arcade and it got picked up by Laughing Squid. Over 9000 views, which isn't a ton by internet standards, but for an indie theater production? We were pretty psyched!

James is right—theater IS changing. It'd be great if there was some way to get the showcase code on board with those changes, with the reality of social media and sharing videos and press and, y'know, just modern times. Here's hoping!

Gyda Arber is a writer/director best known for the transmedia theatrical experiences Suspicious Package (The Brick, 59E59, Edinburgh Fringe, Future Tenant Pittsburgh), Suspicious Package: Rx (published in Plays and Playwrights 2010), the award winning post-apocalyptic dating show FutureMate (Lincoln Center, The Brick) and the ARG-inspired Red Cloud Rising (called “brilliant” by the NY Times). Named “Person of the Year” by, Arber is the director/creator of the interactive play Q&A: The Perception of Dawn, the writer/director of the short film Watching (Bride of Sinister Six), and the director of The Brick's sold-out hit Theater of the Arcade: Five Classic Video Games Adapted for the Stage. Also an actress, Arber has appeared at Lincoln Center, The Public, 59E59, and most frequently at The Brick, where she also serves as the executive producer of the Game Play festival, a celebration of video game performance art. She is a 4th-generation San Franciscan, has a degree in musical theater from NYU and is a graduate of the Maggie Flanigan Studio.

Sean Williams is curating the blog this week in honor of Indie Theatre Week.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Second Base on Your Wedding Night

Contributed by Shaun Bennet Fauntleroy

If someone gave me the power to change two things about Equity’s Basic Showcase Code, I’d increase the maximum amount of performances from 16 to 20 (five weeks of shows instead of four) and next, I’d increase the ticket price to $25. This format already exist in Equity’s Seasonal Showcase Code for the most part, but the annual gross income required for the Seasonal Code is $25K, and that alone makes this nearly impossible for most Off-Off-Broadway producers to use. So, now that we’ve established that the Basic Code is what most Indie Theatre producers are likely to qualify for, let’s examine why these specific changes would be an improvement.

As an actor, I find the restriction of 16 performances, or the four-week limit, to be tortuous. The first week, preview week, you’re getting used to the costumes, the lights, having an audience, and the theatre you were only allowed access to a couple of days ago. This is when you’re working out the technical and artistic kinks, which is why press is asked to wait after previews to review the show. Then, the work of discovery continues and that third week of the run is usually the honey spot for me. That’s when things are just starting to gel, the mysteries of the world you’ve created become exposed, and it all gets into your marrow. You’re finally ready to just “live it,” and then a week close. It’s like having to stop at second base on your wedding night. (Something you’ll often hear backstage after the last performance of an Off-Off-Broadway show is, “ we’re ready to open.”)

So, what’s the big deal about having a few extra performances? Would it really make that much of a difference? Let’s look at this example. Some of the most incredible performances I’ve seen recently on Broadway have been Arian Moayed in Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, Mark Rylance in Jerusalem, and Cristin Milotti in Once...(all Tony nominated, by the way). These beautiful actors had been cultivating these performances elsewhere for months and by the time they got to Broadway these roles had been well lived in and, dare I say, perfected. There’s also the rehearsal time issue. A Broadway or Off-Broadway contract gives you the option of rehearsing at least 5-7 hours every day. In Off-Off Broadway, people are rehearsing a few hours after work, and usually not everyday due to costs and scheduling. Now, I’m not saying that you can’t give an incredible performance if you haven’t been working on it for a year, or that these actors were only wonderful because of having worked on those roles for so long, but time, to an actor working hard on a role, is delicious (ask the Moscow Art Theatre!). Having that extra week to perform can be hugely helpful, especially considering that Off-Off-Broadway is where most NY theatre actors are consistently plying their trade and sharpening their skills.

Now, despite all this, I know Equity has put these restrictions in place to protect their actors, and I’m incredibly grateful that very necessary protection exists. But, is raising the ticket price to $25 so producers have a bit less money to lose too much to ask? Adding $7 extra dollars to the ticket price (which, in a perfect world could add about $200-$500 dollars to the nightly receipts) could help producers afford that fifth week of rental and transportation costs. To deny this because of concern for the actors not getting their fare share of the sales is illogical. I know several people who worked in a hugely successful, multi-award winning Off-Broadway show for over a year. Despite all its success, they still had to keep their side jobs, because although the $300 or $400 they made in that show wasn’t nothing, it definitely wasn’t something to live on. Let’s be honest, few of us make any money in theatre unless we’re a star or we’re on Broadway. We do this because we can’t help ourselves, and because we feel more at home at the theatre than anywhere else in the world.

So... Dearest Equity, we’re asking you to recognize that actors don’t flock to Off-Off Broadway just because we’re “showcasing ourselves for industry professionals” as your code description puts it, but because exciting things are happening there and contract jobs are scarce. When this code came about in the 1960’s it was necessary and served it’s purpose, but it’s over 50 years later. Off-Off Broadway has evolved into something new and we need a new code for that sweet something new. Now, dear Equity, I’m off to the New York Innovative Theatre Awards to celebrate the exciting, groundbreaking art being forged in Off-Off-Broadway. You should come.

*Correction: There was a mistake regarding the annual gross income required for the Seasonal Code. After further clarification from Equity, the figure has been corrected within the piece; the annual gross income required for the Seasonal Code is $25K.

Sean Williams is curating the blog this week in honor of Indie Theatre Week.

Monday, July 21, 2014

A Future Without Theatres

Contributed by James D. Carter

“Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.”

When I heard Doc Brown say that to Marty McFly at the end of Back to the Future, I couldn’t wait to see what the future held. Little did I know, in the next film I would get a glimpse of 2015, complete with flying cars, self-lacing Nikes, and hover boards.

Well, here we are. Heading into 2015. But there are no flying cars, self-lacing Nikes (
yet), or hover boards. And we’re still using roads. The one thing – at least in New York City – that is disappearing: Theaters.

Over recent years, we’ve seen too many Manhattan theater venues close. Todo con Nada, Surf Reality, Center Stage NY, and, most recently, Incubator Arts Project. All provided the bourgeoning indie theater community a place to rehearse, experiment and gather. There are still some great small venues out there, but most reside in Brooklyn or Queens. Manhattan is just too pricey. Soon, they’ll migrate to Staten Island and The Bronx. Eventually, there may be no affordable small venues in NYC at all.

The most expensive part of any production is space. Even with reduced rate programs, a venue can cost upwards of $3500/week in Manhattan. That is $14,000 for a four-week rental – just for space. We’re talking 70% of an Actors’ Equity Showcase Code capped budget, which leaves only $6000 for marketing, sets, costumes, designer, director, and actors fees. Collaborators end up working essentially for free.

Location-based. Site-specific. Immersive. It’s called many things, but they all mean the same thing: Not in a theater. Three years ago, I began producing site-specific work with my audio storywalk
NY_Hearts. I partnered with small businesses in New York neighborhoods to offer goods and services featured in a first person love story. It was fun to introduce audiences to nooks and crannies of the city. And, I made a profit.

Mrs. Mayfield’s Fifth-Grade Class of ’93 20-Year Reunion, Photo by Kacey Stamats
Caps Lock Theater loves exploring existing spaces, like private apartments. Mrs. Mayfield’s Fifth-Grade Class of ’93 20-Year Reunion by executive director Mariah MacCarthy was part play, part party, in which a group of former classmates reunite. Audience members were also guests at the party and wore color-coded nametags that indicated whether or not they wished actors to engage with them. The cozy quarters placed audience members in intimate situations, pushing personal comfort zones.

Gyda Arber, executive director of the Game Play Festival at The Brick Theater, created Red Cloud Rising, a site-specific mystery surrounding the shadowy Bydder Financial Company, inspired by the economic crisis of 2008. Actors spouting conspiracy theories, clues on gravestones, and eerie text messages on phones propelled the audience through alleys and businesses throughout New York’s Financial District. Often, it was unclear what was real and what was fiction. Always, the environment enhanced the creepy narrative as it unfolded.

Broken City, photo by Ana Margineau

Pop Up Theatrics also plays outside of the black box. This space experimentation company led by Tamilla Woodard and Ana Margineau just closed Broken City by Peca Stefan. A magical montage of monologues and fanciful dances, audience members received surprise tastes from local vendors around the Lower East Side, where the stories unfold. Like Arber, Pop Up has traveled their shows around the globe because their performance spaces are elastic. Both producers have traveled to the Edinburgh Festival with their work, and Pop Up plans to remount its theater for one Skype show, Long Distance Affair, in Buenos Aries later this year.

One of the biggest pluses to working on the streets or in parks may be reduced cost, but creating outside a venue can also allow artists with heftier budgets the opportunity to manifest their wildest dreams. Take the UK-based company Secret Cinema, who create immersive theater around a screening of classic films like The Shawshank Redemption and Ghostbusters. Currently, Secret Cinema is producing an event for Back to the Future. They built an entire reproduction of the town of Hill Valley from the film, rolled in a tricked out DeLorean, and audience members dress in 1950’s costumes, becoming residents of the town. It’s a massive and expensive undertaking, but it also couldn’t happen in a traditional theater venue.

Certainly, not every production needs to be site-specific. Traditional venues offer a matchless magic and opportunities for artists and audience to congregate. But the next time you’re aiming to try something new and possibly reduce costs, think about a public space and imagine how you might transform or incorporate it into your work. It can save money and introduce your audience to a new and fantastic location. It’s almost 2015. Time to dream big.

Theaters? Where we’re going, we don’t need theaters.

PS. I didn’t mention one of the New York City’s oldest and greatest site-specific locations: Public parks.
There are many free shows playing right now. Check ‘em out!

Sean Williams is curating the blog this week in honor of Indie Theatre Week.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The New Indie Theatre

Contributed by Sean Williams

When Shay and Nick asked me to curate a week of blogs, I threw myself at the chance. For the last ten years, the theater scene has been shifting under our feet and our friends are talking about it. So I asked them to write. You can never really know when you’re in the middle of a cultural upheaval, they can only be assessed in retrospect, but I asked some of my favorite writers to talk about their experiences and to put on their prediction hats for what the next wave will be.

I made a joke about Boz Scaggs on Facebook the other day, and it got me thinking about how music changed from the 1970s to the 1980s. Specifically, how the new ways of creating music changed it artistically. The way you experience music in 1985 was a totally different lifestyle experience than in 1975. When I was little, my dad had giant speakers wired in to both a turntable pointed at an overstuffed leather chair. By 1985, all of my music was delivered into my head with small headphones attached to a tape machine and there was no leather chair, I was bringing it with me.

This is how the world changes. And the art changed with it – the music sounded different.

I see the same changes around me today. The showcase code isn’t sustainable and everyone knows it. At the same time, we have facebook and twitter for better marketing, we have the ability to shoot high-definition video and record better and cheaper audio. We have the option to perform in vans and living rooms, just as rents for standard theater space are going through the roof. As a guy in his 40s, I can tell you that the options for theater now are vastly different – and I genuinely think vastly better –than they were fifteen years ago. We romanticize Joe Cino and Ellen Stewart, but if they had access to the same tools we do, what would they have done?

That’s where were are. Videos on giant screens. Cellphone calls to the audience members mid-show. Social media narratives that dovetail the performances. Live streaming productions and skyping for rehearsals. It’s a new world and it can’t help change the actual art. Our music is gonna sound different.

So… Is it the early 80s all over again? Could Flux Theater Ensemble be “The Police”? Could Retro Productions be “Dream Academy”? Is Capslock Theater the new “Bronski Beat”? Is Blessed Unrest “Echo and the Bunnymen” and are the folks at The Brick a new “Violent Femmes”? And my company… I don’t know… Could we be “The Go-Gos”? Or “Simple Minds”? OR MAYBE “THE CURE”!!! (Man, I’d sure love to be “The Cure”…) Leave a comparison in the comments, tell me who you want your company to be, and who you think others are.

(If you’re too young to remember the 80s, you can use this newfangled thing called ‘The Google’)

And you should leave comments all this week! We have brilliant minds looking to the future, discussing performance space, money, unions and art. We won’t know what our community has done until we have a decade or more to look back on it, but we’re going to take a moment to see where we are and where we’re going. And to pay tribute to all of you for doing it with us.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Broadway Broad, Elaine Stritch

"You can't be funny unless you're tragic, and you can't be tragic unless you're funny."

"I'm funny when I want to be. And I'm even funny when I don't want to be."

"These great artists take me out of my life and make me want to go there."

~ Elaine Stritch

Monday, July 14, 2014

Indie Theatre Week Events

Indie Theatre Week is July 20-27th. It is a time when we can celebrate our community, unwind from the previous season, and enjoy each other's company.  #IndieTheatreWk

Flat Indie Team in Time Square
Sunday, July 20 @ 1PM
The Flat Indie Team will be in Time Square promoting Indie Theatre Week, handing out OOB production post cards and taking photos with the Flat Indies. Learn more about this program.

IT Awards Blog dedicated to Indie Theatre Week

July 20 - 27- All Week
Curated by Sean Williams, this blog will ask Indie Theatre Artists about their work, ideas and insights. 

New York Innovative Theatre Awards Nominee Announcement Party

Monday, July 21; 7PM - 10PM
It is time to put on your party pants, raise a glass in celebration of the 2013-2014 season and kick off Indie Theatre Week. Everyone is welcome! The party will be held at 42West Night Club, 514 West 42nd Street. From 7PM to 10PM (Public announcement of the 2014 New York Innovative Theatre Award Nominees starts at 8PM). There is no cover. $8 drink specials, DJ, and a great party!  Check out the details.

League of Independent Theatre's Making a Difference 201

Tuesday, July 22; 7PM-9PM
The League of Independent Theater will host Making a Difference 201. Beer! Wine! Difference Makers! Indie Theater Geniuses! Surprise dance performance by Guy Yedwab! Find out what the League has been doing to make the world a better place for you. Find out how you can be part of this. Have some great laughs.

Special recognition will be given to this year's LIT Heroes and Influencers. This event will be held on July 22; 7:00pm to 9:00pm at Stage Left Studio, 214 West 30th Street, 6th Floor, New York, New York 10001

Celebrate Brooklyn!

July 24, 25 & 26
Celebrate Brooklyn! is one of New York City's longest running, free, outdoor performing arts festivals. Launched in 1979 as a catalyst for a Brooklyn performing arts scene and to bring people back into Prospect Park after years of neglect, Celebrate Brooklyn! was an early anchor in the park's revitalization and has become one of the city's foremost summer cultural attractions. Over its history, the Festival has presented over 2,000 artists and ensembles reflective of the borough's diversity, ranging from internationally acclaimed performers to emerging, cutting-edge artists. All Celebrate Brooklyn! performances are free! The festival attracts upwards of 250,000 attendees from across New York City to the Prospect Park Bandshell each summer.
Prospect Park West & 9th Street, Brooklyn. Learn More.

BOOBs (Broads of Off-Off-Broadway) Gathering

Friday, July 25 starting @ 5PM
Are you a Broad? Are you in Off-Off Broadway? Then this is the event for you! Come network and drink cocktails (virgins are acceptable - non-virgins are preferable - but we won’t judge!) with other fabulous female movers and shakers of Indie Theater! We can’t wait to see you there! On July 25 at 5:00pm. At Ninth Ward, 180 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003.

Also - please feel free to invite other Broads of Off-Off Broadway and share the details.

Indie Theatre Midsummer Classic Softball Game and Picnic

Saturday, July 26 starting @ 2PM
Celebrate Indie Theatre Week by playing in the 6th Annual Midsummer Classic Softball Game. Bring a glove, a bat, or borrow one when you get to the field. The game is as competitive as a bunch of semi-athletic actors, directors, playwrights, designers and stage managers can muster. It's all good fun, and you should totally join us! Anyone can play!  (And there's always a drink or two to be found afterward!) 

Potluck picnic and activities for the kids! Friends and Family welcome! Bring food and snacks to share if you like! On Saturday, July 26 at 2:00pm. Central Park, Great Lawn on Softball field 6! More details.

Flat Indie Team in Time Square

July 26 or 27
The Flat Inide Team will be in Time Square promoting Indie Theatre, handing out OOB production post cards and taking photos with the Flat Indies. Learn more about this program.

Lots of Off-Off-Broadway Productions

July 19 - 27 - All Week (all year actually)
Support your fellow artists and check out some of the amazing Indie Theatre happening this week. 

Check out these fun community events:

Van Cortlandt Track Club Run

July 26 from 8am-11am
All over the place!


Saturday, July 26 from 11am-6pm
North 7th Street. East River State Park
Sunday, July 27 from 11am-6pm

Plymouth St., New Dock Street, Furman St. between Old Fulton Street and Atlantic Avenue