When I first came to NYC, I was an actress, excited by all that the big apple had to offer. Young, talented, charming (if I do say so my self) and with endless enthusiasm and energy. Surely this city was just waiting for me to arrive.
Within the 1st month of being on the island, I got a semi-permanent temp job, found an apartment and landed the role of Jackie in an Off-Off-Broadway production of HOT L Baltimore. Not a bad start. (I look back now and think - "How the hell did I do all that?") While still in rehearsals, I was cast as an artist in resident at the Touchstone Theatre in Pennsylvania. So as soon as HOT L closed, I found a sublet for my apartment, packed my bags and jumped on a bus to PA.
It was a mixed experience in PA. I learned a lot about myself during that year and by the time I returned to the city, the shiny injection of enthusiasm had certainly worn off.
During my absence, many of my college classmates had arrived. So here we were a group of newly graduated actors, anxious to "do theatre our way" and excited about showing off a little. So we did the most logical thing we could think of; we started a theatre company. Esperance Theatre Company.
We didn't have much producing experience, but we put up 4 full productions in our 1st year, a fact that we and our parents were very proud of. We funded those productions from donations from family and friends, a benefit (which actually raised much more than we anticipated) and the remaining amount, which was about a quarter of the seasonal budget, was put on my credit card. (I'll pause here so you can shake your head and sigh).
We did all the things we knew to do to promote the shows. We did a window display at the theatre. We did a sandwich board. We handed out and tacked up flyers at local establishments. We sent emails and faxes and postcards. We sent listing requests to about 300 newspapers. I even handed out flyers in the subway. We were very surprised when we had only modest audiences (to put it nicely). If we had taken these same measures in
What press we could actually get to our shows liked us, but most of our productions closed with barely any acknowledgement that they even occurred. It was discouraging. That consternation and constant struggle for money and resources began to affect our personal relationships as well. I lost some very dear friends. We fought it out for 2 more seasons, then decided to take a hiatus and just never reformed. I think we did good work. It was work that I was proud of. We learned a lot and did something very courageous.
Certainly these are universal struggles that all OOB companies are faced with and it will always be a challenge to produce theatre in NYC on a shoestring budget. However, sometimes I wish that we had started our enterprise now. It seems to me that the OOB community is so much stronger than it was 10 years ago. There are organizations like the Community Dish or EGAD (Eclectic Group of Artistic Directors) where OOB artists gather to discuss challenges, commiserate with one another and share resources. The internet is teeming with bloggers and sites like offoffonline which are dedicated to OOB. The formation of the League of Independent Theatre which advocates for OOB is a huge step for this community. NYTheatre.com and the Dentons are clearly advocates for OOB and I think the IT Awards has helped a little too.
Knowing that there is a community and that you are part of it can be truly bolstering. Having avenues to connect with colleagues for help and advice is a godsend. Having organizations out there that are ready and willing to help you is such an advantage.
Yes, producers will always have to worry about money and space and publicity and staffing, but knowing you are not alone makes it so much easier to bear. I am so inspired by this community that it rekindles my enthusiasm and love for what we do.
Community Dish - www.communitydish.org/dish/index.htm
EGAD - email Paul Adams at EaTheatre@gmail.com
OffOffOnline - www.offoffonline.com
Off-Off-Broadway Review - www.oobr.com
NYTheatre - www.nytheatre.com
The League of Independent Theater - www.leagueofindietheater.blogspot.com
The IT Awards - www.nyitawards.com
New York Innovative Theatre Awards