Sunday, October 31, 2010

Guest Blogger of the week: Cathy Bencivenga


We would like to thank Amanda Feldman for her great blogs last week and for giving us all so much to think about.

We are very happy to announce that this week's guest blogger is Cathy Bencivenga.

Cathy Bencivenga is the General Manager for TACT/The Actors Company Theatre and the Managing Director of The Internationalists. GM/Producing Credits include: A Weird Bar in London (Old Vic New Voices T.S. Eliot Exchange); The Memorandum, The Cocktail Party, The Late Christopher Bean, Incident at Vichy, Bedroom Farce, The Eccentricities of a Nightingale, The Runner Stumbles, The Sea, and Home (TACT Off Broadway at Theatre Row); Seeing Stars (NYMF); Around the World in 24 Hours 2008 & 2009, Decomposition, and WHICH DIRECTION HOME? (The Internationalists); Tejas Verdes (THALATTA!), The Actor's Nightmare & Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You, the 10th Annual Black Box New Play Festival, and Six Degrees of Separation (The Gallery Players). Associate Producer: Take Me Out (The Gallery Players), Word and Thought (Cameo Productions with The Austiner Ensemble, World Premiere). Cathy holds a BA in performing Arts Management from Southwestern University. 


Friday, October 29, 2010

Our International Theatre Community


Contributed by Guest Blogger of the week Amanda Feldman.

Before I start my final blog this week, I wanted to thank the Shay, Morgan, Nick and everyone at the New York Innovative Theatre Foundation for giving me this opportunity. I’m normally not the blogging type… I barely keep up with Facebook, but having this forum to put my thoughts in cyber space this week has been pretty awesome. So thank you IT friends and thank you to everyone who has read my four blogs this week.

Anyway, enough prologue… today I want to blog about the international theatre community. The trick is that it is not so much a community, as it is thousands of communities. But every single theatre artist across the world celebrates the age old tradition of story telling in his or her own way and every theatre practitioner knows that when a performer and an audience member breathe the same air there is an intense connection possible that exists in no other art form. These shared values create an incredible bond that stretches from playwrights in Uganda to designers in Hong Kong from directors in Mexico City to stage managers in Mumbai.

To be a member of the international theatre community means three things:
  1. One should always do his or her best art as bravely and as passionately as possible. I know this first qualification is a bit cheesy but there is some crazy force driving us to this unstable and insane career. 
  2. One should endeavor to discover fellow international theatre artists and get to know their work. Working at the Lark, I have the pleasure of getting to know playwrights from around the globe and it’s amazing to bear witness to not only their unique and eye-opening stories but also to get caught up in the way they tell their stories. I think we are extremely lucky here in NYC that there is so much international and multi-cultural theatre happening, so why not take advantage. 
  3. Finally, I think to be a practicing member of the international theatre community, once a year on March 27th one must pause for a brief moment to recognize World Theatre Day, because we are part of an age old globe tradition that touched people from all corners of the map.
Now you are thinking to yourselves, how does one celebrate World Theatre Day? Don’t worry I will tell you. You can celebrate World Theatre Day but just simply reading the international message, which is given each year by a theatre luminary. (This past year Dame Judy Dench gave the international message and then Lynn Nottage gave the US World Theatre Day message). But if you are in NYC and you want to do more you can get involved in the NYC World Theatre Day Coalition. Some of you know I coordinate the NYC World Theatre Day Coalition, so in a way this last blog is a bit of self-promotion, but really all I am asking is for you to take part in some cool flash mobs, to maybe attend a panel, and then to party… just a little. You know, throw a streamer in the air for Shakespeare, honk a party horn for Checkov, and maybe boogie down for the great Kabuki playwright Chikamatsu Monzaemon.

I know I’ve piqued your interest so now you can find out more information about World Theatre Day in NYC here - and nationally here - If you are interesting in getting more involved we will be planning a meeting this December to solidify our March plans.

Finally, an addendum… if I had more time in my life, I would have also written a fifth blog entry about being a part of our national theatre community of which I am a proud member. And there is definitely a lot to say as about the theatre in our great nation. The regional theatre movement is not without it’s shortcomings, however, the dedicated American theatre artists and managers I have met are smart, inspirational, and totally up for the challenge.


Thursday, October 28, 2010

Our NYC Theatre Community


Contributed by Guest Blogger of the week Amanda Feldman.

I once heard it said that the theatre industry was the second largest industry in NYC behind finance. I’m not exactly sure how this statistic was measured or who stated it, but it sounds accurate so I’m going with it as fact. Figure if you count Broadway, Off-Broadway, Off-Off-Broadway, non-profits and for profits we are a pretty huge force to be reckoned with, but I don’t think we have ever acted as a singular group and I think that’s sad.

Last year I tried to coordinate activities for World Theatre Day and I was taken aback by some of the resistance and mistrust that I encountered. Theatre Communications Group was skeptical about Broadway getting involved and stealing their limelight. ART/NY was interested but mainly concerned about what was in it for their members and were protective of their resources, because after all the World Theatre Day Coalition wasn’t a member of ART/NY. The Theatre Development Fund was surprisingly very interested in getting involved, but I didn’t seek them out in time to really help the cause. I wasn’t asking for much but I was surprised by how protective everyone was. I’ll talk more about World Theatre Day in my next blog, but what I hope to one day achieve is a much friendlier open New York City theatre community.

Based on a T-Shirt idea that Jenny Greeman and Lanie Zipoy came up with at a Dish meeting last year where they wanted to create a T-Shirt that said, I Heart OOB, which I still think is a genius idea, I would like to create a T-Shift that says “I Am New York City Theatre.” Then for one day a year everyone should wear it - from the Broadway theatre owners to the Indie theatre stage manager to all actors and designers alike. I think it would make a huge impact on the City and perhaps foster a sense of community amongst us. I think if we always identified as theater artists - not downtown theatre artists versus Broadway theatre artists - it would do a lot to encourage unity. Plus proceeds could go to a cause we all care about such as the Department of Cultural Affairs to be re-granted to us or could go to an arts education programs or Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.

Speaking of BC/EFA, I think the way Tom Berger brought that post show fundraising campaign to the Indie Theatre world last year for a week was genius. I’d love to see more and more Indie Theatre companies take part in doing the post-show fundraising drives for such a good cause. Sure we won’t raise as much money as Broadway but proportionally I bet we can reach equally as much.

Perhaps my dreams of a singular NYC theatre scene may be naïve but as someone who has worked on Broadway, Off Broadway, and in the Indie theatre world, I can guarantee we have more in common than we do separating us.


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Our Indie Theatre Community


Contributed by Guest Blogger of the week Amanda Feldman.

I remember when I discovered there was an indie theatre community. I had been the Managing Director of CollaborationTown for over a year, when I went to my first Community Dish Meeting. I remember being so excited to discover that I was not in it alone. It opened up new possibilities to me… cross marketing opportunities, producing advice, and most importantly an opportunity to get to know other theatre artists. I hate to think that there are young artists out there today who do not know the support networks that are available to them.

I think the tricky thing about nurturing an Indie theatre community, is that we are so diverse. I know it’s been said on this blog before but sometimes it’s hard to identify us - we can’t be categorized by aesthetic, a geographic location, kind of theatre, or anything aside from an Equity code that we all love to hate. Its difficult for veteran indie theatre artists who have been producing for ten plus years to put themselves in a category with young upstarts who just got their BAs and have come to NYC to put on a show, but I do not think our community gains anything from exclusivity. After all we were all once that young theatre artist. Plus measuring us by the quality of our art is counterproductive because we have all had shows that were varying degrees of success. And it’s true that not all Indie theatre is “good,” but all indie theatre artists are striving for recognition, audience, and, I believe, the support of a community.

The other challenge to fostering the Indie theatre community is that for most of us, Indie theater is not our only gig. Whether you are a waiter or have a “day job” chances are your theater company isn’t paying the bills and therefore you are much busier than everyone else you know because in essence you have two jobs. I remember thinking how great it would be to create a branding campaign on behalf of Indie theatre (and personally I think we made a huge stride when we shifted from Off-Off-Broadway to Indie Theatre, but I know not everyone agrees with me). At one point in time I had visions of doing this massive fundraising campaign to get young finance executives to donate to peer theatre artists, but then the finance system went to pot.

None of this happened mainly because we were all too busy, but other things did happen and I’m proud of where we have come as a community. Great organizations were created such as the Community Dish, the New York Innovative Theatre Foundation, and the League of Independent Theatres, New York. For the past three years we played an active role in Free Night of Theatre and for the past two summers we have celebrated Indie Theatre Week.

At the moment, I can tell you’re feeling inspired and want to do something. So here are five easy things everyone can pledge to do today:

1)      See at least twelve Indie Theatre shows this year… I don’t think once a month is asking too much.

2)      Read the blogs of Indie Theatre artists, there are a lot of them to choose from but they are always insightful and fun. Although if you’re reading this, I know that perhaps I’m preaching to the choir.

3)      Join the Community Dish and go to at least three meetings a year. Our next meeting is Monday, November 8th and we’re teaming up with Incubator Arts and the League of Independent Theatre, New York so it should be a nice big meeting.

4)      Join the League of Independent Theatre, New York because they will take your concerns to Equity, to the Mayors Office, to Albany, and to the real estate world.

5)      If you can afford it make few donations to theatre companies you admire, DO IT.

Back in 2006, I had to step down as Managing Director of CollaborationTown because I couldn’t do that and be paid to company manage an Off Broadway show at the same time. Thus I became unhitched and for a while that was scary. My place in the Indie theatre world felt less defined, but thanks to my active participation in the community I never felt lost or alone and now happily produce for various theatre companies.


Monday, October 25, 2010

How do you define "Community"?


Contributed by Guest Blogger of the week Amanda Feldman.

I’m exhausted. Today (Sunday) was the last day of Playwrights Week at the Lark. Playwrights Week is a festival of play readings – eight readings in five days to be precise – that is the culmination of Lark’s open access submission program. I feel like I just ran a marathon it’s been seven days of ten to fourteen hour days in the office filled with rehearsals, dinners, receptions, dozens of actors, tons of script copying and lots of wine and coffee and more coffee. As the week was swirling by, this group of artists instantly became each other’s friends and supporters. It was inspiring to watch how good theatre people are at creating and being part of a community.

Of course this makes sense, our art is nothing if not intensely collaborative, but what is so wonderful about being able to create and sustain communities is that I truly believe it gives theatre artists a leg up on the rest of the world. (I can’t prove this but I have a hunch that it’s true.) Anyway, I would like to take my turn as the IT Awards guest blogger by discussing the various theatre communities that I call home.  Also I want to talk about some things I think we can do to strengthen these communities that we all cling to and claim as our own.

Now I am not so naïve to throw the word “community” around willy-nilly. It’s definitely a weighted word. We all have our preconceived notions of what a community is and how we define it. Plus the word “community” is definitely one of those hot button grant speak words. People want to know who is in your community? How big is it? How diverse is it? I’m going to try to be clear in my various definitions throughout the week but bare with me as I navigate through my arguments – these are not pre-vetted so you’ll be reading as I’m thinking these thoughts. And, while I don’t plan on being overtly controversial, I do hope to put my own spin what I think is the value of community.

I think it’s only fair to finish this introductory blog post with a question…
Indie theatre artists, how do you define your theatrical community (or communities)?

[On a side note, for those playwrights who read this blog, Lark is currently accepting submissions for Playwrights Week 2011. Just go to Lark’s website for more info. Submissions are due November 20th.]


Sunday, October 24, 2010

Guest Blogger of the week: Amanda Feldman


We would like to thank Tom Wojtunik for posting his very first blog, EVER, with us. We were honored.

We are excited to announce that next week's guest blogger will be... Amanda Feldman.

Amanda Feldman is the General Manger of the Lark Play Development Center. Producing credits include: What May Fall (Fordham University’s Pope Auditorium); Hack! an I.T. Spaghetti Western (Brick Theater); Blackouts (Center Stage NY); Neighborhood 3 and Unfold Me (Summer Play Festival '08 and '07); Dressing Miss Julie (NYC Fringe Festival); The Deepest Play Ever, They’re Just Like Us, The Astronomer’s Triangle, The Trading Floor (CollaborationTown, a Theatre Company 2003 – 2006). Previously she worked with various non-profit and commercial theatre companies including: Nikos Associates, Williamstown Theatre Festival, Baltimore’s CENTERSTAGE, The Shubert Organization, and Richards/Climan, Inc. In addition, she helps run The Community Dish, a forum for the off-off Broadway community, she is a Judge-At-Large with the NY Innovative Theater Awards, and she sits on the Boards of CollaborationTown, A Theatre Company and The League of Independent Theatre NY, an advocacy organization for NYC’s indie theatre community. Recently she founded the NYC World Theatre Day Coalition to publicize and coordinate the annual celebration on March 27th. Upcoming productions are The Wife by Tommy Smith (The Gallery at Access Theater, December 2010), The Play About My Dad by Boo Killebrew and Theives by William Yellow Robe, Jr.


Friday, October 22, 2010

I Love Tech


Contributed by Guest Blogger of the week Tom Wojtunik.

I was off to a good blogging start this week, and then I got swallowed up in load-in and tech for MilkMilkLemonade.

Jennifer Harder in tech for MilkMilkLemonade
Photo by Syndey Maresca

Is anything better than tech?

I seriously live for the first day the actors get to play on the set. I am still surprised every time by how much better lighting makes everything look. It’s a thrill watching talented artists collaborate to solve big problems on the fly. But best of all, I love the loopy bonding that happens in the long hours of sitting in the dark of tech. I actually think that kind of bonding (or lack thereof) can make or break a show. In the best-case scenario, a palpable energy is created that permeates the theater—and if it’s strong enough, it can propel you through to opening night.

I feel so lucky to be in the room for this tech. It’s a hoot watching the oh-so-talented original cast (from last season’s production at UNDER St. Mark’s), explore the much bigger set. Directors don’t often get a chance to watch each other work, so I’m soaking up every second of watching José Zayas, whom I adore, run the room. We all know tech is infinitely better when your stage manager is efficient and competent—Alex Mark is, and APAC is blessed to have him (hire him!). And I never cease to be amazed when talented designers make magic out of ridiculously little resources. Jason Simms, Sydney Maresca, Bruce Steinberg and David Margolin Lawson are Artists of the first degree.

So here’s to a week of living in my Tech Bubble, before I have to think about things like groceries, laundry and rent.

Thanks for reading!


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Astoria is Not That Far


Contributed by Guest Blogger of the week Tom Wojtunik.

I took over as Artistic Director of APAC in 2008. Next week we open the first mainstage in our 10thanniversary season, a remount of Joshua Conkel’s MilkMilkLemonade, featuring the original cast. It’s a terrific piece that had a critically acclaimed, though criminally short, run in the 45-seat UNDER St. Mark’s in September of 2009. Like all indie theatre companies, in addition to readying the physical production for opening night, we are also focusing on ticket sales, especially for the all-important opening weekend, when press attends and fates are decided. 

APAC audiences tend to split in thirds: our core Astoria supporters, friends/family of people involved in that particular production, and Manhattan theatergoers. We can always count on the first two categories—it’s the third that can sometimes remain elusive. The argument we always hear, of course, is that Astoria is too far, that the commute is too much for people. So I’m going to shamelessly use this public forum to attempt to debunk that myth…

Astoria is not that far! I promise. I’ve lived in NYC for thirteen years, and Astoria for eight. I love it. It’s quiet and the commute is super easy. During the week, I can get to midtown in twenty minutes. Sure, weekends can be tougher, especially with MTA construction going on, but that’s a city-wide problem. Honestly, it took me longer to get places when I lived on First Avenue on the Upper East Side than it does now.

Hands down, the best thing about Astoria is the food. Arguably, Queens has the best in all of New York. A.O. Scott of the New York Times called Queens “demographically the most cosmopolitan of the five boroughs and something of a foodie mecca.” Artists who have worked at APAC in the past (and who don’t live in Astoria) often come back to the neighborhood to revisit their favorite restaurants from rehearsals.

Come see MilkMilkLemonade. You’ll have a terrific time at the show, and since it’s only 75-minutes, why not enjoy some Astoria-cuisine before or after the show? Here are some suggestions:

The best pizza in Queens, and a favorite of Al Pacino’s and David Chase (Johnny Sack on “The Sopranos” was named after this restaurant, a favorite of the creators during shooting). The ravioli are handmade every morning, but you also can’t go wrong with the pizza:

Probably the coolest new bar in Astoria, with fun drinks (Dirty Pickle Martini!), great draft beers, and a limited but delicious menu. APAC is currently raffling off a $50 gift certificate to Sweet Afton—buy your tickets for MilkMilkLemonade by 12:00pm tomorrow (Wed 10/20), and you’ll automatically be entered to win! The cheeseburger alone is worth it:

An APAC favorite (we often have opening night parties here). Amazing staff and ambiance and terrific pizza, pastas and entrees. They have wine on tap, and if you tell them you’re going to(or just saw) MilkMilkLemonade you’ll get a free Baby Jesus Cake for dessert (it lives up to the name, I promise):

Hungry yet?

There is a lot of terrific theatre happening in the boroughs. Grow up. Get on the subway. Have an adventure.

MilkMilkLemonade runs October 28-November 13th. Buy your tickets here.

P.S. The joke about needing to get your passport stamped to leave Manhattan is tired. I’ll give two free tickets to MilkMilkLemonade to whoever comes up with a better one (submissions accepted on comments to this blog posting only!).


Monday, October 18, 2010

Tom Steps Out


Contributed by Guest Blogger of the week Tom Wojtunik.

My first blog post. Ever.

I’m the guy who still does not have a Facebook account. I think that “checking in,” so people know where I am at all times, is like something out of Brave New World. And I definitely do not Tweet. I am, admittedly, something of a social networking dinosaur. 

Don’t get me wrong—I’m not a technophobe. I communicate more through email than the phone. I read blogs and visit various websites, daily. Once upon a time I had a MySpace account, and before that I was even on Friendster. I have an iPhone!

So why am I so reluctant to join the social media craze? 

For one, I don’t really have the time. It’s hard enough to stay on top of email, and I suspect I would be easily sucked into the world of Facebook if I allowed myself. While I’m intrigued by the voyeuristic opportunities, there’s something to be said for learning about a person in a natural way, over time. I guess I actually enjoy the mystery in life.

From a professional standpoint, I’m uncomfortable with how much Facebook mixes the personal with the professional. Of course, theater is a business that thrives on that interconnectedness, and it’s actually one of my favorite things about it. Still, I think it’s possible to go too far.

An actor I once worked with used their Facebook status to comment on the progress of rehearsals, which I found appalling. The rehearsal room should be a sanctuary—a place where actors feel like they can safely experiment and fail. It’s completely unnerving to have a friend not involved with the production say, “Heard you had a bad run-thru last night.” Another time, while casting a large musical, I was told about the blog of an actor who was auditioning for me. He desperately wanted one of the lead roles, and had started a blog chain following his audition process, all the way through final callback. He ended up not getting the role, and he wrote about that, too. It was especially disturbing that he used names—my name, the theatre, even the name of the actor who ended up getting it. The tone of the posts was decidedly one of someone who had been “wronged.” To this day, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth, and I honestly couldn’t imagine ever hiring this actor.

I currently serve as the Artistic Director for the Astoria Performing Arts Center and last season, we brought on a Marketing Director, Dave Charest. I’ve known Dave for years—we went to college together and he’s one of my oldest friends. And he couldn’t disagree with me more. He sees the potential in social media, and is excellent at using it.

He’s constantly scheming new ways to get me to join Facebook, and we often butt heads about these issues. He has an incredible knowledge of the social networking arena, and he’s so connected to the theatre blogosphere and beyond, it’s intimidating. I’m positive he’ll find this blog post without me telling him about it, and chances are he’ll comment—so “Hi, David!”

Dave has been an invaluable addition to the APAC staff. Our audience base has grown, but more importantly, we’re communicating with them more effectively than we ever did. And even better than that, they’re communicating back with us. So I’ve seen firsthand the value in these newfangled marketing techniques.
So here’s to me Blogging, at least for the next week, and stepping out of my comfort zone! (Just don’t try to find me on Facebook.)


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Guest Blogger of the week: Tom Wojtunik


We would like to thank Mark Armstrong for his great blogs this week and all the advice he shared.      

We are excited that next week's guest blogger is Tom Wojtunik.

Tom Wojtunik (Director) is the artistic director of the Astoria Performing Arts Center (APAC), where he directed Children of Eden, The Pillowman, Ragtime and Proof. Other NY credits: The Play About the Naked Guy, Edenville (Emerging Artists Theatre); The Miss Education of Jenna Bush (FringeNYC, Best Solo Show & Audience Favorite); Bright Lights, Big City (Marymount Manhattan College); The Who’s Tommy, Man of La Mancha, Six Degrees of Separation, Urinetown, Take Me Out (The Gallery Players); I'm In Love With Your Wife (Midtown International Theatre Festival); The Good Thief and Rum and Vodka (Prospect St). Tom was a Resident Director for the Ensemble Studio Theatre, where directed workshops of Bella Via and David’s Play. He directed the 2010 IT Awards Ceremony, and his productions have been nominated for fifteen IT Awards, including two wins for Outstanding Production of a Musical for Children of Eden and Urinetown. Tom is a member of EAT and the LCT Directors’ Lab. BFA: Marymount Manhattan College. SDC Member. 


Thursday, October 14, 2010

Advice I'll Give


Contributed by Guest Blogger of the week Mark Armstrong.

Yesterday, I wrote about some of the advice I got when starting The Production Company. Six years later, I have some suggestions of my own to pass along. Take them with a grain of salt if you'd like, since everyone knows what opinions are like. Here are some of mine:

(1) If you're just starting your New York City theater company, don't feel like you have to do a full 16-performance run right away. I did, and our first year we played to some sparse houses for many of the performances. Over the next few years, I watched how my friend Isaac Butler build some buzz for short-run shows like In Public (with theatre minima), The Honest-to-God True Story of the Atheist and MilkMilkLemonade -- they had fewer performances, but the seats were always full.

(2) If you're working in New York, you have to show people something new. Do NOT do another low-budget revival of plays like The House of Yes, The Shape of Things or Two Rooms. Audiences in New York have seen those plays in expensive productions with great actors -- or, they've seen the films that two of those plays were made into. Seriously, get out and find something else to do. (If you're still reading this and thinking "yeah, but Mark doesn't know my super-special CONCEPT for The House of Yes, then I can't do any more for you.)

(3) If you're waiting for plays to be published before finding out what's new, you're way behind the curve. All the new playwrights you like have new material that's circulating and looking for a home. Here's how you get it. Find out who their agent is -- is very helpful, though not always perfect, in assisting with this -- and call their office. You don't need the agent; you need the assistant. That person has new scripts on their hard drive and they sit at their desk all day emailing them to people. Make friends with the assistants for literary agents and you can get your hands on the latest scripts by your favorites. Invariably, some of these plays will be looking for a home and, if you make the right pitch, you'd be surprised.

(4) Invite people you'd like to work with to see your work. In between trying desperately to get Ben Brantley there, spend some time inviting your favorite actors and playwrights to see work you're proud of. Facebook makes this really easy. Down the road, that may prove just as helpful.

(5) When you see work that you really respond to, send a note to the artists whose work you liked. Again, the age of Facebook is your friend here.

(6) New York is different now. There's one large theater artistic director who I love, but every time I hear him talk, he tells us all how lucky we are that we have the Fringe Festival, which wasn't here when he was starting out. I always want to respond "Yeah, but when you were building your company, renting a halfway-decent theater in Manhattan didn't cost at least $4000 per week!" The real estate thing is harder than it used to be, which is why finding ways to collaborate creatively with other companies and venues is important.

(7) On the venue thing: I always try to use venues that I feel like people have positive associations with -- i.e. when they go there, they associate the space with good work. There are some spaces that just hearing the name of puts me off going there. (You all know the ones I mean.)

(8) Be "at the party." (This is another of Beth Blickers' tips.) If you like new plays, there are lots of free readings and other events to attend all over the city. Hang out at New Dramatists, read the plays in their library and show up when they have parties.

(9) Sounds like schmoozing? Think that's gross? I once interviewed Carey Perloff from ACT and she set me straight on that point. Yes, she offered, there will come a point in your career where you feel that everything is about who you know and it's so nepotistic and blah-blah. Another way of looking at it, she said, is that theater is about relationships. Since what we do in the creative process is build relationships, it's perhaps only natural that theater people would build their careers in a social, relational way. Ignore the schmooze at your own peril.

(10) The Off-Off-Broadway community is awesome, but don't avoid creative relationships with artists from the off-Broadway and Broadway scene. What I love about New York theater is that Broadway folks can come downtown to see their veteran pals experiment with new stuff, while we can all go to the big houses and cheer one of our friends who lands a big gig. Off-Off-Broadway is a great creative engine for the American theater, but it shouldn't be a ghetto.

NEXT: More on #10


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Advice I Got


 Contributed by Guest Blogger of the week Mark Armstrong.

It's hard to believe that it's been six years since we started The Production Company -- and even harder still to think that we've made it this long. One of the things I did when we started out was to do a "coffee tour" of New York and ask advice from everyone who would talk with me. In the spirit of community and shared knowledge, I'll pass some of it along here.

Beth Blickers from Abrams Artists was wonderful to me, sitting and talking for a few hours. Her suggestion that I reach out to playwrights I admired and ask them to write a short play. This suggestion became the basis for The Australia Project, in which an unbelievable group of US playwrights created short plays inspired by Australia. Looking back, it was incredibly generous of these off-Broadway and Broadway writers to fire off a new play for us. Invariably, people asked me how I was able to get all these acclaimed writers to write for my new company. My response was simple: I asked them.

Carl Forsman from Keen Company sat with me until I had literally run out of questions. (I should have had more, by the way. Anyone who's looking to build and grow a small company in New York City needs to look at what Keen has done.) Two pieces of advice he gave me were invaluable. The first was to forget about grants in the early years and focus on corporate matching donations. The kind of grants available to New York companies in their early years, he noted, were so small that the investment of time might be better used elsewhere -- put simply, he advised us not to kill ourselves working on a $500 grant application that would maybe pay for 1/6 of one week's theater rental! But if an employee working for a corporation with a matching program donates $2000, that's $4000 right away!

Carl's second piece of good advice for us was to move to the AEA Seasonal Showcase as soon as possible. The additional pay for actors, although it might sound like a lot, wasn't that large a commitment in the scheme of things and the additional flexibility (higher ticket prices, more performances) paid off immediately. (For anyone who's not aware, the AEA Seasonal Showcase is for companies that have their own 501(c)3 status, produce two shows per year and pay actors a set percentage of their income.)

On that subject: often, I hear generalized complaints about AEA from the Off-Off-Broadway community, which sometimes come from people that aren't familiar with the whole complement of agreements on offer. In addition to the Basic Showcase, both the Seasonal Showcase and the Transition Contract are designed to help small companies grow. Certainly, it's possible to raise concerns about these agreements, but it's best to do some from a position of understanding and experience, rather than repeating urban legends. (No, AEA will not stand in the way of you paying a press agent.) Carl's additional advice was to speak with representatives at AEA about our desire to grow and find ways that they would work with us, which we did and they were happy to do.

Another piece of advice I got, but regretted following: a well-meaning advisor suggested that we forego having a press agent for our first show. His rationale was that since we didn't have a body of work for a press rep to be excited about, they might not represent us well. Fair enough, but we also didn't get in any press and wound up having to commandeer someone at the last minute to try to rescue us. It's a terrible feeling to throw everything you have into your first show and realize that the press doesn't just show up. (In other cities, they actually do!) Hire a press agent and get them what they need to do their job well.

NEXT: Advice I'll Give


Sunday, October 10, 2010

Guest Blogger of the Week: Mark Armstrong

We want to thank David Johnson for his awesome blog last week. Thanks David!

We are happy to announce next week's blogger, Mark Armstrong.

Mark Armstrong is the Artistic Director of The Production Company, which exchanges challenging new plays between the United States and Australia. He directed the company's premiere productions of Blair Singer’s The Most Damaging Wound and Meg's New Friend, Dan O'Brien's The Angel in the Trees, Patricia Cornelius' Love (US Premiere), Stephen Belber's Melbourne, Elizabeth Meriwether's The Sound in the Throat, Beau Willimon's I Am Ned Kelly, Alan Berks' Goats (NY Premiere), Ben Ellis' Falling Petals (US Premiere) and Beneath Us, Brendan Cowell's 967 Tuna and Ross Mueller's Pinter's Explanation. Other New York credits include new plays by Christopher Shinn, Stephen Adly Guirgis, Elizabeth Meriwether, Jason Grote, anton dudley, Trista Baldwin, Edith Freni, Delaney Britt Brewer, Suzanne Bradbeer and many others. Academic theater (as guest professional): Columbia, NYU, New School for Drama, USF (Holloway Guest Artist). Before coming to New York, he was resident director with Dark Horse Theatre Company in his native Minnesota, where he directed Fat Men in Skirts, The Food Chain, Private Eyes, Five Women Wearing the Same Dress and Orphans. Member, Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers and Lincoln Center Theater Directors Lab. MFA, Arizona State University (Dobkin Directing Fellow), where he studied with Marshall W. Mason.