I am rarely, if ever, the smartest person in the room, but I am pretty good at watching and learning from people who are much smarter than me. Here are a few things that I’ve picked up:
What I learned from Doric Wilson; Giving praise is always more needed and more appreciated than you think.
What I learned from Jason Bowcutt; Asking questions is sometimes more important than making statements.
What I learned from Akia; A good attitude and enthusiasm makes everything - and I mean everything - better and easier.
What I learned from Shakespeare; Speak the speech trippingly on the tongue and do not saw the air too much with your hand thus.
What I learned from Hillary Cohen; A few well chosen words can make sense of chaos.
What I learned from Lanford Wilson; Expressing sincere interest is always important and usually appreciated.
What I learned from Kenneth Washington; How to fish.
What I learned from Lucille Ball and Judith Malina; Don’t let the world define who you should be.
What I learned from Shaulynda Gines (my sister); Don’t take yourself too seriously. There is someone in your life who has seen you walk smack into a closed door or poke yourself in the eye or get squashed in a subway door. They will laugh their ass off at you and they'll tell you that your feet stink, but they still love you and you still love them.
What I learned from Martin Denton; Always try to see the intent and the effort behind the work.
What I learned from Adrian Giurgea; Don’t make threats. Make promises.
What I learned from Mary Poppins; Don’t make pie shell promises (promises that, like pie shells, are easily made and easily broken).
What I learned from Christopher Borg; Always wait until after you have eaten to send an angry email.
What I learned from Marilyn Holt; Always make life an adventure.
What I learned from Kirk Davis; Sometimes making the gesture is what is important.
What I learned from Amanda Feldman and Zipora Kaplan; Dedication and competence are very sexy qualities.
What I learned from the Dalai Lama; "Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions."
What I learned from Desmond Dutcher; Sometimes, it is right and just works.
What I learned from Paul Adams; Sometimes it takes everything you have and sometimes you have to be willing to go there.
What I learned from Simon de Pury; "Be bold. Be amazing."
What I learned from Rob Gines (my dad); When it comes to dealing with unwanted criticism, you have two options – prove them right or prove them wrong. Also, dads are awesome.
What I learned from Ellen Stewart; Saying what you believe is not always pretty, but it is always important.
What I learned from Nick Micozzi; Details matter and always demand the best from yourself and others.
What I learned from Nelson Mandela; Lead by example and be lead by your principles.
What I learned from Yoda; "Do, or do not. There is no try.
What I learned from Off-Off-Broadway; There is greatness all around us and miracles happen every day.
I don’t have a problem with bad reviews. The wonder that is the Internet has more than proved “You can’t please everybody”; just think of your favorite movie or book (or a notorious bestseller), then go on Amazon or Rotten Tomatoes. There will always, ALWAYS be some bad reviews of whatever it is. This has helped me to come to terms with my writing- I don’t write to please anyone but myself, and very often the things I like are things that other people like as well, and there will always be haters out there.
I do read reviews during the run of a play, since good reviews are often effective promotional tools when posted on Facebook, Twitter, etc. I can understand performers not reading them, as their performances are a nightly thing, and are therefore susceptible to the taint of criticism, but as a playwright/director my work should be pretty much finished before the lights come up on the show.
It’s nice to get good reviews, and disappointing when one gets bad ones; that’s a part of doing any art that is released to the public. The kind of review I can’t stand is one where the reviewer clearly didn’t pay attention to, or sometimes didn’t even understand the play. My play from 2008, Prince Trevor Amongst the Elephants, was well-received, won some awards, got some excellent reviews (and is now published online at Indie Theater Now).
…And the play also got one absolutely terrible review, in which the reviewer claimed the material was in the style of Charles Busch (it was an homage to Charles Ludlam and said so in the program), made the belittling and homophobic assertion that the work was “more suited to a cabaret stage in a gay bar where this kind of camp is most welcome”, and that it was in the style of Restoration Comedy (it wasn’t, though a wig worn by one character was reminiscent of that); he got several details of the plot wrong, got many of the performers’ names wrong (both in spelling and in ascribing them to the characters they played), claimed that it was tasteless, meaningless, and had no message, and, worst of all, said that the play “isn’t even truly funny”. Fortunately this was in a lesser online publication that very few actually read, so we were able to pretty much ignore it- we didn’t even bother to send in corrections.
It’s this sort of misguided and uncaring review that is truly offensive. It was clear to me that the reviewer decided what the play was before he arrived and only saw what he expected. I will gladly listen to a bad review when the reviewer knows what he or she is talking about.
I hope this has been interesting for people. I hope to see more great theatre in the new year!
Hello there NYIT Readers! Very honored to be asked to be the final guest blogger of 2011! I thought it would be interesting to write about both being reviewed and reviewing, since I’m both a playwright and theatre reviewer.First up, reviewing.
First a little background: I’ve been writing theatre reviews for BroadwayWorld.com since 2007. I am one of several freelance New York reviewers for the site. I mainly handle off-off-Broadway, but have occasionally done off-Broadway. I don’t get paid for it (excepting the free theatre tickets, which are occasionally reward enough). I don’t do it consistently, since being a playwright is my primary focus; whenever a play of mine is being produced, I don’t review for months at a time. I was honored two years ago with 2nd Place in Stage and Cinema's New York City Theater Review Contest for my review of Banana Bag and Bodice’s Beowulf: A Thousand Years of Baggage.
I think reviewing is an important skill that is too often undervalued in this day and age when anyone with a computer can spew their thoughts on anything all over the Internet simply by pressing a button. Without critical thinking and a concept of what theatre is or should be, these sort of message board “reviews” are pretty meaningless, and when anonymous, can easily become catty and spiteful. I take a lot of pride in the work I do; I think that I have a lot of knowledge about what makes theatre work, because I do it myself (and am part of a playwrights group which meets every week to critique each others’ work), and I try to use that knowledge in my reviews. I always go in hoping a show will be great.
It’s often been said, in many variations, that the three most important points to cover in a theatre review are: 1. What were they trying to do? 2. How well did they do it? 3. Was it worth doing? A lot of people lately will just skip to number 2, but I think it’s very important to examine the purpose of a piece of work- is it intended to make one laugh, make one think, make one cry, make one aware? Once the motivations of the creators (the playwright and director, usually) can be ascertained (if they can be), the work can be judged fairly on its merits for what it is. Then how well did they do it? (performer contributions get added into the mix here, as well as those technical aspects like set, lighting, sound, costumes…). Then finally was it worth it? Most often the answer is yes, though sometimes a qualified one.
I have seen and reviewed some absolutely jaw-droppingly amazing theatre, as well as some of the worst theatre of my life. It’s always easier to write the bad reviews, since critique lends itself to correction. Superlative reviews become monotonous, when there’s only so many ways one can write “fantastic” over and over (thesaurus.com is my best friend in these cases). But when writing a bad review, it’s hard to know when to put down the whip and stop flogging the poor thing. In the 4 years that I’ve been reviewing, I’ve grown a lot as a writer and critical thinker, and I always get something from every play I see, especially from the stinkers- there’s always something to learn from.
My contact information is freely available on the BroadwayWorld site, and people can comment on the review pages themselves. Occasionally a theatre artist will contact me, which is always very interesting. Sometimes it’s to thank me for saying something nice about them that they can put on their website, sometimes to complain about a perceived slight. I welcome sincere questions that can open a dialogue about the work, but I’m not always so lucky. One review of a NYMF show several years back ended up with the semi-famous composer attacking me in the comments section of my review (those comments seem to have been lost when the website was re-done to implement Facebook commenting) and through personal e-mails to the founder of BroadwayWorld demanding a retraction “and not a smarmy one at that”. A woman who’d written and starred in a one-person show that I’d criticized e-mailed to ask what I would have done differently- from her e-mail I honestly couldn’t tell if she was being sincere. I made the assumption that she was and gave her some pointers on exposition and how to make it seem more natural; never heard back from her. Several years ago, I made the mistake of referring to the size of an actor’s penis in unflattering terms- I fully admit that this was wrong, but it was in the middle of a rant about cognitive dissonance (saying something is one thing while it can be seen to be another), which was rife in the play, and I got caught up in my own cleverness. I retracted the statement, on the request of the press representative who’d invited me in the first place. I heard through the grapevine that the actor wanted to kick my ass; we’ve still never met. Mea culpa.
I don’t review shows that people I know more-than-just-socially are involved with, as I would find it hard to critique them honestly. Reviews can be an effective marketing tool if they're good, but obviously a biased review won't hold as much water. As I get to know and work with more and more theatre artists in New York, it’s getting difficult to find shows to review that don’t have someone I know in them. It’s an unusual problem to have- when I see someone give an amazing performance, I want to use them in my own work, but then after I’ve worked with them I really can’t review them again (and I myself can't get any reviews of my work from BroadwayWorld, since I know most of the reviewers personally). So perhaps sometime soon I will hang up my reviewer card, but for now, I'm having a great time; it’s been quite interesting and rewarding to get to see and think about so much theatre.In my next blog post later this week, I’ll be talking about reviews from the other side, as a playwright.
We are excited that this week's guest blogger is Duncan Pflaster.
Duncan Pflaster is the author of several plays, including the award-winning fantasies The Starship Astrov, The Thyme of the Season, Prince Trevor Amongst the Elephants (all available to read on Indie Theatre Now),The Empress of Sex, Sweeter Dreams, Eternity: Time Without End, and The Tragedy of Dandelion, (staged reading coming in February 2012, part of MTWorks' NewBorn Festival) as well as The Wastes of Time, Suckers, Sleeping in Tomorrow, Admit Impediments, Six Silences In Three Movements, Dik and Jayne Are Not The Same, Amazing Daedalus, Eskimo, Wilder & Wilder, and Ore, or Or; in addition to a panoply of shorter pieces that have been seen in festivals all over the country. He is also an award-winning off-off-Broadway theatre reviewer for BroadwayWorld.com. www.duncanpflaster.com
Let’s close the theatres.All of them.Let’s close them down and see who notices.I’m betting that aside from the artists who create it and those who depend on it for a living, no one will really miss it.Tourists will find something else to spend their money on, something less risky and more rewarding I’m sure (but that’s another subject entirely) and aside from the few rich pensioners who fancy themselves die-hard theatre aficionados, who also, I remind you, will all be dead in the next few decades if not sooner…who’s going to notice?Who’s going to miss theatre?Especially Off-Off-Broadway theatre?Considering that off-Broadway is really just a smaller-seated version of Broadway, selling subscriptions (or trying to) instead of putting all of their eggs in one open-ended-run basket, and that only the wealthy, disposable-income consumer can afford the luxury of paying for a Broadway and off-Broadway ticket, what’s left to consider closing other than the $18 ticket price, 3-week run Off-Off-Broadway theatre?The only affordable theatre option for whoever actually wants to spend their money buying a ticket…let’s close it down.
Because…who actually does buy a ticket?Friends and family, and bless their hearts for without them there would be no Off-Off-Broadway scene to even imagine shutting down.Our F&F’s have been supportively schlepping themselves all over the city for ages because they love us.Do you think that they’d come if they didn’t?Is your theatre full of someone else’s F&F’s?No, aside from our support-group core, we have no audience.Sure, there are a few who straggle in and out of shows because they’re interested in a specialty topic (a show about vampires or sex), maybe even a few fans, but unless you’re a shameless panderer, you know everyone in your audience.If they’re not your F&F’s they’re the director’s or the designer’s or a fellow actor’s.That’s the simple truth.Other than our loyal supporters, no one is going to miss the Off-Off-Broadway scene.No one’s even going to notice.The best we can hope for is a footnote at nytheatre.com and then the insightful, good-natured souls there can focus squarely on guiding tourists to the most reliable distraction in the Distraction (theatre) District.
No, the average non-theatre-related person living in the city doesn’t need theatre.They don’t know theatre.Theatre isn’t a part of their lives.Take away their computer, they’ll notice.Take away their phone, they’ll notice.Take away their local cinema, their Internet connection, their flat screen TV, their mp3s, even their cheap ear-bud knockoff headphones, you bet they’ll notice.There’d be a riot.But take away the theatre company down the block?Whatever.American’s will pay through the nose for entertainment.They can do it in a click, be done with it and click again somewhere else, you’re doing it right now, in fact.Theatre isn’t an affordable commodity. It’s a luxury item.Even at $18 a ticket.And our culture has learned how not to need it.Instead, we’ve learned how to feel connected when we’re actually more isolated.No easy feat, but that’s where we’re at.
Feeling connected in spite of actually being more isolated.Spending more time with a screen than with flesh.And not even a screen with a group of strangers at a cinema, no…a screen at a little table in the corner of a coffee shop, a screen in a cubicle, a screen on your lap in bed.So much time, more and more every year, every day and every hour…alone with a screen.Is there any wonder why I do theatre?
Now more than ever theatre is necessary.Even if it’s only for our F&Fs, bless their patient, tweeting souls.Where else can we, as a society, get together and dream?
Grandpa always said, “Root hog or die.”We need to root more.Get down to the bone instead of dazzling some imaginary audience with our surface, exhausting our scant resources trying to get someone (who, critics?) to notice us.Are you working for critics?What do you need them for?Promotion?Validation?If you are you really should shut down, immediately.Die.Voluntarily, gracefully and without great note or fanfare: close down and never produce again.
Otherwise, that is, if you intend to keep producing, keep creating work for yourself and your beautiful F&Fs…root.Get down in the dirt and dig for your life.
We are very excited that next week's guest blogger will be Edward Elefterion.
Edward Elefterionis the Artistic Director of Rabbit Hole Ensemble, which he founded in 2005. Awards: Outstanding Director, New York Innovative Theatre Award 2008; Outstanding Direction, Midtown International Theatre Festival 2007. Nominated for Outstanding Choreography/Movement by the IT Awards in 2009. Recent work includes The Tale of Frankenstein’s Daughter; Doctor Frankenstein’s Magical Creature; The Tragic Story of Doctor Frankenstein; Before Your Very Eyes; Candide Americana (FringeNYC 2009); Shadow of Himself (world premiere by Neal Bell); Big Thick Rod (FringeNYC 2008); The Night of Nosferatu; A Rope in the Abyss; Land of the Undead; The Transformation of Doctor Jekyll (FringeNYC 2006); and The Siblings (MITF 2006). He directed the world premiere of Therese Raquin by Neal Bell in 1991 at New York University, and acclaimed productions In the Jungle of Cities, Macbeth, and The Misanthrope. He was a guest director at The Juilliard School in 1993 where he directed If She Screams by Stanton Wood. Memberships: Lincoln Center Directors Lab; New York Theatre Workshop's artistic community (The Usual Suspects.) Education: BFA from NYU's TISCH School of the Arts; MFA from Indiana University. He has taught various classes (Biomechanics, Acting, Directing, Movement, Characterization, Theatre History) at Hofstra University for the past 11 years.
We expected nothing less and you did not disappoint.
Thank you OOB for your candor, insight, thoughtful responses, passion and willingness to share it all with us.
You gave us a lot to think about. You helped clear up some complicated issues, gave us greater insight into others and provided some invaluable feedback.
We are humbled that you took the time to help us improve and become a stronger organization.
We will carefully review all of your comments, discuss them with our staff and board and take all of it into consideration when making some important decisions.
As we mentioned we will use your feedback to help prioritize changes, developments and improvements to our system. Some ideas raised here may help us make adjustments as early as next season (starting in June 2012). Some ideas may require further elaboration and development and/or infrastructure changes in order to be addressed. And some feedback we will simply not be able to address in a way that makes everyone happy, especially in a community as large and wonderfully diverse as ours.
These posts will continue to stay active. So if you think of something next week or next month, please post it. We’ll see it. Or you can always contact us directly through our site.
When we launched on Summer Solstice 2004, our awesome volunteer staff wore T-shirts that said, “Off-Off-Broadway is Innovative Theatre.” It’s sort of been our unofficial motto ever since.
David Crespy, author of The Off-Off-Broadway Explosion, said, "Off-Off-Broadway is a theater where even on the barest of stages and usually on a shoestring budget, a poverty of means fuels an explosion of imagination." We believe in that spirit and the amazing work that is being created by this community.
Whether you call yourself Indie Theatre or Independent Theatre or Off-Off-Broadway theatre, you’re our kind of people. If you are a brand spankin' new company or one that has been around for 50 years, it does not matter to us. Whether you are a non-profit organization or a commercial entity or something in between, we couldn't care less. Whether you are dedicated to new works or established classics, it’s all good. If you are all about the ensemble and collaboration, fantastic! If you are really into solo works and hearing the single voice, awesome! If you only do clown work, super! If you totally love realistic modern dramas, cool! If you dig Grand Guignol, love it! If stage combat is your thing or sci-fi or musicals or Chekhov or one-acts or personal stories or state-of-the-art performance technology or two guys sitting on stools sharing a lollypop and talking about family... we're in.
The New York Innovative Theatre Awards celebrates Off-Off-Broadway.
Thank you again for participating in the virtual town hall. We sincerely appreciate all of the comments.
We are wishing you all happy holidays and a kick-ass New Year filled with sold-out performances and glowing reviews.
Also remember that if you're heading online to shop Amazon, start at the nyitawards.com/shop, and the we get a free donation from Amazon. It doesn't cost you a cent, but we'll get "referral fees" that really add up for us. So please, if you're going to buy gifts at Amazon this year, FIRST go to nyitawards.com/shop and use our Amazon search box.
Give Letters from Santa this Christmas!
You can have Santa send a personalized -- even hand-written -- letter to your kids, postmarked from the North Pole and addressed to each child individually. Just fill out a parental form with details at NorthPoleDispatch.com, and Santa will respond with a note recognizing good behavior and achievements, and encouraging improvement, along with a little anecdote from life at the North Pole. $5 typeset / $10 handwritten - order by December 16th for delivery by the 24th.
We want to thank everyone who has contributed to the conversation so far this week.
Today is our Grab Bag Day. The last three days of our virtual town hall were dedicated to specific topics that we've had a great deal of feedback about. Today we open it up to hear about other ideas and suggestions that you might have.
Today's topic is about our award categories. We have 19 production awards.
Outstanding Solo Performance
Outstanding Actor in a Featured Role
Outstanding Actress in a Featured Role
Outstanding Actor in a Lead Role Outstanding Actress in a Lead Role Outstanding Director Outstanding Choreography/Movement Outstanding Lighting Design Outstanding Costume Design Outstanding Set Design Outstanding Sound Design Outstanding Innovative Design (Design award for designers outside of the traditional theatrical design elements) Outstanding Original Music Outstanding Original Short Script Outstanding Original Full-Length Script Outstanding Performance Art Production Outstanding Production of a Musical Outstanding Production of a Play
There was a lot of deliberation and reflection that went into deciding upon these categories. We considered our community and the type of work that was being done. There are several categories that are relatively unique to our awards including: Short Script, Innovative Design, Ensemble, Solo Performance, Performance Art Production; not to mention that Choreography/Movement is extended to include fight choreography and of course the Stage Manager award. We had to think about the length of the ceremony (which we know is too long already), making sure that the categories were meaningful beyond our sector, that our organization had the resources and the ability to sustain these awards not just for 1 year or 5 years, but for many years to come and hundreds of other considerations.
One of the reasons that our judging system is based on a peer evaluation is to ensure that those values that are important to the community are at the heart of what is being recognized. There is a distinctive energy and spirit about the Indie theatre community that we are here to celebrate.
And so we are asking you, if you could only have 20 award categories (aside from the Honorary Awards and the Outstanding Stage Manager Award), what would they be? What would you add to or subtract from the list above?
Thank you everyone for the enlightening conversation yesterday. That post will remain active so, if you have additional thoughts or questions about ticket prices please continue to add them to the comments for that post.
Today's topic is about the production budget cap eligibility requirement. Our current qualifications state that the "Total production budget must be less than $40,000 (between $0 and $40,000)."
Our study, Statistical Analysis of Off-Off-Broadway Production Budgets, which was conducted in 2008 reported that the average Off-Off-Broadway production budget was approximately $18,000 (this was based on actual money spent on a production and did not include the value of in-kind services or donations). 16% of the responding producers noted that their production budget was above $35,000.
When setting the budget cap requirement, we wanted to be as inclusive as possible. We wanted to be able to include the scrappy, "skin of our teeth" producers as well as some amazing well established Off-Off-Broadway companies with larger budgets, some of which have long histories working in this sector and were among the people who helped found this community. We wanted to allow for inflation and rising costs (especially rent) and again growth within our community. So we set the budget cap on the upper edge of the curve, but well below what it would cost to mount an Off-Broadway production.
We have, over the last seven years, had a number of wonderful companies who are no longer eligible to be included in the awards process because their budgets went over the $40,000 mark. This is especially true for those companies producing musicals.
We have had several requests during this past season to increase the production budget cap to $50,000 or more.
Should we increase the eligible budget cap to include those productions with larger expenses?
The first question that we would like to hear from you about is an eligibility requirement. Currently our qualifications state "Ticket price must be $30 or less (between "Free" and $30)."
The average OOB ticket price is $18 to $22.50. Of course if you are working under the Equity Showcase Code, tickets are restricted to $18 or less and Seasonal Code tickets are set at $20 or less. We always try to be as inclusive of the full Off-Off-Broadway community as possible, which includes Equity and Non-Equity productions; Commercial and Not-for-Profit productions. We also wanted to provide for growth within the sector. And $30 is still well under the average ticket price for an Off-Broadway production.
We have had requests this past season to increase the eligible ticket price to $40 or $45.
Should we bump the eligible ticket price up to a higher amount to include those productions who can charge more for their tickets?
Or should we keep the eligible ticket price as is?
We hope you all had abundant Thanksgiving Days with plenty to be thankful for.
We are so excited to be holding this virtual town hall starting tomorrow. As we have mentioned, we have received quite a bit of feedback and a number of requests over the last season. We are now seeking your insight and opinions on these important questions.
Monday - Eligibility: Price of tickets
Tuesday - Eligibility: Budget cap
Wednesday - Reviewing/rethinking award categories
Thursday - Grab Bag: Any other ideas or suggestions
Just to make sure we stay focused and are able to address the issues that are most important to our organization in a constructive manner, we would like to submit the following ground rules for this discussion.
We have a comments policy on our blog which will remain in effect throughout this conversation.
We reserve the right to delete comments if they are:
hate-filled or abusive
off topic, especially if their intent is to derail the conversation for the poster's own purposes
We are asking for CONSTRUCTIVE feedback. We will of course read all of the comments, but we will only approve those that provide: constructive criticism, ideas, suggestions or help move the conversation forward.
We ask you to stay on topic. We’ve dedicated one full day of focused discussion for each of three big topics we’ve heard a lot about. In addition, we have an additional "Grab Bag" day for all other ideas and suggestions. So if you really want to talk about audience size, for example, please save it for the “Grab Bag” day.
Before making a suggestion, consider these questions:
What are the goals of the Innovative Theatre Foundation?
What best serves the OOB community as a whole?
What are the ramifications of making these changes?
We will use your feedback to help prioritize new developments and improvements to our system. Some ideas raised here may help us make adjustments as early as next season (starting in June 2012). Some ideas may require further elaboration and development and/or infrastructure changes in order to be addressed. And some feedback (we hope very little) will not be able to be addressed in a way that makes everyone happy, especially in a community as large and wonderfully diverse as ours.
We promise we will do our best.
Finally, there are a few things that are NOT on the table for discussion at this time.
Changing our name
Changing the judging system (It is a peer evaluation system, and a fundamental aspect of our mission)
Excluding groups/companies/artists/productions from participation based on the type/genre of theatrical work they do
Honorary Awards or the Outstanding Stage Manager Award
2005? No, that was the year of our first ceremony. 2004? Nope, that was when the first productions were registered (by companies like Emerging Artists, International WOW, and Boomerang), and we started the first adjudications. 2003? No, that was when we started the paperwork for our incorporation and 501(c)3 status. Our work began long before that.
We had all been working Off-Off-Broadway for a while. There was some extraordinary theatre taking place, but it seemed to be gone as quickly as it appeared. There were few reviews and no archives of the amazing work that was happening. There was also a community of great artists and companies that did not know each other, and there wasn't anything holding together this vast, disparate population of important, talented, hard working theatre creators. So Shay began to think about how to raise the profile of Independent theatre; to create something that was buzz worthy and would attract media attention and simultaneously provided opportunities for the artists to see each other’s work and create communal bonds.
She thought about it, and thought about it... and came up with a rather elegant idea to introduce artists to each other's work, to create a stronger sense of community in Indie theatre and a connection to its lineage; to bring attention to the some of the incredible work being done in this community; to help people - and not just our family and friends - recognize the substantial creative contributions of this underground force for creative good. Maybe awards, dedicated to the OOB community and based on a peer evaluation system could accomplish all of that.
She knew this idea was too big for just one person (even Shay) to accomplish. So in 2000 she brought this idea to Jason Bowcutt and me. We had both known and worked with her for years. We each had a unique set of skills and talents that would be vital to making this whole thing a reality.
Just a year or so earlier, I had built the first free producer-empowered theatre listings website for Off-Off-Broadway theatre. Companies had begun to post there to get a free webpage for their show and some publicity/promotion. It was a meaningful alternative to hoping the big publications would pick up a show's press release and run something.
Jason had known Shay since wayyyy back. He has very unique gifts in relating to people, getting them excited about what we’re trying to do, and gaining their active support and involvement in our events and organization. Jason forged countless relationships that brought the Awards immediate credibility, spectacle, and critical support. Ironically, in a very early conversation, Jason said, "I love the awards idea, but I don't know what I could contribute." Shay knew, and we all trusted her.
We all had ties to different areas of the theatre universe in New York, and we felt that working together, we should try to make a go of it. We hashed out some core principles and ideas, and the general structure, but we knew that ultimately, in order to get this off the ground, whatever we built needed to involve the community as much as possible. We knew it had to be Off-Off-Broadway celebrating Off-Off-Broadway.
So we began to build this awards idea together with artists and producers from the Indie Theatre.
We set out on a two year fact finding mission/investigation talking to loads of OOB people, community leaders, community founders, unions and leagues, a mathematician, systems engineers, accountants, interactive web experts, educational experts, publicists, media representatives, journalists, archivists, other arts service organizations, and so so many others. We had meetings and work groups and held roundtables and summits. It was a long and exhausting, but very exciting process.
A good example of the kinds the discussions we had was the debate over our name. We spent a lot of time considering what to call this organization. We'd been working on this project a while, but we didn't have a name. We had the whole "Indie" vs. "Off-Off", marginalization vs. DIY, heritage vs. popular appeal, downtown vs. uptown, et cetera, et cetera, etc. etc. etc. conversations. Thoroughly. After A LOT of thought and A LOT of discussions and A LOT of meetings, we decided on the New York Innovative Theatre Awards. That name truly represents our world, without judging or excluding or siding with any camp. And innovation is a core element of this sector's work. Everyone who works Off-Off-Broadway knows that there is often more innovation that happens off stage than on. We wanted to honor innovative design and producing practices and choices as much as innovative artistic ones.
We hashed out each of the key elements of the awards in this collaborative, community-based process, from the makeup of the judging pool, to the scoring scale and system, to the requirements and qualifications. By 2004, we had a name, a meaningful mission, and a peer evaluation system that was designed specifically for this community and based extensively on the ideas and consensuses of community members. The system created opportunities for OOB artists to see the work of their fellow artists free of charge and hopefully provided a meeting place for these people to build creative relationships. We had also built relationships with other support organizations like NYTE and United Stages, to help us provide further opportunities for artists and make the Awards Ceremony a worthy celebration. And of course we were joined by our incredibly knowledgeable and talented staff, and our wonderfully thoughtful and dedicated board whom we are thankful for every day.
We had initially set out to build an awards system. But the awards were a means to an end. That end: a greater sense of community within the Indie Theatre world, not only between producers and artists, but also the audience; a greater audience awareness of the fantastic work being done OOB; and a greater sense of recognition and celebration of Indie Theatre. We began to see that these goals becoming reality. And responding to the OOB community’s needs had driven us to expand beyond just awards.
Today our Survey program, our roundtables, our work with Community Boards and the arts-space tax relief program, and the Off-Off-Broadway archive project (more details later) are further extensions of this mission. We're proud that with your support and involvement, we've been able to get here. But we know if we have much further to go.
So that brings us back to this feedback series here on our blog. Ever since day one, virtually all major decisions and structural issues have been worked through with many members of our community - So it's therefore very important to hear honest feedback so we can address issues, or incorporate meaningful improvements. This has always been extremely important to us, and remains so today.
Every year we hear feedback about the awards, the process, the experience and the other work that we do. We take community response seriously because that feedback helps improve the services that we offer and helps us more effectively reach our goals of creating a greater sense of community and promoting the Off-Off-Broadway/Indie theatre community in New York City.
We get hundreds of requests every year. We collect all of it, discuss it and run it through a filter of key questions: What best serves the community? What is actually possible for our organization to accomplish? What are the ramifications of making these changes, both internally, and for the community at large?
For example, a few years ago we had a request to add an award for puppet design. There is a ton of artistry that goes into creating puppets, and it is one of the most under appreciated design elements in theatre. While there is no doubt there are some amazing puppet designers in our community, the truth of the matter is: there simply are not enough shows incorporating puppetry each year to justify a separate category. We also had a request to add an award for gore. Some of my closet friends in the OOB community are experts in this field and I know firsthand how much work and experimentation and careful attention to detail this type of design requires. And as much as I appreciate that work, it does not justify its own category. The same is true of wig design, and arial rigging, and art installations, and even projection design (although projection design is a very quickly growing field and may very well become a separate award category in time). The designers in these fields often create the most impressive and iconic design elements in a production. So, we asked ourselves how - even though we cannot create separate categories for each - can we still recognize this outstanding work? So we created the Innovative Design Award, a category for all designers that are outside the realm of the traditional theatrical design elements.
The Innovative Design Award was a direct result of feedback from the community. We listened to what was being asked. And instead of saying "nope, we just can't recognize these artists," we came up with the best possible solution that we can offer at this time; a design award category that is as inclusive as possible. We are proud that by adding the Innovative Design category, we have been able to recognize some amazing designers that otherwise wouldn't have been included.
We have also received requests to present awards for readings, workshops, benefits, etc. Again, I know firsthand how much work and finesse can go into producing these types of events. But most of these have only one or two performances, and the logistics of getting judges there are simply too overwhelming for our organization. Not to mention that I personally think that judging a reading or a workshop (works that are in process) could do more harm than good to the production's evolution. This is an example where we listened to the request and decided that based on our limitations (resources and manpower)and the ramifications of what was being requested, we could not do it.
This last summer we were given some directives from our board to make changes to our events. When we announced those changes, the community responded immediately. We listened to that feedback, and in fact, encouraged it. We then took that back to our board, reexamined the intentions of the directives, and found other ways to help us address those same intentions while still taking the community's needs into consideration.
Based on feedback from users, we make hundreds of tweaks and changes to our website every year. And there is a big website redesign currently in the works what will address a number of long-standing issues.
From our very origins, about a decade ago, we have built our organization around the needs of the community, as directly communicated to us by... you. Our mission, our structure, our system of judging, even our name were all greatly influenced, by the many conversations, meetings, town halls, and work groups we held with producers, performers, and audience members of the Off-Off-Broadway community. We count on you to let your voice be heard.
We are constantly growing and evolving. Community feedback is one of the most valued tools that we have in that process. This is why, over the next few weeks, we are actively seeking your input into some very big questions/requests that have been made of our organization.
We will be setting a few ground rules and we are focusing the discussion on some very specific topics. We hope that you will join us for this good-natured yet what is sure to be a spirited conversation.
Here's what to expect over the next 2 weeks:
We know that this is a holiday week and folks might be out of town or not near a computer, so we'll use this week to give you some background about the organization and set the ground rules and then we will hit the ground running on Monday of next week. This week