Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Revisiting Award Categories

Today's topic is about our award categories. We have 19 production awards.

They are:

Outstanding Ensemble
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?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Eligibility Requirement: Budget Cap

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.

The Basic Equity Showcase Code sets the total production budget at $20,000.

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?

Or should we keep the budget cap as is?

And why.

Also please take a moment to review the schedule of this week's topics as well as the ground rules for the conversation.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Eligibility Requirement: Price of Tickets

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? 

And why?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Virtual Town Hall Starts Tomorrow

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
  • Friday - Wrap-Up

Check out the IT Foundation Background and the A Few Ground Rules for the conversation.

We hope that you will share your thoughts and opinions during this open community forum. However, you can always email us directly or though our "Contact Us" page.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!


"As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them."  ~John F. Kennedy

"Thanksgiving, after all, is a word of action."  ~W.J. Cameron

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Few Ground Rules

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.

  1. 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:
    • spam
    • hate-filled or abusive
    • off topic, especially if their intent is to derail the conversation for the poster's own purposes

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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?

  5. 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.

  6. 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

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

IT Foundation Background

Contributed by Nick Micozzi

Pop quiz: When did the IT Awards start?

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.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Your Feedback Requested

Contributed by Shay Gines

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
  • Organization and System Background
  • Ground Rules of the Discussion
After Thanksgiving Weekend
  • Topic #1 - Eligibility: Price of tickets
  • Topic #2 - Eligibility: Budget cap
  • Topic #3 - Reviewing/rethinking award categories
  • Grab Bag: Any other ideas or suggestions
  • Wrap-Up

Friday, November 4, 2011

There Will Be Blood…Now, How Do We Do It?

Contributed by Guest Blogger of the Week, Stephanie Cox-Williams.

I love my job when emails, text messages or phone calls go back and forth with the words “stabbing”, “disemboweling”, “massing blood flow”, “gun wounds”.  

Over the years I have had my fair share of – “Help” communications.  I have been fortunate to help solve these sort of problems with a great amount of people – sometimes purely online – to make their show gory.

So, first one:
The character has to rip flesh off of a severed head and eat it on stage.

This one actually came from one of the pieces of “Blood Brother’s Present…New Guingol”, where a man who had ‘lost it” decapitated his fellow passenger on a bus, hold some of the bus passengers hostage and then begin to cut pieces off the decapitated head and eat it.  Here was the solution:
  1. Go to any Halloween type store and buy a head.  One with hair is always better - more realistic.
  2. Apply patches of thin “muscle" using fruit rollups.   The tie-dyed ones that are orange and red or red and dark red work really well or just use red.  Cut them in square pieces or strips and add to the rounded edges of the face.  (They are already sticky, so you shouldn't need any adhesive).  Add a thin layer of red gel food coloring, then another layer of fruit rollup.  Do this for 3 or less layers. 
  3. Add your skin coloring - get some icing.  Carmel, butterscotch, chocolate or mix the flavors to get the desired color of your head.  There is also some recipes for edible foundation that you can Google online.  Spread the icing over your last layer of roll up and blend into the fake latex skin.

Next Question:
Someone needs to be disemboweled onstage.

This one I get quite a bit, hence I have come up with a super cheap rig to use!
  1. Either buy some fake intestines/organs or you can make your own – cheap and not too time consuming.
- Get some panty hose/stockings and stuff them with paper towels, or plastic grocery bags or paper (the towels and/or the plastic bags seem to hold up longer).
- Take rubber bands and add them at varying places on the stuffed stocking –given it that intestine/sausage look.
- Paint all the intestines with red liquid latex.
- Then, using a mirror or a piece of glass paint strips of the liquid latex –about one to two layers per strip.
- Once the strips have dried, peel them off the glass and begin to wrap them tightly around the intestines – trying to make the roll as slender as you can.  Over lap strips as necessary.
- For an added effect, you can dribble lines of the liquid latex along the piece and give it a veining effect.
  1. Buy a pair of stockings/panty hose.
  2. Stuff one of the stockings with the organs.
  3. Using scissors or a knife, cut/slash some holes/runs in the stocking.
  4. Fit the stocking around the actor and tie it off in the back tucking the knot into the waist band of the pants.
  5. Using some blood squibs, zombies can tear at the “stomach” piece and take out the “organs” or someone can “stab” someone with a fake knife, release a squib and then “organs” can come out.

And last question for now:
Someone needs to pee on someone/wet their pants.

I am about to give away a big trade secret for me…are you ready?  Go out and buy a squirting flower…remove the flower.  Now, you have a device that has a tube and a hand pump to release liquid when it is needed.  This is a substitute for the CO2 cartridge used a lot in film and in some stage.  I find it more reliable.

And, quick and easy zombie or as I like to say – messed up skin:
Flesh colored liquid latex with toilet paper and some lentils all mixed together.  Paint on skin.  Gives the skin that beginning to wear away look.

I have so many more questions (like how do I make an edible finger and stigmata and an easy applicable burn), but must keep this short for now.  If you would like to come out and see some of my blood effects in action, please stop by Under St. Mark’s from now until November 19, Thursday (pay what you can), Friday and Saturday at 8pm for Dysfunctional Theater Company’s “Brew of the Dead II – October Flesh”.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

What the Heck is a Squib?? And Other Fun Items in Theater Gore…

Contributed by Guest Blogger of the Week, Stephanie Cox-Williams.

First off, a squib is a receptacle of fluid to be disbursed at a given moment by hand or electronics in an explosive manner….or as I like to think of it….splashy, splashy gory fun blast!

Eh, hum.   Moving on.

Now, two things, one I loved that when working with a particular group someone said how much they loved the word “squib”.  I believe so much that saying the word “squib” repeatedly became part of their acting vocal warm up.  Another thing, notice that I said fluid.  I have had to make squibs where the fluid was not fake blood, but, for instance, brain fluid.  Or a theatrical look at what brain fluid could artistically look like, as fluid from your brain is probably more clear or yellowish if you were to strip away the blood red color.  And, I’ve gone too far in explaining right?   Anyway, a “squib” can hold any type of liquid and is the preferred method by me to release said fluid in a splashing or startling manner.

This is my own personal definition.  You can google squib if you would like a more official one.

I say it is my preferred method as over the years I have found it to be the easiest way to choreograph a gore scene.  I was taught to use plastic baggies.  Plastic fold over top sandwich baggies to be exact.  Cheap, easy and it gets the job done.  For those of you that work with me, I usually have 3 terms for the size of the squib.  The grape (small), the strawberry (regular size) and a small heart (large).  I have also gotten adept at making the pea size one.   So if you just need a small burst that leaves a few drops sky rocketing through the air and on the actors fingers and, the tiny squib can usually fit into the front passage way of an ear for hiding.

Now all this talk about gore as probably a.) got you hungry or b.) wanting to add gore to your next Christmas Carol.  Well there are a few things to consider when doing this and the first question is….is the moment in your show really going to be achieved by adding blood/gore to it?

The stage directions could read, “blood fountain comes out of Billy’s mouth” or  “the head is pried off the actor and shown to the audience”.  However, once you have the script in hand, is that moment really necessary to telling the story? 

If that answer is an unequivocal yes, then move on to these thoughts.

Can the budget afford it?  Sure one can make and or buy some fake blood.  One can buy devices or design a device to make that blood fountain come out of Billy’s mouth.  Those are easy.  The hard part is making it believable 100% of the time, every performance and having a back up plan (if the trick is difficult).  So, that means doubling your recipe for fake blood, doubling your solution and the actor only has one costume for the whole show, so one may want to double up on that costume.

Oh, and laundry.  I can’t stress enough how much you need a solution for this.  For a lot of people I work with, there is a system where one person is the laundry lad or maid, agreeing to take the soiled clothes home every night and washing them.  Excellent.  Also remember that even manufactured store bought blood will not come out 100% of the time. Doing laundry for these shows, just like a lot of other things, will come down to a particular method of soap, water and stain removers, basically, your own personal laundry science.  A few fabrics that fake blood – any type – seems to come out of are silks, synthetics and loose weaved shirts (think dollar store type clothing).

Are you working in rep or is that space yours everyday for the run of the show?  This will decide whether you are having geysers or squibs.  Also, what are the materials the space is made out of?  Is there a lot of brick or fabric or unpainted wood?  What is your plan when a squib that has fired every night far away from the white projection screen suddenly gets on it?

Next post – my favorite question and answers.  Basically, “help, I’m doing blood effects in a show” Q&A.