‘Independent’ or ‘Off-Off-Broadway’— Honestly, I like both. One is steeped in history and has attached to it that 1950’s Greenwich Village/East Village visual, the advent of a new American theatre which helped foment revolutions and create a place for the poetic and courageous voices who showed us that we could too. That time-worn term evolved eventually into the other where self-defined inheritors of the legacy continue to change the world through the landscape of theatre and decided to drop the label placed on the community by a contract code or the media. Some artists prefer no label at all.
The force — ignited in the late 1940's as a post WWII activation, sprouted strongly in the 1950s at places like The Living Theatre, Caffe Cino, La Mama, Theatre Genesis, Judson Poets — now stretches from the Village to Williamsburg, Bushwick, Astoria, the Bronx, Gowanus, Staten Island, Jersey City…. you get the idea. It has spread across the country and arguably the world.
However one describes their role, each needs to be innovative in their work and in their personal life. Today’s independent theatre artist willingly commits themself to a certain lifestyle and philosophy that can only be understood through the resolution and action of doing it. They view existence at night and weekends as their primary life, and their existence the rest of the time as a necessity to live another day when they will be able to create again. The commodity of the independent theatre world is human energy, the force of creativity and of course the audience’s experience of this kind of theatre. What results is a vibrancy and unique expression of the world that can not be rivaled by any other media, new or old, and that lifestyle of art and activism is infectious.
I caught the bug fifteen years ago, and I’ve had the pleasure of being part of the community as a writer, director, producer and now as a documentarian. I worked for many years with Tim Errickson, the Artistic Director of the Boomerang Theatre Company — Boomerang recently celebrated its 15th anniversary which makes them a fantastic example of the commitment of the independent theatre community. I’ve worked closely with the NY International Fringe Festival to discover there another venue of intense love where committed volunteers and artists struggle each year to give international shows a home in New York City if only for 16 days and nights.
As I became more entrenched in the world, I became more and more fascinated by its history, and I wanted to explore the lure that had ensnared me. Why did I want to devote so much of my energy to this kind of theatre? Why did I feel it was so important to the cultural life of New York City and the United States? There was something in the collective unconscious and unspoken attraction that operated on a different level, and I wanted to find our more about it all. Without trying to pick the wings off the butterfly, there was a fascinating sociological element in the fact that this was a cultural movement of art and activism that has been growing for 50 years, driven by the burning need of these artists to speak to their world and fueled by their creativity. How and why had these elements come together to create this community and how could I help share it with that part of the world who didn’t know about it?
Let’s make a film, and use a phrase from an interview with Judith Malina and call it Burning to Communicate.
Frank Kuzler is the Executive Director and a Producer at DecadesOut. For the past fifteen years, Frank has been writing, directing and producing independent films, theatre and video. Most recently, Frank has been working on the feature length documentaries related to theatre: FringeNYC, the Film about the dynamic world surrounding the NY International Fringe Festival and Burning to Communicate about NYC’s independent theatre scene. DecadesOut (www.decadesout.org) is an organization dedicated to producing and supporting art that is inspired by science and science related themes.