Sunday, July 20, 2014

The New Indie Theatre

Contributed by Sean Williams

When Shay and Nick asked me to curate a week of blogs, I threw myself at the chance. For the last ten years, the theater scene has been shifting under our feet and our friends are talking about it. So I asked them to write. You can never really know when you’re in the middle of a cultural upheaval, they can only be assessed in retrospect, but I asked some of my favorite writers to talk about their experiences and to put on their prediction hats for what the next wave will be.

I made a joke about Boz Scaggs on Facebook the other day, and it got me thinking about how music changed from the 1970s to the 1980s. Specifically, how the new ways of creating music changed it artistically. The way you experience music in 1985 was a totally different lifestyle experience than in 1975. When I was little, my dad had giant speakers wired in to both a turntable pointed at an overstuffed leather chair. By 1985, all of my music was delivered into my head with small headphones attached to a tape machine and there was no leather chair, I was bringing it with me.

This is how the world changes. And the art changed with it – the music sounded different.

I see the same changes around me today. The showcase code isn’t sustainable and everyone knows it. At the same time, we have facebook and twitter for better marketing, we have the ability to shoot high-definition video and record better and cheaper audio. We have the option to perform in vans and living rooms, just as rents for standard theater space are going through the roof. As a guy in his 40s, I can tell you that the options for theater now are vastly different – and I genuinely think vastly better –than they were fifteen years ago. We romanticize Joe Cino and Ellen Stewart, but if they had access to the same tools we do, what would they have done?

That’s where were are. Videos on giant screens. Cellphone calls to the audience members mid-show. Social media narratives that dovetail the performances. Live streaming productions and skyping for rehearsals. It’s a new world and it can’t help change the actual art. Our music is gonna sound different.

So… Is it the early 80s all over again? Could Flux Theater Ensemble be “The Police”? Could Retro Productions be “Dream Academy”? Is Capslock Theater the new “Bronski Beat”? Is Blessed Unrest “Echo and the Bunnymen” and are the folks at The Brick a new “Violent Femmes”? And my company… I don’t know… Could we be “The Go-Gos”? Or “Simple Minds”? OR MAYBE “THE CURE”!!! (Man, I’d sure love to be “The Cure”…) Leave a comparison in the comments, tell me who you want your company to be, and who you think others are.

(If you’re too young to remember the 80s, you can use this newfangled thing called ‘The Google’)

And you should leave comments all this week! We have brilliant minds looking to the future, discussing performance space, money, unions and art. We won’t know what our community has done until we have a decade or more to look back on it, but we’re going to take a moment to see where we are and where we’re going. And to pay tribute to all of you for doing it with us.



  2. You know what was cool about the 80s? While we were creating that "new sound" we were also super nostalgic and looking at our past - so I think probably Retro Productions was more like Cyndy Lauper - a bit of a punk rocker doing poppy modern sound while wearing a 50s prom dress. ;)

  3. Matt Trumbull is Thomas Dolby.

  4. Ooh! The Amoralists = Frankie Goes To Hollywood!

  5. Heather, I struggled because the 80s did that whole nostalgia thing so well. Billy Joel wasn't grungy enough, but was close to perfect. You guys are polished and gorgeous while also bringing back stuff that America loved decades ago... but I'd have had to be all, "Billy Joel, but Uptown Girl Billy Joel, but not *shitty* Uptown Girl Billy Joel..."

    1. HA! I was never a Billy Joel fan - but yeah - I get the comparison. Like "The Longest Time" Billy Joel. Or Phil Collins covering "You Can't Hurry Love."

  6. Mac, I was gonna say The Made Ones are XTC. But I was all nervous about running out of room.

  7. Hey Freeman, can Blue Coyote be The Smiths?

  8. Messenger Theatre Company here - I think we're a little bit Yaz, a little bit Crowded House and a lot Suzanne Vega. (I know she's not a band. . . but we're a little like that, too sometimes.)

  9. Sean... I would like to thank you for the mostly British band comparisons in your metaphors [your slip may be showing dear].

    A few or my comments on the Code [I'll be concise]
    1. Its ludicrous to not regularly update the permitted amount of a ticket price. Since seating is regulated to 99 and under and the costs of producing a code show in such houses rises with inflation so should the allowed ticket price. Right now I feel it should be closer to $25.
    2. Transport travel stipend costs rise when the MTA raises prices. This depending on the number of Equity actors impacts the bottom line. Tickets prices should rise - perhaps a three yearly look at the price at a Board meeting with a variance on that particular rule?
    3. I know of situations where some productions have been produced under the code that have exceeded the four week rule in houses that do not meet the standards. Are there a different set of rules for some off off companies? Time to figure out whether the rules really are relevant?
    4. I constantly hear of productions that are self produced by actor/producers under the code which then are prevented by arcane rules from developing their own properties. Why can't we have waivers in this situation? The rules were meant to prevent unscrupulous producers from taking advantage not to hold down genuine creative entrepreneurial endeavors right? Can Common Sense ever prevail?