Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Good News: A Public Forum on the state of small theater in NYC

You read it right: Manhattan Community Boards one, two, three, four and five are holding a public forum on the state of small theatre in NYC on Tuesday, February 17th at 6:30pm at the historic Player's Club.

From the announcement:

"Manhattan Community Boards One, Two, Three, Four and Five are coming together for an unprecedented joint Public Forum on Small Theaters.

Small theaters are an important part of the sustainability and resilience of small businesses and local economies; small theaters are an economic engine because they encourage residents to spend in their own communities and draw additional audiences from around the City and beyond for early evening activities. On a macro level, small theaters serve as the Research & Development arm of the commercial entertainment industries, locating new talent and acting as incubators for bold new ideas and risk taking. Unfortunately, many of the smaller theaters that bring so much life to our neighborhoods are closing their doors or in danger of closing. The problem is acute. The economic climate, along with the rising cost of real estate are making it difficult for smaller theaters to retain their spaces for performances, rehearsals and offices. With the closing of the Zipper Theater last week in CB4, almost 30 percent of Midtown performance venues have been demolished recently, along with 25 percent of West Village Theaters. In the Nineties, the most of the Lower East Side's theaters were repurposed for bars (e.g. Pianos) or displaced and laid vacant and demolished by speculation (e.g. Present Company and Collective Unconscious). The Community Boards realize that when the theaters leave, the cultural richness and attractiveness of their neighborhoods will diminish, and opportunities for local artists go away.

The goals of the Public Forum on Small Theaters are:
(1) to clearly explain the depth and urgency of the issues facing smaller theaters;
(2) to offer potential solutions based on expert opinion from communities outside of New York where there have been successes, and from experts in New York; and
(3) to gather community support to advocate for changes that will help the theaters and ensure their survival."

If we want our voices heard on this matter, It is important to have a strong presence at this event. This is our community's opportunity to speak directly to the community boards about the issues affecting us.

Here are the details:


16 Gramercy Park South

For further information: david@workshoptheater.org


Please Note:
East 20th Street between Park Avenue South and Third Avenue has been
renamed Gramercy Park South.

to Union Square, walk up Park Avenue South to East 20th Street and
turn right to 23rd Street, walk down Park Avenue South to East 20th Street and
turn left to Broadway and 23rd Street, walk on 23rd Street to Park Avenue, walk down Park Avenue to East 20th Street and turn left

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Thoughts on Presidential plans for the Arts, contributed by Shay

Presidential Plans for the Arts

President Barack Obama is the first-ever president to enter office with a platform and plan for the arts. His website claims that he "uniquely appreciates the role and value of creative expression." This is an exciting change for the arts. His eight-point plan includes a promise to set an example on how to appreciate the arts, more money for the arts and his "arts corps" and agenda to "expand public/private partnerships between schools and arts organizations" resonates his overall theme of service. All of this bodes well for the Off-Off-Broadway community.

However even more than a general awareness and appreciation of the arts, there are two points in his plan that I think will have the largest and most direct impact on our community.

Provide Health Care to Artists: Finding affordable healthcare for independent artists who don't always have a regular employer/regular employment has not always been easy. Anyone paying attention to the campaign knows that President Obama's plan is to create and make available a subsidy healthcare plan similar to the one that Federal employees now have. Will this make it possible for many OOB artists to spend more time working on their art and less time chained to a "day job?"

Ensure Tax Fairness for Artists: This is the one I find really interesting. This will allow artists to deduct (at fair market value) hours of time volunteered from their taxes...... This may mean a whole new game for OOB. How will Equity codes be affected by this? A very interesting proposal.

What are your thoughts?

Go here to see the outline of Barack Obama's plan for the arts.

Also if you haven't heard, Quincy Jones has started a petition to ask President-Obama to appoint a Secretary of the Arts. This would be a Cabinet-level position that would oversee several federal agencies including the NEA. While many other countries have Ministers of Art or Culture but the United States has never created such a position.

Elizabeth Blair from NPR discusses the Secretary of the Arts here.

What do you think? Do you think a Secretary of the Arts would benefit us or do you agree with David Smith?

Go here to sign the petition.

Shay Gines

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Where is the New Young Audience for Indie Theatre?

Last month, Isaac Butler posted a provocative column on his website, Parabasis, entitled No-Brainer Secrets Revealed!, about the best ways for theater to reach younger audiences. Butler surmised that the best way to bring them in is to do uncompromising work and offer it at a reasonable price. The work will speak for itself. If you build it, Butler said, the audience will come.

Easier said then done, though. Butler then homed in on a larger point; that most theater companies don’t want to reach out to younger audiences because that’s not where the money is. In other words, to cater their work to such an audience would indeed be a compromise. So the question is what do theaters want? To reach people or to make enough money?

There is no one answer to this question. Writers, performers, and producers alike must want to do good work. But the easier it is to make a living at it, the better able they are to keep putting on original, personal artistic work. And it is also hard to lump in all theater companies when the Off-Off world, more than anywhere else, I imagine, is made up of very distinct companies with very heterogeneous missions.

The other question is, what do audiences want? Who do they want to see portrayed? Is money the major issue, or is it interest? Again, the term “younger audience” also needs to be broken down and defined in order to figure out how best to appeal to that demographic. Are we talking about young audiences who have dramatic aspirations, or young laypeople, or both? And what spectrum does “young” include?

Even when figuring this out, there is no easy answer to the main question. Would revivals of known works be best? Does an original work have to have some measure of gimmickry or novelty in order to create buzz? Is this audience only likely to turn out if they have friends involved in a production?

I’ve never met Butler, but I should say that I’m a big fan of his site and his writing, including the column I reference here. I agree with his stance and the point he makes. But I look to it as a tipping point, of sorts, to engender an ongoing dialogue about what makes theater thrive, a quest more important than ever in our current economy.

The entire point of the IT Awards was to foster a sense of community throughout the hard-working, passionate members of the Off-Off world. I believe they have gone a long way in cementing a feeling of camaraderie among the various production companies doing their thing. But that community is far from limited to the people doing the work; the people who show up are just as important. I would like to think that the IT organization can also help in figuring out exactly what audiences are out there, and how we can appeal to them. Perhaps this very newsletter can even help the process.

What do you think, faithful readers?

Contributed by Doug Strassler