Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Our Indie Theatre Community


Contributed by Guest Blogger of the week Amanda Feldman.

I remember when I discovered there was an indie theatre community. I had been the Managing Director of CollaborationTown for over a year, when I went to my first Community Dish Meeting. I remember being so excited to discover that I was not in it alone. It opened up new possibilities to me… cross marketing opportunities, producing advice, and most importantly an opportunity to get to know other theatre artists. I hate to think that there are young artists out there today who do not know the support networks that are available to them.

I think the tricky thing about nurturing an Indie theatre community, is that we are so diverse. I know it’s been said on this blog before but sometimes it’s hard to identify us - we can’t be categorized by aesthetic, a geographic location, kind of theatre, or anything aside from an Equity code that we all love to hate. Its difficult for veteran indie theatre artists who have been producing for ten plus years to put themselves in a category with young upstarts who just got their BAs and have come to NYC to put on a show, but I do not think our community gains anything from exclusivity. After all we were all once that young theatre artist. Plus measuring us by the quality of our art is counterproductive because we have all had shows that were varying degrees of success. And it’s true that not all Indie theatre is “good,” but all indie theatre artists are striving for recognition, audience, and, I believe, the support of a community.

The other challenge to fostering the Indie theatre community is that for most of us, Indie theater is not our only gig. Whether you are a waiter or have a “day job” chances are your theater company isn’t paying the bills and therefore you are much busier than everyone else you know because in essence you have two jobs. I remember thinking how great it would be to create a branding campaign on behalf of Indie theatre (and personally I think we made a huge stride when we shifted from Off-Off-Broadway to Indie Theatre, but I know not everyone agrees with me). At one point in time I had visions of doing this massive fundraising campaign to get young finance executives to donate to peer theatre artists, but then the finance system went to pot.

None of this happened mainly because we were all too busy, but other things did happen and I’m proud of where we have come as a community. Great organizations were created such as the Community Dish, the New York Innovative Theatre Foundation, and the League of Independent Theatres, New York. For the past three years we played an active role in Free Night of Theatre and for the past two summers we have celebrated Indie Theatre Week.

At the moment, I can tell you’re feeling inspired and want to do something. So here are five easy things everyone can pledge to do today:

1)      See at least twelve Indie Theatre shows this year… I don’t think once a month is asking too much.

2)      Read the blogs of Indie Theatre artists, there are a lot of them to choose from but they are always insightful and fun. Although if you’re reading this, I know that perhaps I’m preaching to the choir.

3)      Join the Community Dish and go to at least three meetings a year. Our next meeting is Monday, November 8th and we’re teaming up with Incubator Arts and the League of Independent Theatre, New York so it should be a nice big meeting.

4)      Join the League of Independent Theatre, New York because they will take your concerns to Equity, to the Mayors Office, to Albany, and to the real estate world.

5)      If you can afford it make few donations to theatre companies you admire, DO IT.

Back in 2006, I had to step down as Managing Director of CollaborationTown because I couldn’t do that and be paid to company manage an Off Broadway show at the same time. Thus I became unhitched and for a while that was scary. My place in the Indie theatre world felt less defined, but thanks to my active participation in the community I never felt lost or alone and now happily produce for various theatre companies.



  1. I couldn’t agree with you more, Amanda. And especially, “…theater is not our only gig.” Seems like we all have a day-gig for the rent (#1), then there’s actually doing the theater work (acting, writing, directing, etc.) (#2), followed by auditioning/submitting plays/running a company/classes, etc. (#3), and finally the prospect of actually having a personal life/partner/etc. (children are just an exit strategy) (#4); so being involved in the “community” is at best our 5th highest priority. And there doesn’t even seem to be time enough in the day for any one priority. ugh! But we all just have to find a way, somehow, do something for #5, or the first 4 will not be worth doing.

    My concern is more with the transient nature of the Indie community. Except for the few who’ve been around the block, Indie theater is just a place to get seasoned and build some cred’/resume. Most life goals figure that in 5 years they’ll be on to making films or doing national tours, or… . Actually, most folks end up doing something else entirely (i.e. kids). Almost no one thinks that they’ll be here that long, so why do anything to make it better? I don’t know how we change this attitude, but I know we must.

    ps. As for your 5 things to pledge, I’m pretty sure that you can take #2 off the list. As Zinoman rightly pointed out at CUNY the other night… it’s over.

  2. Ralph, thank you so much for your comments. You're right it's a hard argument to tell any individual Indie Theatre artist to make the community a priority. We take it for granted because it's always been there for us in some capacity but at the same time there are so many amazing possibilities if we did put the effort in.

    It is not hard to imagine a world where we can video Equity showcases and extend them past 16 performances, a world where downtown theatre is a tourist draw. But it is also not hard to image a world where there are only fifteen 99-seat theaters left in NYC and they all costs $3000+ per week to rent and young theatre artists flee to different cities.

    I will point out that in times of change and crisis the Indie theatre community does come out in force. We did it for the Equity White Paper a few years back, we did it for Indie Theatre Invocations, we did it for the Forum on Small to Medium Theatres, we did it for the Ohio, and we will continue to do it when we are called to arms. The trick is sustaining the community and not becoming complacent.

    Of course, aside from the individual artists who get to stretch their artistic muscles downtown (whether they spend their careers there or move on to larger stages), I think the single largest ongoing benefactor of our existence is New York City. I'm sure we have an extraordinary economic impact that I continually applaud the NYIT Foundation for putting the time and resources into trying to measure it.

    Interestingly enough a few years ago a couple of young thespians graduated from college and did a nationwide search for the best place to put their theatre company and after much debate they decided on Baltimore. You think… that’s crazy, what’s in Baltimore? But now they have their own venue, they're a member of TCG and at least some of them are employed solely as theatre artists. It's pretty amazing. Of course, we heard this argument before from Zach Manheimer and now he has a successful venue in DeMoine.

    Personally, I think it is just as important to have a strong Indie theatre scene in NYC as it is to have a healthy Broadway. The bad news is that it is up to us to make a difference and as we stated individually the Indie Theatre community is easily our 5th priority. However, the good new is also that it is up to us and if we flex our collective muscles we can make waves!

  3. See at least twelve Indie Theatre shows this year… I don’t think once a month is asking too much.

    Like mine, on November 12.

  4. RLewis:

    I wouldn't even say donating money per se, but people and stuff. If there's somebody you know who's good at marketing, perhaps they can help out a little production. Or if there's someone who has time and energy, maybe they can take care of the boring but necessary stuff like making copies and folding programs. All different kinds of ways to make the best use of the human element in community.