Saturday, July 30, 2011

Why Indie Theatre?: Diánna Martin

 In celebration of Indie Theatre Week (July 23 - August 1, 2011),
we asked members of the OOB community to answer this question,
"Why Indie Theatre?"


When posed the question “Why Indie Theatre?”, I had to take a second to remind myself that the theatrical experience that I consider to be the norm is really considered Indie Theatre.  Independent Theatre is a lifeline to artists and audience members – be they audience members who are dabbling in the alternative to the big lights of Broadway and Off-Broadway shows or artists who really wish to explore characters/stories/challenges that they might not get a chance to enjoy in the more commercial ventures. It more often than not gives these actors, directors, designers, and producers and chance to really sink their teeth into a project and come up with the most innovative ways to express themselves and the piece in question. Or, it allows them to present productions that push the envelope to a much larger degree – and truly make the audience think.

I grew up in a family that was heavily involved in entertainment; spending time backstage in Broadway, Off and Off-Off-Broadway houses while my mother performed on stage or watching my father direct plays by playwrights that many of us are so fond of in the Indie scene. So from a ridiculously young age I was constantly taken to see theatre in New York City. I remember small theatres that later in life I would realize were black box; larger theatres that seemed to swallow me up but were yet not “where I thought Broadway shows were”; and then, of course, the lights and grand marquees of the Broadway Shows. The irony is that I saw very little of the latter; the former made up the majority of my theatre-going experience as a child, teenager and beyond, and it remains so to this day. I once asked my parents why there was such a difference in the types of theatre out there and they remarked that some of the most brilliant actors and best shows are in places that get the least amount of fanfare in the press. Now, as an actress, director, teacher and producer who has been fortunate enough to be heavily involved in the Indie Theatre scene, all I can think is that without it, I don’t know what we as artists would do.

I know an actress who always wanted to play Blanche DuBois. I’m sure I’m not the only one who knows at least a couple of dozen actors and actresses (myself included) who would give their teeth (at least the ones that don’t show in the headshot) for a chance to play Blanche or Stanley, Stella or Mitch. Or if  Williams is not your bag (blasphemy!) then pick another wonderful revival that all the A-List celebrities already have their hands on for the next toured production at BAM or 45th Street. In Indie Theatre, that actress CAN play Blanche. She might have to do it in a living room, she might have to do it in the basement theatre of a bar or the parlour of a mansion, or the smallest black box where the PSM is practically in her lap. Or maybe an actor desires to play Blanche and the producer is going to do an entire spin on the show; I have seen my share of alternative interpretations to all kinds of plays, and many of them worked beautifully (although there was that one all-nude production of Macbeth that I would rather like to forget…). But that desire to do roles that people love to do, that desire to produce/design/perform theatre that inspires the audience to take their next breath with awe at the new incarnation of a well-loved play (or the joy and excitement of a new work), are what feed people and make them go above and beyond the desire for a paycheck. It’s the love of the art. 

Don’t get me wrong. There is no romanticizing “the starving artist” bit…it simply is the love of the art, the feeling of empowerment that you are making a difference to whomever is witnessing the event. Because that is what Indie Theatre is; not a simply a show…it’s creating an event, be it a never-before produced work, or a revival, that makes people have a reaction – but not for reaction’s sake - simply because they sat through an incredible experience. It can be a show done in a gymnasium with no lights and a $10 budget, but if the acting and directing is incredible the audience will be so in tune to the performance that you can hear a pin drop.

Because regardless of whether or not you love a show when you walk out at the end (I always have a “300 foot rule” to not discuss a show until I’m 300 feet away from the theatre, a rule I learned from one of my Artistic Directors) if you actually truly loved it or you maniacally despised it, it made you FEEL. As long as you feel, as long as you can find yourself discussing the show (regardless if the discussion is verbal tomato-throwing or singing praises) it’s making you THINK. And that is all that we can hope to do.

That’s not to say that what you get on Broadway and larger Off-Broadway productions doesn’t make one feel or think; on the contrary, we all can sing praises (and roll our eyes) at the work that has made it to the larger stages. But the freedom to create…without limits (other than money, and even then you find a way around that) and the fact that everyone involved is doing it for the JOY of the art, not the dollar sign (although hey…who wouldn’t like to get paid for what they love to do?)…that is something special.  It’s something that can never be taken away from us. And it is a reason why the Indie Theatre scene IS so closely knit, why more often than not those many involved support and feed the creativity of each other, and why it will never go away.

Because it’s the foundation of theatre, be it experimental or not. Its symbiotic relationship to all of the artists involved (or who were once involved and now walk a red carpet in Hollywood) is far-reaching, forever ingrained in us all who live and breathe the medium.


Diánna Martin is an actress, director, acting teacher and writer who has been fortunate enough to be acting and directing in the Indie Theatre world, involved in several award-winning shows and delighting in the craft for many years. After taking ten years off to do live television and radio, she returned to theatre in 2001. When not coaching actors or running her acting classes (, teaching acting at Hunter College, or writing reviews for Indie shows at, she’s either assisting the Innovative Theatre Foundation as Administrative Coordinator, or helping grease the wheels to some degree with one of the three theatre companies of which she is a company actress/member:  Oberon Theatre Ensemble, MTWorks, and The Workshop Theater Company. Outside of all of that, she hopes to use the extra hours in the day that would normally be used for sleep to work towards her next venture: continue a revival reading series for The In-Pulse Group.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Why Indie Theatre?: Frank Kuzler

 In celebration of Indie Theatre Week (July 23 - August 1, 2011),
we asked members of the OOB community to answer this question,
"Why Indie Theatre?"

First, I want to say thank you for asking me to be part of this. The work that the Innovative Theatre Foundation is doing is fantastic.

This is a difficult question because, as already noted, so many other questions can be read into it. It not only contemplates 'why start in independent theatre' but also 'why continue to work in it?' —And the difficulty is a good thing. It's a thoughtful question for a thoughtful brand of theatre. I could sidestep it and say 'I didn't pick this life, it picked me,' but that's not true at this point. I actively pick this everyday. As I write this I'm aware of the opportunity cost of taking hours to spontaneously answer this question. : ) I could be doing other things that could 'build my career,' so why am I doing this? This is important and essential, so it outweighs the alternatives. It's all a matter of freedom of choice. It's freedom that draws me in and freedom that keeps me doing.

Independent theatre gives you the ability to get things done. Personally, I don't like waiting for funding to materialize. Of course, I do everything I can — apply for grants, fundraise like crazy, beg. But while I'm waiting, I want to create and give others the ability to create. I want to hear what people have to say through theatre. I don't want to get stuck in development hell. I've worked enough in the commercial world to know that the odds of anyone's vision reaching reality is one- maybe two- thousand to one. Why would anyone who has something to communicate wait for someone else to give them the okay to say it? If you want to speak, speak. If you wait for approval, the only ones listening may turn out to be worms and angels.

Many companies operate with that passion to create, giving artists the opportunity to explore their craft and talents as much as possible. This is a completely necessary step in the process and fundamental in the discovery of the American voice. Where else does it happen? The developmental theatre experience is in danger of drying up as much as is the space within which to develop, but independent theatre keeps producing. The leading arts official in the United States complains that we produce too much art. That is a major problem. I haven't heard the Secretary of Commerce complain that we make too many cars. We realize (and hope our country will realize) that our artistic products (yes) should be as fostered as much as are our industrial markets. It is our voice as a people coming out of the arts that reaches most easily across borders and changes world views. Showing the world that freedom of speech is strongly supported is pivotal. Independent theatre collectively braves the dismal economic tide to continually produce as much as it can. This shows the world that individual voices are important to us, and you can't put a quota on how many voices can be heard.

There are many obstacles facing production companies not to mention individual artists, but there is certainly something exciting taking place. The many initiatives being undertaken in the Indie Theatre
universe -- the space issue, the NYC's showcase code conundrum, the economic impact analysis, the reevaluation of production budgets -- along with the growing presence of industry groups such as ITF, LIT and the Dish, point to a maturation that can only lead to the realization of community objectives. Yes, this life requires a galaxy's worth of energy, heavyweight stamina, and the infinite hope of first love, but as a group, we're at an amazing time, and it's exciting. Who wouldn't want to be doing it?

So why indie theatre? Because of the freedoms it allows me to express and the ones it allows me to support.


Frank Kuzler has been writing, directing and producing independent theatre and film for over ten year. His full-length plays include The Substance of John, The Last Spoken Word, Giant-n-Variation, and
most recently Maps. His plays have premiered independently in NYC as well as within the NY International Fringe Festival, the largest multi-arts festival in North America. A strong believer in the development of new talent and the expression of new ideas, Frank has built the foundation of his career developing projects that come from new voices and have a fresh and unique perspective.

As a theatre producer, Frank was the Managing Director of the award-winning Boomerang Theatre Company, a staple NYC independent theatre company. Boomerang has received several awards for its productions and mission, notably IT Awards’ 2008 Caffé Cino Award for Outstanding Independent Theatre Company. Frank started with Boomerang as an actor. The company produced two of his full-length plays. He continues to be active as a member of Boomerang’s Board of Directors.

Currently, he is the Executive Director of DecadesOut (, a multi-disciplinary production company focusing on the intersection of science and the arts. As part of its film program, DecadesOut is presently in production on Burning to Communicate, a feature length documentary on the history and development of NYC's independent (aka Off-Off Broadway) theatre movement. For more info, go to


Other Indie Theatre Week Posts

Life Offstage is on the air! - episode 5

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Why Indie Theatre?: Hope Cartelli

 In celebration of Indie Theatre Week (July 23 - August 1, 2011),
we asked members of the OOB community to answer this question, "Why Indie Theatre?"

Alright, get ready for the cheez – my answer to the question “Why Indie Theater?” is quite simply “It’s my family.” The one I wasn’t born into nor married into.  From my theater company, Piper McKenzie, which I run with my husband Jeff Lewonczyk to The Brick Theater, which Piper McK has called home for almost 10 years to all of the people I’ve had the pleasure of working with over that time, this is the family that I’ve just managed to have the majorly awesome luck to fall into.   It's become even more apparent how lucky I am now that I've got a baby boy to whom I want to introduce these amazing people.  Let me be quite honest, I couldn't live with myself if I didn't have cool places to go with this baby (like rehearsals for my next show, Theater of the Arcade, coming up in FringeNYC and performances of friends' pieces, like BrainExplode! and Red Cloud Rising, both part of the Game Play Festival right now) and wonderful people to hang out with him that I know I will want him to look up to over the years.  It is extremely important to me that this baby boy find this adopted family just as important as his birth one.

I, personally, need to be constantly inspired and challenged. And I need friendship.  And criticism.  Over a beer.  Or a margarita.  Maybe pie.  I need not one, but many people to tell me the last show was worth it and the next one will be too.  Not necessarily that the show was great (though I love to hear that and, again, from many - MANY -  people) but that it was a worthy step.  I like to be useful for people right on back too - share resources, come up with any and every opportunity to work with them, be they actors, designers, producers, etc.

This is (more cheez) the family I was hoping to find when Jeff and I, back at the end of our college years were pretty much told there was this weird "other" choice we could make - we could get headshots and head down to NYC and start auditioning and apprenticing and assisting and lord knows there is nothing wrong with that at all, but dammit there was this bizarre other thing we could do: we could make our own work.  And supposedly it would be possible that people would come out and see it and it was even possible that some of those people would stick around and say they wanted to be part of the next thing we would be working on.  That's a "choice" we were given.  And then we got down here and arrived just in time for the deadline for that year's Fringe fest and we got in and we met Elena Holy and The Present Company and a whole slew of folks we'd work with again and again, which led to us saying to two of those people, Robert Honeywell and Michael Gardner, that we couldn't see a day going by at this new space they'd founded (The Brick Theater in Williamsburg) that we didn't want to be part of.  And we got brazen over the ensuing years, approaching folks right after a show we'd see their work in to say, hey, we want you on board for our next piece and not acting remotely surprised when they agreed and then going home later that night and gushing about this awesome person said yes to us.  

We actually cited this family as a big, fat reason to have a kid.

Piper McKenzie has had a ridiculously successful run of things in NYC over these past 13 years (okay, that's a big number, I need to breathe for a sec... whew, okay...  did I mention I just had a baby, another constant reminder of time and mortality and... okay, I'm just going to breathe again... okay!) and it is in no small part due to what has become such a thriving network of companies all under the title "Indie Theater".  Long may this family live.  And if my child doesn't want to really be a part of it, if he wants to instead become, say, an accountant, I will make damn sure he gets well versed in doing artists' tax returns.  It's the least he can do for the family who raised him.

Hope Cartelli is an actor, director and producer, and Co-Artistic Director of Piper McKenzie Productions, which calls The Brick Theater, where she's an Associate Director, home. Recent acting and directing credits include: the 2010 Fight Fest hit Bethlehem or Bust by Jeff Lewonczyk, Crystal Skillman's Killer High for the 2010 Vampire Cowboys Saturday Night Saloon Series, Eric Bland's play Jeannine's Abortion for the Too Soon Festival, 2009 Fight Fest's Craven Monkey and the Mountain of Fury, and the Trav S.D. musical Willy Nilly, a hit at the 2009 New York International Fringe Festival.  She is a Graduate of Bard College. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Why Indie Theatre?: Daniel Talbott

 In celebration of Indie Theatre Week (July 23 - August 1, 2011),
we asked members of the OOB community to answer this question,
"Why Indie Theatre?"

I was really excited (and scared J) when I was asked to contribute to the Indie Theatre Week blog.  I love the IT Foundation and what they’ve done for the theatre community, and especially Off-Off-Broadway and the Indie Theater, and I’m also really inspired by other theatre folks’ blogs all over the country. It’s something I really wish I was better at because I respect it so much and it’s such a wonderful galvanizing and community-building tool for theatre artists.  I love being constantly reminded how fucking determined, active, creative and impassioned our community is all over the world, and again it inspires me and helps me not get too down and overwhelmed with all of the other shit facing the arts and theatre right now. It’s so great to be able to turn on your computer at two in the morning when you can’t sleep, and even when you don’t always agree with what’s being written, to see how many people are struggling with the same fears and problems that you and your friends are, and how everybody’s trying so hard to find solutions so that work can happen.

I’ve been sitting here all day trying to figure out what I want to write about, and honestly I’m having a really tough time organizing my thoughts about Why Indie Theater? in a concise and deadline-friendly way (for those of you who know me – big f-ing surprise there!) because there are so many things that I want to say and write about.  I think this was due like seven hours ago though, so I’m going to choose one small part of the work our company does—our work in the back room of Jimmy’s No. 43 in the East Village, and site-specifically all over the city—and why we do that, and hopefully that will help me write about the bigger whole and about the question without getting so overwhelmed.

When Harry Koutoukas passed away in 2010, I read and was insanely moved and inspired by his obituary in The Times.  I loved his fuck it all, we’re going to create work at any price, in any place attitude, and his belief that theatre needs to happen whether we have money, resources, or means for it or not. His spirit and artistry seemed to personify what Indie Theater means to me, and why I love it so much. About six or seven years ago, the extraordinary people I run Rising Phoenix Rep with (Denis Butkus, Sam Soule, Brian Roff, Julie Kline, and Addie Johnson-Talbott) really wanted to stop focusing as much as possible on money and fundraising, so we gave ourselves the challenge that instead of waiting until we raised enough moolah to work on a specific project, we wanted to try to start creating the highest quality theatre we could for as little money as possible. That didn’t mean that we were going to be able to do whatever project we wanted to work on—some plays and productions of course really do need an actual budget and legitimate theatre space to explode them in the right way—but we were just sick of getting hung up constantly on the financials of everything, and wanted to see for ourselves if we could turn one of our problems into a possibility. For me, that’s where our work at Jimmy’s and other places comes from, and site-specific work for me means that anything in this city, state, country, and beyond can be a theatre. You can literally (if you’re guerilla enough about it) do theatre anywhere, and for me a theatre is a theatre, whether it’s the Barrymore or Delacorte or if it’s happening in a garbage can on Ludlow Street. You still have actors in space trying to embody and tell a playwright’s story in the most personal, dangerous, universal, and active way possible, and I’ve seen great, insanely high-quality work in both places – The Barrymore/Delacorte, and a garbage can.

You’re never going to be able to build a more beautiful, alive, and inspiring set, or find a more dynamic performance space than Central Park, or the Highline, or the Staten Island Ferry, or even an alley or basement that Robert Mapplethorpe has been blown in or taken pictures in somewhere in the East Village. These sets/sites/spaces are deeply alive and collaborative, and they may not obey us, or be perfect acoustically, but as in all great theatre I think they force us to collaborate with them, open our imaginations and hearts in very different ways, and get extremely creative. They’re also all truth boxes, holding us to a standard that goes beyond the conventions and expectations we can sometimes take for granted in a traditional theatre space. And no matter how realistic you’re attempting to have your work be, or how stylized and theatrical, these spaces force us to face the real world, as it is, juxtaposed with our work in all directions, and see more clearly how far we’re really pushing ourselves to do the best work possible.

There is so much to learn from producing a play in an unconventional space, and some of the best and most wonderfully dangerous plays I’ve ever seen have happened site-specifically—from Brian Mertes and Melissa Kievman’s extraordinary and brilliant work at their gorgeous home in Lake Lucille, to some of my students’ work on Sarah Kane, Shakespeare, and on contemporary playwrights like Crystal Skillman, Ken Urban, Florencia Lozano, Daniel Reitz and Jessica Dickey—the work I’ve seen done in and around the city on rooftops, back alleys, and on the streets of Dumbo have been many of the most magical theatre experiences I’ve ever had. I heard someone say the other day that often the quality of theatre has to do with money, and that we need more money to create higher quality theatre, and maybe in their very limited range of how theatre is made and their idea of what theatre should be, that’s true, but I’m sorry, for me, that’s bullshit. Not that money isn’t great, or that we don’t all deserve money for our work and how hard we all go at it, but a huge part of why I love Indie Theatre is because Indie Theater is not about how much money you can raise, or how much money you come from, but how willing you are to think outside the box and find a way to push yourself and the folks you’re working with to use whatever you have to make the most brilliant theatre possible.

I think you learn pretty much everything about theatre from the world around us, and our constant investigation and exploration in it, and I love that our lack of resources literally forces us to take theatre to the streets if we have to and embrace a completely uncontrolled, alive, and constantly changing environment. Again, for myself, I don’t actually think of work as site-specific or not site-specific, I just try as hard as I can to embrace whatever space I have to work with for each given project, and not get complain-y about it but have it become an ally, and see if its inherent difficulties can become assets and push us and the play in new ways.  I often look at spaces when I’m walking around or riding a subway or sitting somewhere, and if you took a chunk out of the sidewalk or a café or a storefront in NY that was literally the same dimensions of an average blackbox in this city, and just let life enter and exit through it, the staging of life is so much more physical, theatrical, and extraordinary than most of the staging I think you see onstage. Just the angles, the explosions, the physical relationships that happen so naturally and all come out of cause and effect, action and reaction, are stunning, and I think there’s so much to learn and borrow from that in your work on a play. Working outside or in an unusual environment just explodes your ideas of what staging and life in a theatre can and should be, and it constantly challenges you and forces you to dig deeper, work harder, and not take a conventional theatre for granted. Working in an untraditional space or site-specifically hopefully makes you more awake when you go back into a more traditional theatre space, and I still think that when you are working in a traditional theatre all the same rules apply—that every space, traditional or not, has to be collaborated with and honored.

Not every space is right for every play—if you have a dream production of Twelfth Night or The Birthday Party in your head that you want to work on you better find the budget and the strongest space possible to hold and explode that play and that production. I also think, for example, that it would be really hard to take one of Vampire Cowboys’ extraordinary plays and put it in any available space because of all the meticulous and beautiful fight choreography, and the incredible design elements that make those stories what they are. It’s interesting though that I’ve never heard them complain about lack of means or seen anything but insane innovation and genius in taking what they have and making it work with awe-inducing stagecraft, heart, and style. Another example is the wonderful Boomerang Theatre Company that I was lucky enough to work for and with this year on Much Ado, and they work very hard to raise money to produce a rep season of plays indoors that they think need to be done in a more traditional space, and then they also take it to the park every summer to offer free theatre to the masses with no lines, no celebrities, and almost no budget.

If you’re flexible and want to be working, you can go out and commission your best friend who’s a playwright to write a play for your bathroom, or kitchen, or closet, or your street corner, and then you couldn’t pay a set designer to build a more authentic and personal space for you and the other artists. You have a theatre and a set without so far spending a dime. Being willing to work and create work anywhere takes theatre back into artists’ hands, is truly independent, and allows us to not be constrained by money, funding, and awards.  It’s always work for works’ sake and I think especially right now, with so many funding and budget cuts and so many of our theatres biting the dust, this is one of the ways that we can flip all that into opportunities for our community and friends and get to put the work first instead of financial concerns. We all may have to think about theatre and playmaking in a larger way as funding continues to disappear, and I think no one does that better or more nimbly than the indie community, both because we often have so little to begin with and because that’s the spirit of so much of what we do.

I’m writing about all this in response to Why Indie Theater? because I want to be working all the time, especially with my friends and the people I admire and love, and I want to be trying to create the greatest work I can and as many opportunities for theatre artists as possible, and that’s why first and foremost we work in and are so proud to be a part of the Indie Theater community. I want our community to be working, and working hard, and be seen as the immensely essential part of our city that we are. I want theatre people to be respected and to respect themselves and each other, and get out of the tier mentality of Broadway, Off-Broadway, and Off-Off Broadway, and I think site-specific work which in many ways is so pure and unencumbered that it again forces us to do work for its own sake and realize that no matter where we’re working, whether it’s Lincoln Center or on Broadway or in a beer garden in Queens, work is work and the play is the thing.

Work is either happening or it’s not, and I’m not saying don’t produce a three show season, or try to get grants, or follow the models that have already been laid down by extraordinary companies like New York Theatre Workshop, Playwrights Horizons, and Soho Rep. Just don’t wait around, or make excuses that you can’t create brilliant work when the money isn’t rolling in or the grants/reviews/other things aren’t happening. For me, the only thing in the end that matters is the work, and you can always be working in the theatre, and nothing personifies that more for me than the Indie Theater. Why Indie Theater? Because almost every great movement in art, everything from the surrealists, to American independent film in the 70’s, to the punk and glam rock movements, were all personified by their independence.  I think an artistic spirit is an independent one. 


Daniel Talbott’s most recent work as a director includes Much Ado About Nothing (Boomerang Theatre Company/Central Park), Squealer (Lesser America/Theater for the New City) and The Umbrella Plays (teacup company/The Tank/FringeNYC), and as an actor he’s appeared most recently on The Big C. His play Slipping was produced at Rattlestick with Piece by Piece Productions, and was a finalist for the 2011 Lambda Literary Award, and his play Yosemite will be produced in Rattlestick's upcoming season. He teaches at ESPA/Primary Stages and is one of the literary managers of Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, and is the artistic director of Rising Phoenix Rep (recipient of the 2007 IT Caffe Cino Fellowship Award).


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Why Indie Theatre?: Heather Curran

 In celebration of Indie Theatre Week (July 23 - August 1, 2011),
we asked members of the OOB community to answer this question,
"Why Indie Theatre?"

Freedom!  The Gallery Players holds a unique position in the Indie theater world.  Having a home where we audition, rehearse, build and perform allows us the freedom to program an ambitious season of revivials and new works.  I love hearing from people "how are they going to pull that off?" about The Who's Tommy or Take Me Out or many of other shows in our season.  Looking forward to our 45th season starting this September.

Heather Siobhan Curran is the Artistic Director of The Gallery Players. At TGP she has directed Deathtrap, The Weir, Side Man, The Marriage of Bette and Boo, Bus Stop, The Crucible and most recently Dancing at Lughnasa. She is also a producer, helming such productions as Holiday, Cloud 9, Once on this Island, The Wild Party and Like You Like It (2009 IT award, outstanding musical production) and Reefer Madness .  She has worked at Rochester Children’s Theatre, Nazareth College, JCC Centerstage, Blackfriars Theater, Target Margin, Expanded Arts and in Europe. She also occasionally acts and is a member of the League of Professional Theatre Women.  


Other Indie Theatre Week Posts

Check out Zack Calhoon's blog 
Boomerang Theatre posted some photos from the softball after party.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Why Indie Theatre?: Hamilton Clancy

 In celebration of Indie Theatre Week (July 23 - August 1, 2011),
we asked members of the OOB community to answer this question,
"Why Indie Theatre?"

To be or not to be? It's actually not a bad model for the answer to this question. Fear of death propels us all to live. Fear of anonymity propels us to move forward in our creative ventures where others would fear to tread. Should we venture forward, without the security of a well heeled producer or the backing of an established well vested institution with our ideas? Should we, as artists, let our dreams and imaginations be our guides - or is it better just to end it all, put those daring ideas to the side and accept the waiting for recognition by greater, more secure economic forces who can cushion the risk of our ventures.

To sleep.
The act that Hamlet speaks longingly about sleep in that famous soliloquy can touch the heart of any indie theatre artist who's raised funds, built sets, rehearsed at odd hours after support jobs, all while perfecting the subject of their ventures: the new play, the unlikely revival,  the  production  turned  on  it's  ear,  the  classic  vested with raw emotion. The indie-designers who hang lights, discover costumes, wrangle sound  design, and most definitely "fardels  bear" as  they  construct  sets  without the  benefits of union crews, can  certainly  tell  you  something  about  sleep.  Next  time  you  get  an  e-mail  from an  indie  theatre  artist  check out  when  it  was  sent. Don't  be  surprised  if  its  the  wee  small hours  of  the  morning  when  many  of   us  find the time to  make time.. So  sleep. That would be nice.

Perchance to dream
Ay, there's the rub.

For what opportunities may follow if we leave the destiny of our creative ideas to the whims othe corporate America? How long can we wait for that fantastic idea for a one  person show,  or design for a  new  kind of theatre experience, or idea for a  new  play  inspired by a newspaper article that sits on  the  refrigerator, in a  file on our computer,  waiting.  Bundle all together the  awesome  force  of our artistry - our independent  theatre  community in New York  City - and  ask  them  all  to  wait  patiently  in  line  for  our  more  commercial theatre to  discover  their  artistry. What  do you  have? A vacuum of  innovation, and  innovators born only  of  artists  who have served  the  corporate  sector  first, with  saleable  product.
So  where  should  art  begin? With  the  artist or  the  observer of  the  artist? With the  patron  or  the  creator? Economically one  doesn't  have  to  delve  deeply  into  politics  to  discover  what  the  answer  most  right  wing  politicians  have  for  these  questions, and  ye   by  the  same  token, one  does not  have  to  study the  history  of  any   art  or  culture to  know  that  artists  are  creative leaders,obedient  first  to  the  inspiration  of  their  art. Each artist  of  reputation   finds  a  way   to  blend  their   vision  with  the  economic  and  political  realities  of  their  times ,  but  their  are  few  if  any  artists  we  celebrate  today  because  of  their   business  plans,  their  obedience  to  the  corporate branding  mandate,  or  their  ability  to  capture  the  lion's  share of  the Nielsen ratings.

But  here  my  comparison  must  end. For  Shakespeare 's  hero describes  those   who  choose  living  over  death  as  victims  of  hesitation and  cowardice. He goes on to say  that "enterprises of great pitch and moment...lose the name of  action." Of course nothing  could  be farther from a  description  of  the  character  of  the  independent theatre  community in Manhattan. Indeed, without them the more commercial  producing community would  have no one to imitate.

Consistently you see large institutional theatres across the city developing programs and initiatives that directly imitate those that the independent theatre  community  has  been  using for years to keep production expenses down, artistic quality high and  attract  a new  audience. Check out  the  independent  theatre  scene,  find  out  what they are doing and imitate  it.

So the simplest  answer  I  could  discover  to  the  question  that   repeats  itself  again and  again  in  the  lives  of  artists  across  our  city, is  that  without independent  theatre ,  part  of  th e  most  vital  fabric  of  New  York, it's  legacy as  originator  of  innovative  theatrrical  experiences  and  ideas   would  be   quickly  gone  and  impossible  to  find  in  our  city  for  the   world  traveller  or  the  inspired  young  artist  seeking   greater  recognition and  development  of  their  craft. If  we  were  to  lose  this  vital  quality  we  would lose artists  in  our  city . The  presence  of  artists  and  great  art  in  our   city  makes  it  a  world  class  destination. Losing our  innovative edge  would  be  like  losing a  legacy  given  to  us   for  generations  before ,  squandering  it  to  cash in  on  real  estate  value  while  ignorantly  letting  the  most  precious  gift  that  has  been  passed  down to  us,  this  vital  artistic community  of  New  York City, be  turned into a  theme  park  for  corporate innovation.
Why should we have indie theatre? Where else will the great traditions of New York theatre continue?

Hamilton Clancy  is  the  founding  artistic  director  of  The  Drilling  Company Theatre, known  for  their  new  works and  Shakespeare  in  the  Parking Lot. With  The  Drilling  Company  he  has  produced  world  premieres  of  over  200  commissioned  short  works around  common  themes and as  well 16  productions of Shakespeare and 8  full length  world  premieres. Most  recently  he  has directed  world premieres of  Eric Henry Sanders adaptation  of Woycek, Reservoir, Over the Line by P. Seth  Bauer, Home of the Great Pecan by  Stephen  Bittrich, and for SitPL, Julius Caesar. As an actor he has appeared  Off Broadway at American Place Theatre and Playwrights Horizon among others and  been seen in film and television, notably the Coen Brothers Burn After Reading, Ridley Scott's American Gangster with Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe.
He is currently directing Hamlet for this summer's Shakespeare in the Parking Lot, set to open on July 28, 2011.,

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Why Indie Theatre?: Erin Smiley


 In celebration of Indie Theatre Week (July 23 - August 1, 2011),
we asked members of the OOB community to answer this question, "Why Indie Theatre?"

For me, this question is actually a two-parter: Why do Indie Theatre? and Why see Indie Theater? First with the doing:

At first, I did Indie theater because it was what came easily – it was where the opportunities were, so I took them. I had a wonderful time working for and with others, easily juggling a 40-hour a week survival job plus 20-30 hours of rehearsal, wondering the whole time what on earth “regular” people did with all that extra time on their hands. Then came the most dangerous phrase in Indie Theater: “Let’s start a theater company.” And that way, my friends, madness lies. If you already successfully run a company, you probably know what I’m talking about. The endless planning, negotiating, booking, fundraising, publicizing, casting, rehearsing, performing, managing, meeting, discussing, smoking and drinking that all goes into a company. So, why do it? Because it’s hard. And tremendously rewarding. And exciting. And banging-your-head-against-a-wall frustrating. And wonderful. And perhaps the hardest thing you’ll ever do. But for many of us in this community, we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Now, with the seeing: See Indie theater because for about the price of a movie ticket (and way cheaper than IMAX 3D) you can see just about anything and it can be amazing. Or terrible. Or something in between. But no matter what, if you select wisely, chances are it will be memorable. There is a tremendous amount of talent in the Indie theater scene – it never ceases to astound me just how many tremendously gifted performers, designers, directors, playwrights and other theater professionals call Indie theater their home base, their place where they get to really create. There is tremendous diversity in Indie – classics, musicals, new works, new interpretations of old works – some companies choose to specialize in one of these areas, I’ve been fortunate to run a company that does them all. There is a tremendous amount of experience in Indie – some Indie Theater artists have been at this longer than some of us have walked this Earth and they have learned how to put together a damn good show in that time. And on the flip side, there are new, fresh ideas from young up-and-comers in Indie, highlighting ideas and plays that have not yet been seen or experienced. The breadth of talent, type and quality of theater is all over the map in Indie, and this is both its greatest asset and, to some, a great detriment (which, I think, is partially the issues with the Showcase Code (which I won’t even get into, as that’s a whole other can of worms) and the “hey-the-Times-came-to-review-a-show-at-the-venue-I-booked-last-week-and-they-hated-it-and-thought-it-was-ridiculous-and-amateurish-and-they’re-never-going-to-schlep-up-4-flights-of-stairs-to-see-my-brilliant-and-amazing-opus-in the-same-venue-because-of-them!” factor or, put simply “hey, those guys are making me look bad!”) But if you want my suggestion, I say go see it all. See shows in festivals. See things at venues you’ve never heard of. See free Shakespeare in the park (that isn’t produced by The Public). See everything you can and discover what you like and find more shows/companies like it. Support those companies by following their work and attending their shows, their readings, their events, and tell your friends just how great that show you saw last week was. Encourage them to go see it for themselves and when they ask “Why should I go see an Indie show?” tell them all of the things I’ve told you. Or none of them. Give them your answer to the question and just keep passing the word along.

And finally, a postscript. I intentionally never used the word “love” in this post, not because I don’t love Indie theater or love what I do, but because I don’t think any of us would be here, working in any kind of theater if we didn’t love it. We can scream from the rooftops why and how much we love theater and the answers probably won’t be terribly different. So, I just take the love as a given. Which is not a bad thing, as far as I see it.


Erin Smiley is Producing Director of (re:) Directions Theatre Company. Her work with RTC has included directing the New York premiere of Figaro/Figaro by Eric Overmyer, curating the Anybody But Shakespeare Classics Festival, directing the first production of Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt's Celebration in New York in nearly 40 years and directing the NYC premiere of Liner Notes by John Patrick Bray. Outside of RTC, she has directed new works, musicals and operas with companies in and around New York and also works at a teaching artist. Erin is a graduate of Vassar College, a two time member of Lincoln Center Directors Lab, happily married to an amazing and talented man and delighted more and more every day to be Mom to their little co-production. 

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Why Indie Theatre?: Edward Einhorn

 In celebration of Indie Theatre Week (July 23 - August 1, 2011),
we asked members of the OOB community to answer this question, "Why Indie Theatre?"

I began my theater company nearly 20 years ago, almost on a whim.  I knew someone who owned an art gallery.  I had recently read a play about art, Tom Stoppard’s Artist Descending a Staircase, which I sort of wanted to direct.  I was interning at New Dramatists and knew I had some free rehearsal space.  I named the company Untitled Theater Company #62, at the suggestion of my friend Daniel, as a joke about the titles of the paintings.  The company’s name also had a secondary meaning; it was one of thousands of semi-anonymous theater companies, something that would briefly bloom and die thereafter.  Why did my company need a name for such an ephemeral existence?

The show went well.  I was proud of the performance, the audience seemed to enjoy it, and I actually made money on it (OK, about $100 net, which I think had to pay to repair a window I accidentally broke while cleaning).  So…then came another.  This was a bit more expensive, lost money.  But the show went well.  Then another.  Then…

The more my company existed, the more it grew an identity.  When we incorporated in 1995 as Untitled Theater Company #61 (my brother took as his lawyer’s fee the new number, corresponding to the year of his birth), I was hard pressed to define our mission, except as plays that I liked.  Plays that, essentially, I sort of wanted to direct.  Or that I wanted to write and direct.  I was proud of the quality of the work, but somewhere in my mind I considered the work a sort of audition, for some random theater impresario who would see it and take me on.

For years the company was an island to itself.  I barely had contact with the theater community, as such, I just did work and tried to get people to come.  Few did.  Then, in 1996, I directed Richard Foreman’s My Head Was a Sledgehammer at NADA.  Suddenly, I was part of a larger community.  Suddenly, I found like-minded theater folk who shared the same passion for theater that I had.  I had found independent theater.

Of course, I had been doing independent theater all along.  I had been perhaps the most independent of all—independent of community, of press, of audience…independent in ways that, I suspect, many young directors in the city find themselves, until they find others like them.

But before I found NADA, I remember, I had found theater to be a sometimes lonely place.  The actors would come and go, and I enjoyed their company, but often I would be alone in the theater, working on lights, loading in, loading out, and doing all the things that made the show ultimately happen.  The support that NADA gave to me, and specifically that Ian W. Hill gave to me for that show, has been the support I have found throughout my time in independent theater since: fellow souls who find that theater is not merely something they enjoy, it is their calling.  Ian worked with me not just to support me, but because that is where his heart lied as well.

I found myself involved in downtown festivals, when those festivals were a rarity, not an everyday occurrence.  And the community grew.  And then, I decided to put together the Ionesco Festival.

There is nothing that makes you appreciate the depth and breath of a movement than putting on 39 plays in 13 venues.

That festival changed the company and me in ways I had never suspected.  First, it defined the company.  It was years till I came up with the phrase Theater of Ideas to describe what we do—a subtitle, of sorts, to our Untitled identity.  But many of the people we work with today were found during the Ionesco Festival, and truly, nothing defines a theater company more than the people involved.

Equally importantly, that festival let me begin to realize the unique capabilities of independent theater.  I had had the crazy idea to produce every single Ionesco play, because, essentially, that was my passion.  That was a dream of mine, to sit in the theater and watch every single show, onstage.  And it happened.  Because I found enough people to fill 39 shows with their own passion, enough actors and designer and directors and producers to also believe in what I believed in and bring the show into being, no matter what.

The festival was scheduled to be three months long.  Our first show was on September 6, 2001.  All the theaters were downtown.  After September 11, of course, the whole city paused.  But when the city came back, when the subways were running, three days later, the shows began again.  No production was cancelled.  And by the end of September, we had shows that were turning people away.

Since then, we have produced a number of festivals, all of which have galvanized the independent communities in their own unique ways.  But even our stand alone productions are events that could only happen in independent theater.  We just produced a new play/operetta by Václav Havel, and when I saw it a year ago in Brno.  His agents asked, who could possibly do this show in the United States?  Think of the budget it would require.  You need opera singers.  Live musicians.  A large cast of skilled actors.  People who really knew and understood the history of the Czech Republic.

That sounds perfect for us, I said.  Then later, I mentioned—the director is going to add video and a full meal as well.  And maybe some rock band for pre show and post.

How could all that happen?  Because of the support of the Ice Factory Festival, which it was a part of, and the staff of the Ohio.  Because of the facilities and staff of 3LD, where the performance was held.  Because of the skills and passion of every one of the very talented people involved.

Because we were working in independent theater in New York City, a unique place where those very particular sort of dreams and passions can come to life.


Edward Einhorn is the Artistic Director of Untitled Theater Company #61, a Theater of Ideas: scientific, political, philosophical, and above all theatrical.  He has curated The Ionesco Festival, the NEUROfest, the Festival of Jewish Theater and Ideas, and the Havel Festival.  Other prominent productions include Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep at 3LD (adaptor and director); The Velvet Oratorio at Lincoln Center (librettist); Rudolf II at the Bohemian National Hall (playwright); Cat's Cradle at Walkerspace (adaptor and director); and the Off-Broadway production of Fairy Tales of the Absurd at Theater 80 (co-writer, director).  He is also the author of numerous children's books.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Indie Theatre Week

July 23rd - August 1st, 2011

How are you celebrating Indie Theatre Week? The Community Dish, United Stages and The Innovative Theatre Foundation have several events planned to celebrate this amazing community.

Indie Theatre Midsummer Classic and Picnic
Saturday, July 23rd · 1:00pm - 3:00pm
Central Park's 65th Street ballfields
with after party at Malachy's pub (72nd and Columbus)
Who will get bragging rights for the next year, the Indie Outlaws or Team Awesome?

Life Offstage Podcast
Wednesday, July 27th
With Tim Errickson and Susan O'Connor
Get more details.
Check it out on the 27th.

Community Dish Meeting
Details forthcoming.

Nominee Announcement Party
Monday, August 1st · 7pm to 10pm
Celebrate the 2010-2011 IT Awards Nominees
at the historic Off-Off-Broadway Venue
Demo Hall / Carmine St. Center at Our Lady of Pompeii
located at 25 Carmine Street (corner of Bleecker)

Tickets are $10 and are on sale now!

July 23rd - August st
Starting tomorrow, we are dedicating our blog to Indie Theatre Week. For 10 days we will host a roster of all-star OOB community members each of whom address the question "Why Indie Theatre?"

Monday, July 18, 2011

Illuminating a Luminary

Contributed by Shay Gines

I’m going to tell you a story.

Back when I was in college - which clearly, because I am so young and vivacious and beautiful could only have been a few years ago… I was in the Actors Training Program at the University of Utah, my friend and much older classmate, Christopher Borg came to me with a play.

Now, you have to understand that Christopher had just recently come out of the closet. He was in a period of experimenting with his sexuality… lots of experimenting. In fact I have never known anyone to be more diligent and exhaustive in their experimentation than my dear dear friend Christopher Borg. Let’s just say that he was embracing his sexuality.

He came to me with a play called Psycho Beach Party by a playwright named Charles Busch. Christopher, who had been brought up in the Mormon faith in Utah, the most conservative state in the union, had found a kind of kinship with this playwright. He reveled in the humor. The characters were bright and funny and irreverent and proud. It was a different view, a different understanding, a different sensibility than we had been exposed to. It was important to Christopher that we do a production of this play.

There was no way we would ever be able to convince an established theatre in Salt Lake City, Utah to produce such a scandalous play especially by a bunch of college students. And WE were actors. I had never produced anything in my life. We didn't have any experience. We didn’t have any money. We didn’t have a space. We didn’t have any resources or contacts. Sound familiar?

But we decided to produce it anyway.

We wrangled a space called the AARDVARK’s Cabaret. It had 35 or 40 seats and a 10x10 foot stage. It’s sort of what I imagine the Caffé  Cino was like. We didn’t have any money to pay for the space, so… I put up my tuition money. So to be clear here, if we did not make our money back, I would have had to have dropped out of school.

We cast, mostly our friends, but a few people we hadn’t met before. I played Marvel Anne McAllister, the bitchy blonde bombshell – just like in real life. Christopher played Mrs. Forrest. I think both of us could put up a defensible argument about who had the best part, but seriously, it was me.

We broke into the performing arts building at the university after hours and on weekends to rehearse. We literally broke in. We climbed through windows and picked the locks. Our costumer, Matt “it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission” Uhl, stole costumes from the theatre where he was working at the time.

Borg had a stroke of genius and came up with a plan for a set that cost us, less than $100. We took colored butcher paper (you know, the kind they use in elementary schools) and created a set that looked like a “wish you were here” California postcard complete with palm trees and a sailboat. It was actually quite striking and fit the play perfectly.

 Fortunately, one of Christopher’s ex-lovers was the night manager at Kinko’s (but that’s not surprising, because seriously you couldn’t throw a rock in SLC without hitting someone that Borg had had sex with). Anyway, he made thousands of flyers for us under the radar during his graveyard shift. We ran around Salt Lake putting flyers under every windshield wiper we could find. We hung up posters, handed out flyers and sent press releases.
I’ll be honest, I was scared. I didn’t think people would come. Maybe a few of our classmates, but I didn’t think we would get an audience. If the audience was there, I wasn’t sure that they would be brave enough to come. While there was definitely a gay population, it certainly was not comfortable, or easy to be out and t
here had been some altercations. 

Opening night, we had a few people. There were more people on stage than there were in the house though. The next night we had a relatively decent house. But the third night the drag queens came. Yes! In their 4 inch heels and beehive hair dos they came marching down West Temple. There were only 6 or 8 of them, but you couldn’t miss them. They looked like 7 foot tall goddesses.

In my mind it was the very first Gay Pride Parade in Salt Lake City. It was glorious. The next week we sold out twice.

Even my dad enjoyed it. My Dad!, who thinks that all actors are a little fruity, who still petitions me to become a lawyer and who thought that a production of The Grapes of Wrath was too racy because of language, enjoyed Psycho Beach Party.

I think at one point in Psycho Beach Party, Chicklet yells at the top of her lungs “mother fucking cock sucker!” There’s some pretty raunchy stuff in PBP. And yet somehow my dad didn’t even see that and was able to
just have fun. I think beyond that, my Dad was able to see characters that he was familiar with, that he could identify with, but with a twist and it helped him see a new perspective. I’m very proud of my dad and the mental transformation that he has had over the years, but that is a story for a different blog.

The experience of producing Psycho Beach Party showed me the transformative possibilities of theatre. It gave some people a place where they were not just accepted, but celebrated. It gave someone else an opportunity to understand something that was foreign to them. And it managed these incredibly complex and profound things in under two hours and in a way that had everyone leaving the theatre happy and up lifted.

I think of a script as a foundation for a production. We would never have been able to accomplish these things had we not had such a strong and joyous foundation.

Not only did I make my tuition money back, but we were actually able to pay everyone involved; not a lot, but a little. We were very proud of ourselves and this experience set me on my path to becoming a producer.

Years later (but you know, not a lot of years, because clearly I am so young and vivacious and beautiful) I had this idea for an awards organization that celebrated Off-Off-Broadway.

We met with so many people who all told us that we were crazy. They said that OOB wasn’t worth recognizing. That OOB was too vast and there were too many people and shows for the awards to be meaningful. That everyone in OOB was out for themselves and they would never be a cohesive community. That there was no way that something like this could ever work. We knew that creating legitimacy for Off-Off-Broadway was going to be a challenge especially because back in 2004 there was no champion for OOB and it didn’t have a unified voice.

So when we produced our first award ceremony, we were met with a lot of skepticism. We had a lot to prove and we were reaching pretty high. We reached out to Charles Busch to host our ceremony. Charles had worked Off-Off-Broadway for many years. He knew the challenges that we face. He knew the insanity of self-production. But the IT Awards weren't anything. We weren’t anybody. He had no incentive to say "yes," but he did. In that moment he lent his prestige, to our fledgling organization.

When we walked into offices and said, we are having an event at the Lortel Theatre, we are already sold out AND its being hosted by Charles Busch, people started to take us seriously.

In 2009, Julie Halston hosted the ceremony and she said – “I can’t believe how much this has grown.” And it is true, we have grown faster and bigger than we could have imagined, but honestly I do not think that we would be where we are today had we not had that little injection of legitimacy that Charles so generously gave us at such a critical time in our development.

Having never met Charles, he was an influential force at two very pivotal moments in my life. Through the honesty and brilliance of his talent he contributed to an experience that was so powerful it set me on a career path. And through the generosity of his spirit and willingness to celebrate his roots, he helped build the Innovative Theatre Foundation. I can’t think of a better example of a luminary.


Congratulations to Charles Busch the 2011 Luminary Award recipient.