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.

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