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.


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