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. 


  1. Thank you for expressing this. 100 per cent dead on!

  2. John Patrick BrayJuly 26, 2011 at 5:15 PM

    Wonderful post! And thank you for the shout-out in your bio ;)