Tuesday, November 22, 2011

IT Foundation Background

Contributed by Nick Micozzi

Pop quiz: When did the IT Awards start?

2005? No, that was the year of our first ceremony. 2004? Nope, that was when the first productions were registered (by companies like Emerging Artists, International WOW, and Boomerang), and we started the first adjudications. 2003? No, that was when we started the paperwork for our incorporation and 501(c)3 status. Our work began long before that.

We had all been working Off-Off-Broadway for a while. There was some extraordinary theatre taking place, but it seemed to be gone as quickly as it appeared. There were few reviews and no archives of the amazing work that was happening. There was also a community of great artists and companies that did not know each other, and there wasn't anything holding together this vast, disparate population of important, talented, hard working theatre creators. So Shay began to think about how to raise the profile of Independent theatre; to create something that was buzz worthy and would attract media attention and simultaneously provided opportunities for the artists to see each other’s work and create communal bonds.

She thought about it, and thought about it... and came up with a rather elegant idea to introduce artists to each other's work, to create a stronger sense of community in Indie theatre and a connection to its lineage; to bring attention to the some of the incredible work being done in this community; to help people - and not just our family and friends - recognize the substantial creative contributions of this underground force for creative good. Maybe awards, dedicated to the OOB community and based on a peer evaluation system could accomplish all of that.

She knew this idea was too big for just one person (even Shay) to accomplish. So in 2000 she brought this idea to Jason Bowcutt and me. We had both known and worked with her for years. We each had a unique set of skills and talents that would be vital to making this whole thing a reality.

Just a year or so earlier, I had built the first free producer-empowered theatre listings website for Off-Off-Broadway theatre. Companies had begun to post there to get a free webpage for their show and some publicity/promotion. It was a meaningful alternative to hoping the big publications would pick up a show's press release and run something.
Jason had known Shay since wayyyy back. He has very unique gifts in relating to people, getting them excited about what we’re trying to do, and gaining their active support and involvement in our events and organization. Jason forged countless relationships that brought the Awards immediate credibility, spectacle, and critical support. Ironically, in a very early conversation, Jason said, "I love the awards idea, but I don't know what I could contribute." Shay knew, and we all trusted her.
We all had ties to different areas of the theatre universe in New York, and we felt that working together, we should try to make a go of it. We hashed out some core principles and ideas, and the general structure, but we knew that ultimately, in order to get this off the ground, whatever we built needed to involve the community as much as possible. We knew it had to be Off-Off-Broadway celebrating Off-Off-Broadway.
So we began to build this awards idea together with artists and producers from the Indie Theatre.

We set out on a two year fact finding mission/investigation talking to loads of OOB people, community leaders, community founders, unions and leagues, a mathematician, systems engineers, accountants, interactive web experts, educational experts, publicists, media representatives, journalists, archivists, other arts service organizations, and so so many others. We had meetings and work groups and held roundtables and summits. It was a long and exhausting, but very exciting process.

A good example of the kinds the discussions we had was the debate over our name. We spent a lot of time considering what to call this organization. We'd been working on this project a while, but we didn't have a name. We had the whole "Indie" vs. "Off-Off", marginalization vs. DIY, heritage vs. popular appeal, downtown vs. uptown, et cetera, et cetera, etc. etc. etc. conversations. Thoroughly. After A LOT of thought and A LOT of discussions and A LOT of meetings, we decided on the New York Innovative Theatre Awards. That name truly represents our world, without judging or excluding or siding with any camp. And innovation is a core element of this sector's work. Everyone who works Off-Off-Broadway knows that there is often more innovation that happens off stage than on. We wanted to honor innovative design and producing practices and choices as much as innovative artistic ones.

We hashed out each of the key elements of the awards in this collaborative, community-based process, from the makeup of the judging pool, to the scoring scale and system, to the requirements and qualifications. By 2004, we had a name, a meaningful mission, and a peer evaluation system that was designed specifically for this community and based extensively on the ideas and consensuses of community members. The system created opportunities for OOB artists to see the work of their fellow artists free of charge and hopefully provided a meeting place for these people to build creative relationships. We had also built relationships with other support organizations like NYTE and United Stages, to help us provide further opportunities for artists and make the Awards Ceremony a worthy celebration. And of course we were joined by our incredibly knowledgeable and talented staff, and our wonderfully thoughtful and dedicated board whom we are thankful for every day.

We had initially set out to build an awards system. But the awards were a means to an end. That end: a greater sense of community within the Indie Theatre world, not only between producers and artists, but also the audience; a greater audience awareness of the fantastic work being done OOB; and a greater sense of recognition and celebration of Indie Theatre. We began to see that these goals becoming reality. And responding to the OOB community’s needs had driven us to expand beyond just awards.

Today our Survey program, our roundtables, our work with Community Boards and the arts-space tax relief program, and the Off-Off-Broadway archive project (more details later) are further extensions of this mission. We're proud that with your support and involvement, we've been able to get here. But we know if we have much further to go.

So that brings us back to this feedback series here on our blog. Ever since day one, virtually all major decisions and structural issues have been worked through with many members of our community - So it's therefore very important to hear honest feedback so we can address issues, or incorporate meaningful improvements. This has always been extremely important to us, and remains so today.

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