Monday, December 29, 2014

What has been the biggest change that you’ve noticed in the OOB community over the last 10 years?

As we wrap up our 10 year anniversary, we asked a few of our friends about their fondest memories of the Innovative Theatre Foundation and the IT Awards.

Blake Lawrence: There has been a tremendous growth in the sense of pride, the variety of the work and a real coming together within the community. When I first moved to NYC and worked OOB everyone was involved in a show OOB but you only went to see other shows if you knew someone. Many more shows were “one-offs” instead of created by companies. The IT Awards helped to acknowledge the tremendous talent that existed OOB and the work of so many companies. It inspired and encouraged younger artists to start their own companies and created a true sense of community and support that was desperately needed.

Daniel Talbott: I think it's just the sheer number of fantastic companies that keep popping up and are out there, and the visibility of their work, which is wonderful.

Desmond Dutcher:
The amazing connections and cross-pollination that have occurred (on the positive side).  The sadly rising cost of rent for venues (on the down side).

I’m sure that I’m not the only one to give this answer, but reasonable spaces to perform work. Venues close their doors every year, and sadly there only seem to be a few “classic” OOBR venues left in NYC.

Jason Bowcutt:
The community has become so strong and proud in self identifying. I remember when we started there was such a dismissive attitude towards Off-Off-Broadway by so many people in the New York Theatre community, that has truly changed. I think people value the freedom to create that OOB offers. I have always said, and I still believe, that OOB is the only place in New York where you can still put yourself completely out on a limb and risk failure without compromising yourself to a bottom line. It is in that place of risk where some extraordinary art can flourish.

Kathleen Warnock: It’s not that it’s getting too big…but that because there are so many more people doing so many different kinds of work, I feel as though sometimes you don’t hear about something until it’s over. That’s for 2 reasons: you can’t know everyone in the scene, and the workshop contract is obsolete (you don’t hear about a show until it’s started selling out and word of mouth has spread and then…poof their can’t extend).

Stephanie Cox-Williams: It seems a lot bigger with a lot more productions than I was ever aware of.

Mariah MacCarthy: One of the biggest changes I've noticed in the OOB Community over the 7 years I've been in New York has been the way we promote and support shows. Each show has its own hashtag now, and if you go to a friend's show and enjoy it, it's becoming more and more of a custom to write about it on Facebook, Twitter, and sometimes Tumblr - or to Instagram a picture of your program when you take your seat. I also see "world-building" becoming more and more of a common marketing tactic (Flux are the grandmaster mack daddies of this), with manufactured newspaper articles, videos, pages from storybooks, etc that continue to tell the story of the play offstage - which you could also call "transmedia."

Shay Gines:
I’ve seen a greater sense of community and collaboration. It is not a bunch of companies working independently from one another, but a community of artists that work together and support one another. I think this change is due in some part to organizations like the Indie Theatre Now, LIT, TRU and the Innovative Theatre Foundation. Also Facebook and online sites like Theasy, NY Theatre Review, Off-Off-Online that are dedicated to the community and help to spread the word about the artists and work that is happening here.

Christopher Borg:
The biggest change that I have noticed is that increasingly OOB and indie artists have realized the importance and impact that their art can make on the community as a whole.  I get the feeling that people understand that they CAN take their art seriously, even in a small venue.  I believe that audiences and critics have picked up on that and taken more notice of this vast and imaginative community.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

What is the craziest thing you remember from the IT Awards?

As we wrap up our 10 year anniversary, we asked a few of our friends about their fondest memories of the Innovative Theatre Foundation and the IT Awards.

Stephanie Cox-Williams: The Brick's acceptance/performance upon receiving the Caffé Cino.

Jeff Riebe: It would be unethical to say. ;)

Desmond Dutcher: Interviewing The Blue Man Group back stage.

Blake Lawrence: The week before that first awards show. We really didn’t know what to expect! My crazy memories are mostly about directing the ceremony - presenters going missing right before their entrances, presenting the wrong award, people speaking entirely too long, all the fun stuff of a live show!

Daniel Talbott: I don't know about the craziest but I really love all the folks who have received the Artistic Achievement awards and their dedication videos and speeches always really inspire me. Boring answer I know, and I also remember a guy accidentally pissing all over my shoes in the guys' room the year RPR was the Cino recipient. I was so nervous about having to talk that I didn't even realize it was happening and he was so drunk already he didn't either. We cracked up about it though and I felt like a ten year old again, and it made me a ton less nervous, which rocked. :)

Ellen Reilly: Being hugged by Ben Vereen backstage! I never saw it coming, he was just hugging everyone!

Jason Bowcutt: The Frisbee moment. An audience of 600+ being encouraged by one of the founders of Blue Man Group to reach into their gift bags, find the Frisbee and "do whatever comes to mind." Of course it was followed by Frisbees filling the entire theatre at the Fashion Institute of Technology.

Christopher Borg: CERTAINLY, the craziest moment was when Bill Irwin encouraged the audience at the award ceremony to take the white frisbees out of the gift bags that everyone had been given when they entered and throw them! There was a huge WAVE of white frisbees in the air and hurtling toward the stage- I've never seen anything like that.  A little scary and a LOT hilarious!

Kathleen Warnock: I loved it when Lisa Kron showed us the container catalog she liked to look at. And, of course, the Frisbees. And this year, as the host kept taking off his clothes!

Shay Gines:
Last year the ceremony was running ahead of schedule (no, that is not the crazy part). Stephen Schwartz was presenting our final two awards and he was running a little late. Our host, Harrison Greenbaum was asked to go onstage and “stretch” while we waited for Mr. Schwartz to arrive. Meanwhile we were preparing to enact our contingency plan, which is Nick, Jason and I presenting the award. I don’t know if I’ve ever been more stressed. We had the script in-hand and were literally on the verge of walking onstage when Mr. Schwartz walked through the doors.

Akia: What people don’t see after the show.  Nick, myself, our Stage managers and interns usually are up for about 22 hours on Awards Show Day.  By the end of the day we have loaded and unloaded the truck 5 to 8 times, by the time we get to our storage unit, we’ve been up an entire day and usually on 2 or 3 hours of sleep the night before.  We have some outrageously silly moments, and it’s inevitable that I’ll have an exhausted meltdown which ends with all of us in unstoppable laughter on the floor (Literally, tears from laughing so hard, on the floor rolling).

The ritual is then diner breakfast and getting home around 4am.  Sometimes we’ve had to drop people off at the airport before going home. It’s rough, but there are some magic moments of theatre bonding that no one else gets to see.

Monday, December 22, 2014

What is the most iconic or meaningful moment that you remember from the IT Awards?

As we wrap up our 10 year anniversary, we asked a few of our friends about their fondest memories of the Innovative Theatre Foundation and the IT Awards.

Akia: Oh man! So So many.  Our opening number from the first ever ceremony, with Susan Blackwell telling Marian Seldes to "rock out with her cock out…"  The Blue Man Group on our 5th Anniversary opening the show and then debuting a premiere of a new piece of material. Then there was the infamous “Frisbee” moment during outstanding ensemble presentation. For a lot of reasons, I think year 5 stands out as this amazing landmark year to me. There was also a fantastic moment with Ben Vereen getting a NYITA hat from a volunteer who just wasn’t sure if she should be giving free stuff away.

Jeff Riebe:
The very first awards ceremony. I recall having a sport coat made just for the occasion. Having been involved with the Honorary Awards Committee opened my eyes to the breadth and influence of the Off-Off-Broadway theatre community at its core.

Christopher Borg: Well, I have to say that it was the moment that I first heard my name announced as a recipient! I had been nominated before and didn't expect to actually take home the award for Outstanding Ensemble with my fellow creators and that moment was simply overwhelmingly positive and wonderful.  There is nothing like that.

Daniel Talbott: This is such a tough question cause there are a lot but I really love Indie Theater Now, and also the passing of Doric Wilson really hit me hard and has always stuck out to me. Just knowing that such a truly individual artist like Doric from a different Village and time and place was no longer out there fighting the great fight in the same way or pounding the pavement - it made it feel like our connection with the extraordinary past of NY theater was getting thinner.

Desmond Dutcher: Bill Irwin telling the audience to throw their Frisbee in the air towards the stage.

Blake Lawrence:
The first awards ceremony was just incredible. Going from that early morning brainstorming session to sitting in a theatre with several hundred artists cheering on themselves and each other, it was just an incredible feeling. Something unique and magical was truly born that night and everyone in the room knew it and celebrated it.

Jason Bowcutt: Very hard to choose just I won't. Doric Wilson receiving the Artistic Achievement Award was a moment I will forever cherish, being able to recognize Ellen Stewart with the Stewardship Award blew my mind, and being backstage with Shay, Nick and Akia at this year's ceremony as we looked at one another in astonishment and having reached our 10th annual ceremony. 

Kathleen Warnock: So many! Of course, when Doric Wilson accepted his award, that one really got me. And one that was incredibly glorious was when Bill Irwin got everyone to throw their Frisbees. And I loved it, of course, when all five of the Five Lesbian Brothers accepted their award…for many and varied reasons.

Stephanie Cox-Williams: When I was able to meet and talk to Landford Wilson.  Not really a part of the show, but that was really meaningful to me.

Shay Gines: There are so many snapshots in my mind of moments that where meaningful to me. The first year was so indelible because we were in untested waters and had no idea what to expect. There was a moment at the first Nominee Announcement in 2005 when I swear I wasn’t breathing and my heart was not beating as we opened the doors and I watched the place fill with artists. At the time I didn’t know most of them and they didn’t know each other. At the first ceremony I was still in my overalls when we opened the house and when they called places, I was nowhere near being ready. The stage manager took pity on me and decided to hold for 10 minutes to allow me time to put on my dress. Over the years there have been simply too many astonishing moments onstage, backstage, behind the scenes I could not capture them all: Tom O’Horgan presenting the Stewardship Award to Ellen Stewart; watching the dress rehearsal for APAC’s Cino Award presentation; having the insane opportunity to meet so many of my theatrical icons; being the first person to congratulate some of the most profound artists I’ve had the good fortune to meet; talking backstage with Magie Dominick about the CaffĂ© Cino; carrying Olympia Dukakis’ purse; hugging Heather Cunningham after she received her award; watching Jolie Garrett (one of our award handlers) absolutely refuse to hurry Ben Vereen off stage (It was hysterical. He was onstage and it was like watching a pitcher shake off signals from the catcher. The Stage Manger kept getting more-and-more animated and Jolie was almost imperceptibly but decidedly shaking his head "no."); having Edward Albee tell me that we’ve built something important. One of my favorite things though is walking around the audience before the ceremony and greeting our guests and knowing most of them and watching this community being so supportive of one another. It makes me cry every time I think of it. Seriously, I’m in tears right now.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

How did you first hear about the IT Awards?

As we wrap up our 10 year anniversary, we asked a few of our friends about their fondest memories of the Innovative Theatre Foundation and the IT Awards.

Jeff Riebe: I got wind of this emerging enterprise prior to it being launched. It instantaneously sparked my interest.

Blake Lawrence:
My lovely, lovely friend Shay Gines invited me to join a group of fellow theater artists one weekend afternoon for a hardcore brainstorming session. From what I remember, it involved coffee, donuts and a big chalkboard where we kept throwing out adjectives to describe Off-Off-Broadway theater.

Daniel Talbott: I first heard about the IT Awards through the wonderful Jason Bowcutt and I was so excited to find out everything I could about them and to get involved as quickly as possible.

Ellen Reilly: I TELL THIS STORY ALL THE TIME... but I was sitting at a make-up mirror with Shay backstage at the black-and-white play "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like... Murder!" And she swore me to secrecy saying, "I've got this idea for an awards program for Off-Off-Broadway..."

Desmond Dutcher: From my good friend, Shay Gines, who once told my boyfriend and me about 11 years ago that must host her for brunch on a Sunday so that she could tell us of her new idea for linking all of the hard-working artists of O-O-B'Way. The result was the Innovative Theatre Foundation and the rest is history.

Stephanie Cox-Williams: When it was first being conceived, I heard about it from my friends who went to a meeting regarding it's conception.

Jason Bowcutt: Well, my dear friend Shay asked me to meet up one day to discuss and idea she had......and you don't say no to Shay!

Kathleen Warnock: I think I first heard about them in about 2006…I remember I knew people who were nominated, and it struck me as the best thing ever! Then I think it was the year that Doric Wilson received the Artistic Achievement Award, and of course I never STOPPED hearing about it. I will take credit for suggesting that Mark Finley present the award in costume (ie drag)

Akia: I received an email from Shay inviting our theatre company to attend the launch event waay waay back in 2004(?), I signed up to volunteer. I helped with the box office and I remember carrying a lot of chairs down stairs at the end of the night with Hillary Cohen. I guess they were impressed with my chair carrying capabilities, because after that I got a call and invited to a meeting. From there they’ve been stuck with me.

Christopher Borg: When my best friends Shay Gines and Jason Bowcutt came to me in 1999 and told me that they wanted to start an award that would recognize indie theatre artists, I thought it sounded beautiful and noble and IMPOSSIBLE. How could they ever pull something off so ambitious and huge?  But I could tell that they were serious. And knowing that they were people that knew how to get things done, I said that I would get on board and help out as much as I could.  I have never regretted that decision.

Nick Micozzi: Shay called me one day in 1999 and said “I have an idea…” I had been working in OOB since 1995, and like Shay, had experienced the vast unconnected world of indie theatre and wanted to help bring it together.  In early 1999, I had launched the first free OOB listings service,, in an effort to help empower producers to use the web to spread the word about their shows, to give artists a place for their profiles, and to give the community at large a place to share about OOB. The idea of having Awards be a huge catalyst to actively bringing the community together, focusing attention on the great stuff being done OOB, and connecting with our theatrical roots, was pure genius. I was really excited, along with Jason Bowcutt, to work with Shay on making the idea a reality.     

Technically, the first time I heard the name “IT Awards” (it rhymes with “hit”, not “high sea”) was when we came up with the name: we were in the midst of the numerous summits, panels, and meetings with the community we held. We were at the stage where we specifically needed to come up with the name for this thing we were building. It was 2002 in EAT’s space on 42nd St. We had bounced numerous ideas around, but Innovative Theatre, steering clear of a delineation or marginalization, and representing energy and entrepreneurism, was perfect.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Going Off-Off

Contributed by Kevin Brofsky

I’ve been attending theater most of my life. I came to New York for my love of theater. The Off-Off-Broadway theater in the 1970s was a place of protest, experiments in form, subject matter and language. It was also a place to see stories of people who were rarely seen on Broadway or on film and never on television; people of color, the disabled, gay and lesbian people.

The first openly gay character I ever saw on stage was a Margo Channing’s hairdresser, Duane, played by LeRoy Reams, in the Broadway musical Applause. Margo invites Duane out on the town. He tells her “I have a date.” “Bring him along” sings Margo to thunderous laughter. In 1971, a man being on a date with another man was just hilarious.

The world of Off-Off-Broadway did not think it was so hilarious, or even that odd. I saw the plays of Doric Wilson, Robert Patrick and Jane Chambers. I truly think those plays, produced on shoestring budgets, played a huge part in the audience excepting gay and lesbian characters on stage and even on television.

When I first came to New York, no one thought of crossing the river into Brooklyn and Queens to see a play. Now, we don’t think twice. Audiences shell out $15 or $25 for a seat; sometimes just a folding chair. That was the cost of an orchestra ticket to see Applause in 1971.

There are still hills to climb. While it may be easier to dig up a “lost” play from a hundred years ago than to take a chance on a new, untested playwright, there are still unique and important plays that need a chance to be heard. Off-Off-Broadway is the place where that can happen.  

The IT Awards have done wonders for the Off-Off-Broadway community; shining light on talent which might otherwise stay in the shadows as New York becomes less and less friendly to venues without deep pockets. The community has learned to survive though. I think Off-Off-Broadway can still teach the world a few things and I will always walk into the theater, any theater, from a Broadway house to a loft in Bushwick hoping that the experience will make me wonder and think and hope.