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.


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