The Playgoer: Indie Theatre Rep?

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Friday, October 02, 2009

Indie Theatre Rep?

No, not Indiana Rep.

Playwright/Blogger August Schulenburg floats a thought provoking proposal, that's been getting some play on the web.

One of the greatest challenges facing the indie theatre field (and so the whole NYC theatre field) is the ability of Equity Showcase productions to transfer to longer runs. The focus of this challenge has been primarily directed towards Equity and the showcase code itself, but there may be something we as field can do (preferably) with or without code reform.

An Indie Theatre Repertory company: the best of indie theatre given a longer life through production in repertory.[...] The structural model could be like the FringeNYC Encore series in miniature. A 7:00 weekday showtime of one production would allow you a 9:00 performance of another, with three show days on the weekend (similar to our Trilogy production schedule, only a little more so). A production could see anywhere from 3-5 shows a week. As one show in rep was ready to end, a new show would be brought in to keep the rep fresh.

I do like the idea of a new singular venue, identified with the Off Off scene, that one could reliably go to and see notable new shows. (Of course, HERE and PS122 already think they're doing that, I'm sure.) Part of Off-Off's problem in reaching out to new audiences, I believe, is people simply not knowing where plays are happening.

August doesn't focus much on the where's and how's of a new space--and indeed space is pretty hard to come by these days. (I suggest such a "Rep" set up camp in one of the more affordable areas of Brooklyn or Queens, and thus offer a real alternative to regular Broadway & Off Broadway.)

But his main goal is an even more urgent one--how to extend runs of good Off Off shows without violating the showcase code and/or going broke on space rentals.
Not only would worthy Indie theatre productions gain an extended life, but supported by the other shows, they would not need to prove immediately profitable. They would get the time they need to grow the audience they deserve. The premiere-itis of our major non-profits would be countered. Audiences previously made of friends and family would overlap, and over time, a legitimate following for the best of Indie theatre would develop. Plays that did especially well could transfer into commercial Off-Broadway runs, and/or gain an increased publicity that could lead to regional productions.

Everyone might benefit: commercial Off-Broadway would be revitalized with an in-town try-out for daring new work; artists who commit to an Equity Showcase would stay with the project long enough to reap the financial rewards of their efforts; audiences would be exposed to the work of the best new Indie companies; and the producing theatre(s)/producer(s) would have a thriving hub of new work.

The plays could be chosen by savvy producers; or the NYITA could provide a forum for audiences to vote their favorite work into a longer run, giving the audience a greater sense of ownership; maybe a little of both.
That last point about exactly how and which shows would be granted such a privilege is no small point. Competition for slots in such a venue would be fierce--and would risk corrupting some projects right from day one of rehearsal with the ambition to "transfer." Audience voting can always be rigged. And while it's tempting to put some impressario curator (say, Mark Russell?) in charge--that person would be so incessantly stalked, flattered, and propositioned would the job even be worth it?

But wait--here I am nitpicking details of something barely a dream yet. For now, let's just ponder the idea and tell August what you think.

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