Saturday, July 12, 2008

2nd Indie Theater Convocation First Impressions

Got any lingering comments, burning issues/questions, or significant impressions of today’s 2nd Indie Theater Convocation? Please post your thoughts here.


Manhattan Repertory Theatre said...

Hey Martin,

First off I want to thank you, Rochelle and all involved for a fascinating gathering of creative artists this afternoon.

Alas, The League of Independent Theatre is still an enigma to me.

Ultimately, there just wasn't enough time to really talk about the issues that affect Indie producers and Indie creative artists and how the league can help - I felt we got caught up in the Showcase issue - an issue that does concern the community but doesn't doesn't concern all of us for many of us still work NON-EQUITY (I had silly issues with Equity when I was producing a benefit for 9-11 with 140 artists back in 2001 so we work Non-Equity at present to limit the madness of running a theatre in Times Square.)

So what the heck are the other issues? I mentioned HEALTH INSURANCE and it was sidelined to Fractured Atlas, as if they have the definitive health coverage for Indie theatre people. If the Indie Theatre population was mobilized and brought together who knows what could be possible for health care? So many of us support ourselves in businesses or in jobs that don't offer health care.
If we could save money anywhere, it will give us more revenue to live and to create!

Other issues: how can we connect better with the media? How can we increase revenue so that we can survive and thrive? Could we get help/advice for raising capital? Could there be a way to team up on lighting/ tech / prop/ office supplies to save money etc. etc. and on and on ---so many ideas and so many possibilities.

I grew up on comic books, and, yes I still read some for it is incredible mythology (and it keeps me happy.) One of my favorites was The Justice League of America. (I actually have a majority of the first 50 issues.) In the early issues, what made it fun was the way they would TEAM up to vanquish the EVIL DOER of the month using their Super-Powers together in new ways as a unified force?

I know for me Creativity is my Super-Power. And that theatre today was a SUPERNOVA of CREATIVITY. If we were to use our God-given Super Power to find new ways to support each other, to expand, to challenge the inherent (and assumed) limitations of INDIE theatre, the possibilities are endless.

But we can't even begin to scratch the surface in an hour and a half.

Could the League organize future meetings to really dive in and brainstorm/create on new forms, new solutions? That would be AWESOME!

"Nuff Said!"

Thanks again, Martin for opening up an amazing door of possibility. The question is: Are we willing to do what it takes to step through to the other side?

Better yet...LET'S FLY THROUGH!

Ken Wolf
Artistic Director
Manhattan Repertory Theatre

ModFab said...

Martin, Rochelle, John...what a pleasure it was to see such devotion to the peculiar art of indie/downtown theater. I can't wait to see what happens next, and hope there will be ways for me to participate and help in the days to come.

The dreams and plans for are exciting...I hope it can become the definitive internet port of call for downtown productions. I was especially interested in the marketing event you're planning; keep us informed as it takes shape.

As Ken said, The League of Independent Theatres wasn't as clear today as perhaps some had hoped. I had hoped for a broader and more substantive discussion; I know the Equity debate rages fiercely, but it can't be the defining issue facing us at all times. I also hope there will be a way for LIT to address site-specific and hybrid work.

One suggestion: we're in dire need of a sweeping e-mail newsletter. Or even two. One for artists to connect, network, share resources, search for work, hire for positions, etc. Another for audiences to receive show information, discounts, and late-breaking offers DIRECTLY from the theaters...not via Playbill or SmartTix, etc., where service fees eat our meager earnings.

At any rate, good work today. Only by banding together can our mutual problems be solved. Today felt like a step in that direction.

Gabriel Shanks
Executive Director, The Drama League of New York
Artistic Director, MadShag

Jeni Mahoney said...

Hi Martin and Rochelle!

Thanks so much for this wonderful event. What a thrill. You are the best friends the theater has! (and not just indie theater by the by)

I agree that a half hour wasn't enough to delve too deeply into LIT and what is might be. But it was the perfect amount of time to do what you, and John, did - which is to get us thinking about what it might be.

I remember sitting there and thinking this is great... I don't know WHAT to think. I need time to consider this!

Contracts and Healthcare are of course on the top of a lot of folks' lists. Maybe LIT could help folks connect to and understand the services that are out there (create an avenue for outreach for resources) that'd be a great help.

One thing that I'd love to see is a strategy for pulling more funders into indie theater in a way that doesn't compromise the work. A lot of funders are lookig to support theaters in creating a business plan will eventually get them to look and feel more like the bigger theaters. But the economic reality for theaters who want to remain indie is that we don't want to look like the big boys.

I think if we could find a way to get funders excited about indie theater - that would be some serious advocacy. And I think it can be done. Funding indie theater actually requires very little from funders relative to what larger theaters need.

I also think that LIT could help promote in-kind donations to indie theater. I always work from the premise that everybody in NYC wants to be a part of the theater. Maybe we can connect with indie businesses in the city to support indie theaters --- things like that.

I think the Tennis Association comparision is a great one. What does it do? It makes everyone want to be a part of tennis!

Also think what John said about needing to meet in smaller groups to get stuff done is key. Maybe a few smaller groups meeting about specific issues is a good next step before another big meeting?

Looking forward...
Jeni Mahoney
id Theatre/Seven Devils Playwrights Conference

Retro Productions said...

Hello Martin,

It was an interesting meeting, I'm glad I was able to attend. I thought there was some great energy in the room. Thank you.

Most importantly I got a clearer picture of what Indie theater means. I had a lot of confusion over the meaning, it seems like those artists who produce new work, who are avant guarde in some way, who do movement theater, multi media, or performance art and do it only downtown were those who benefited from this tag. But now I see the aim is to pull together all of us who produce outside of a larger model. And because I don't do any of the above (I'm strictly Retro - mostly revivals and I produce in midtown) I wasn't sure I fit the term or the term fit me.

However, I have to agree in part with Ken Wolf, the League is still an enigma!

I got a lot of "We all face the same problems" but no identification as to what the problems are perceived to be.

As Ken notes, at least one major problem that was mentioned was showcase code, but I also only work Non-Equity at this time because, quite frankly, I can't do what I do and make any money back at $18 a ticket. And hell, this is New York, I know a lot of talented Non-Equity actors.

But aside from Showcase code, what are the problems the league plans to address? I still don't know.

Audience Development is a huge one, funding of course, and I assume that when John talked about realtors he meant outrageous rents, but he didn't specify. The free theater thing that John mentioned sounds great in theory, but many of us only produce once or twice a year, so if we don't have shows in October, it doesn't help us at all. I love the idea that Ken put forth here, about tech/props/lights, etc. As we all continue to produce theater most of us accumulate stuff that sits in storage and maybe we can find ways of loaning or renting to each other, if there were a network in place for that (yes, yes, I have a black top hat, yes, I have a 50s thermos, do you have that rotary phone I need?).

But what else? What does my membership in the league get me if I decide to join? I never got one of those few papers that went around, did it explain? And even more importantly for those of us working on half a shoestring, how much is it going to cost me?

I'm less concerned about health insurance, as important as that is, because, as was mentioned, Fractured Atlas (and for me the Freelancers Union) have already done that and done it well. But that isn't to say I wouldn't support a decision to put some thought into it if it seemed to be what needed to be done.

I'm more interested in ways to build audiences and get the attention of the media, since even with a press rep, one of the hardest nuts to crack has been getting my work reviewed.

Is there some cache that comes with being a member of LIT? And do you need to maintain any codes other than just annual payments? Am I required to put in a certain number of hours on a committee or in brainstorming sessions, or if I'm not required, am I at least allowed to volunteer? Is there an application process? Should there be? Will LIT be an educational place for companies working in this territory or just another tag line to put on our websites?

And what about some of the other organizations that are out there? TRU for example? I freelance for United Stages, and I'm a client, and our aim is to unify off-off Broadway, and/or Indie Theater by creating a (professionally laid out and copyedited) branded playbill which cross promotes it's member clients shows with calendar, website, eblasts (that's right Gabriel, once a week to an ever growing list we email ticket deals and info from our client producers) and for a little extra, advertising. Many of the people in the room yesterday were clients of US, many were not. The hardest part of this idea is getting people on board. But once they are on board, they see the value in it.

I'm guessing 99% of us see the value of belonging to a community. But if you are asking us to pay to be a member of that community, we need to know what we are getting, because we are all scraping by to survive in this overpriced city during a recession when all most of us want to do is practise our art.

Thanks again for everything, I look forward to seeing some forward motion, and most of all, some answers to the myriad of questons that are bound to be put forth after yesterday.

Heather Cunningham
Producing Artistic Director
Retro Productions

tom berger said...

Briefly echoing thanks and such for Martin, John & Company. i believe that John mentioned that there will be an info meeting about LIT on july 22nd; membership is $50 and $100, respectively, with a discount for those of us who attended yesterday. i think it seems enigmatic since they just opened up membership as an option; i hope these things will be cleared up as we go. i agree that we need to meet more often and get more organized but God knows it's hugely difficult when we're all running our own joints and probably freelancing as well.

i agree it's difficult for companies who primarily produce non-equity work to get behind some of these ideas; still, it's a binding issue for a great majority of us and is, for the moment, the best bullet point that many of us can agree upon (and hopefully open up AEA options for those who don't currently). we need to get the ball rolling with one issue and this seems to be the flagship.

that said, i mentioned to John and to Martin an opportunity for both a healthier relationship with AEA and publicity for us as a genre. my company, (re:) Directions, did some fund-raising for Broadway Cares / Equity Fights AIDS during the strike to help throw in a few pennies to help cushion the blow. my contact at BC/EFA has said that if all Indie companies producing in the fall did a cross-company fund-raising drive, they would publicize the living hell out of it and get us to all of the major outlets. we can possibly tie this in with "free show night." i'm thinking if everyone producing in october can take a night and donate a portion of their box office (a number to quibble about) and do audience appeals (when an actor addresses the audience at curtain call about BC/EFA's mission and actors are placed with buckets at the door), we can simultaneously raise a substantial amount of money for a great organization that directly helps people in our industry, sort of "come out" to the press as a genre, offer an olive branch to AEA while showing our organization as a community and actually :gasp!: do some good. i've told John and Martin that i'm happy to spearhead such a thing and i've already got the contacts over there (they're big fans of me; not a lot of us thought to offer help, since we're all always out there schilling for our companies and donations and grants, etc., which is totally understandable). i'm happy to field questions or comments and i'd love to hear what everyone thinks.

~tom berger
Artistic Director
(re:) Directions Theatre Company

John said...

John Clancy here.

Some great comments and questions above, thanks for them and thanks for showing up on such a beautiful Saturday afternoon.

We're having another LIT town hall thing on July 22nd at 7:30 at the Manhattan Children's Theater, 52 White Street as part of the undergroundzero festival. We'll send something out remind everyone, but in the meantime I'll try to lift the enigmatic veil a bit.

I read this out at the convocation, but here it is so everyone can look at it. This is what The League of Independent Theater is, from our Articles of Incorporation:

The name of the corporation is The League of Independent Theater, Inc.

The corporation is a corporation as defined in paragraph (a)(5) of Section 102 (Definitions) of the Not-for-Profit Corporation Law.

The purposes for which the corporation is formed are:

(1) To promote the artistic and economic interests of theater professionals working in New York City in theaters of up to 99 seats;

(2) To organize and protect its members to ensure that independent theater is economically viable for all of its practitioners; and

(3) To advocate on behalf of the decades-old tradition of off-off Broadway theater to ensure that it remains, and grows, as a thriving artistic and economic sector in New York City.

There are four types of membership:

1. Company/Venue
2. Artist/Professional
3. Supporter
4. Student

Only the Company/Venue and Artist Professional are voting members of the organization.

The Company/Venue membership fee is 100.00 a year (80.00 before September 1st), the Artist/Professional fee is 50.00 a year (40.00 before the end of the summer) the Supporter costs you 35 and the student is 20.

What do you get?

Well, here's the official line from the Membership Application we passed out:

Benefits & Services to Members

Advocacy on behalf of the membership

Organizing members to form a united front and a forum for the New York off-off theater community

Providing leverage for theater companies to negotiate with unions and trade associations on working conditions for actors and other theater professionals in theaters of up to 99 seats

Marketing and branding Independent Theater for the general public

Lobbying government, businesses and foundations for grants, real estate, tax incentives and other benefits for this theater sector

Additional benefits for members

Exclusive members-only access to content on the LIT website, including online newsletters, member alerts, updates on LIT negotiating & lobbying efforts, community bulletin boards, and publicity and links for member productions

Centralized resource for information, documents & links for practitioners of Independent Theater (e.g. best practices, union issues, insurance, real estate)

Networking opportunities through parties and community events

Member discounts and other benefits

All of the above are intentionally general, but ideally comprehensive, so we can respond as an organization to the specific and changing needs and wishes of the membership.

Ken, didn't mean to brush the health care issue aside on Saturday. It's a good idea. We're trying to be mindful of not duplicating efforts and programs and such that are already out there. We see ourselves as partnering with service organizations like ART/NY, The Field, Fractured Atlas, etc., but not replicating them.

Gabriel, I'm interested in hearing more about what you mean by LIT helping out with site-specific or hybrid work.

And yes, Jen, for me personally it's all about funding and real estate. Tangible, real results. That's just me as a LIT member talking, not me as Executive Director. This is a membership organization and the members will tell us what the priorities are each year.

I guess the key thing for me is that LIT is set up to be an advocacy organization, not a service organization. There are already some excellent service organizations out there. We thought and still think that what the territory needs is an organization that unites us, articulates our position on issues that effect us (Codes and Contracts, New York City Real Estate, arts funding, etc.)and then convinces the powers and the players in the city to give us what we want. And then we listen to the members and find out what's next. And then we articulate that and convince again and move on.

Constant and consistent advocacy.

Sorry for the long-ass post, but I hope that clears some stuff up.

Join us.


morgs said...

Hi all,

Thank you John for sharing your clarifications. I had a great time on Saturday and overall left very excited. I've posted some notes on a blog I contribute to:

A highlight I haven't seen anyone mention yet is regarding the lack of LITNY's online presence:

"My most pertinent suggestion to LITNY would be to start an online presence IMMEDIATELY – re-open the blog, start a Facebook group, I’d really LOVE it if they started a ning or something like it – but at least an interim web portal is necessary: where people can read the statement of purpose & articles of incorporation, what litny thinks the issues are directly affecting us and their goals to achieve them, and be informed about litny events. There was mention of a TCG free night of theatre marketing event with litny that I’m sure people want to know more about, for example, and there is another LIT event next week. People need a forum to post questions, concerns, accolades, comments, etc, and most importantly be informed. The point was made that it’s difficult to repeat town hall-like events to gather community opinions – which is true – and the web is a place where most of their prospective members sit for at least six hours a day. It would benefit LITNY to be there, too."

A huge thank you to Saturday's organizers. Looking forward to next Tuesday.

Morgan Lindsey Tachco

John said...

Absolutely. We're on it, Morgan.

parallelexit said...

John, Martin,

Great convocation, and from my perspective, I totally got the purpose and utility of LIT, so bravo. As I said to John, I'm joining, that's a done deal, and looking forward to working with the organization.

I am most interested in the idea of branding independent theatre as such. I would be very interested in working on a committee for that, if one doesn't already exist.

The comparison to the independent film industry is an apt one. However, what struck me was another comparison - to music. What's incredible to me about music, worldwide, is the interest from "establishment" figures - critics, especially - in literally hunting down what's new, fresh, and exciting. Yes Springsteen has a new album, but have you heard (fill in the totally obscure band name here)? They literally compete with each other on their knowledge of bands and artists that they and perhaps 20 other people know about.

Now, why is this? To gain recognition and make a living in the music industry is certainly no easier than doing so in the theatre - I would argue it's actually harder, especially now, when music is so readily available online for free. But the overall feeling from the media is one of real curiosity, a huge interest in digging up new and exciting artists. People who record their entire album in their living room, who have no more funding or name recognition than any one of us, but who are never sneered at or derided for their place in the industry.

Now, creating the equivalent interest and respect for independent theatre - THAT seems worthy of achieving.

John, Martin, anyone - how do we begin to tackle that one? Thanks again and talk to you soon.

Mark Lonergan
Artistic Director
Parallel Exit

Carolyn Raship said...

Hello and thank you to Martin, john, et al.


I think you and I are more or less exactly on the same page. Here are some thoughts I wrote down in my blog:

I hate to sound hopelessly corporate in my speech, but the most important thing (once we can videotape our shows thank you AEA) is rebranding. To make going to cheap theater something that people do, you know, for fun. I rented out my brain (AKA freelanced) to pharmaceutical PR for a while and I saw whoever owned the language, set the agenda. Name what something is, and you have control over it. Instead of fighting with Isherwood or whatever, we theater folk need to learn to use the incredible array of media we have at our disposal. And having an organization whose agenda includes putting what we do on the map is truly, truly wonderful.

People like movies. People like TV. People like music. People like art. People like the internet. Why can't people like affordable theater? Affordable is a good thing, and so is theater, and maybe we all have to do what the indie bands did before us and tour, or maybe think about touring in a different way. Not just on the Canadian circuit, and not just like Les Miz. If Les Miz is the Rolling Stones, maybe we could be Minor Threat or The Replacements or The Pixies or (oh my god I'm dating myself) Pussy Galore? I'm sure this is all unspeakably difficult, and I'm just throwing out ideas here.

I, too, would be really happy to help out in any kind of branding/PR committee.

Cheers to all,

Carolyn Raship

Carolyn Raship said...

Hi all,

I just wanted to emphasize how apt I think the indie music analogy is. Beyond the idea of touring, which I mentioned, I am in complete agreement with everyone who has spoken of a web presence. Or, more specifically, an interactive web presence. A gawker media-like site that focuses on theater maybe? A place where people can up-load material, discuss, screw-around on when at mind-numbing day jobs, where people (hopefully not just us)can find out about and argue and get banned from commenting about new, exciting theater. A living. breathing, ever-expanding web community.

Of course, all this takes dough. Which is where the fund-raising comes in.

Cheers again,


John said...

Yeah, Mark, dead-on. My old saw has always been that we are the Research and Development wing of American culture and any industry that knows what its doing spends about a third of its budget on R and D.

Maybe we start by talking to established artists, filmmakers and theater folks who have moved to uptown gigs, but who can all trace their paths back to the Off-Off world. Then we're talking artist to artist and we ask them to kick back or hook us up with some of their money relationships.

I have to say, this is exactly the kind of discussion and creative brain-storming we built LIT to house and fan. I believe the resources and the solutions to our common challenges are right here.

parallelexit said...

Carolyn - glad to hear you chime in on this. And I realized that Kirk, who started this whole re-branding idea, actually talks about the music scene in his comments that Martin has posted, so I certainly don't take any credit for the idea...

That said, Martin has asked people to email him who are interested in being part of a marketing task-force for indie theatre - he's at - and he would be very happy to include you in that initiative.

Everyone's thoughts here are spot-on, and I look forward to the talk and action...

Mark Lonergan
Artistic Director
Parallel Exit said...

Mark is correct--I am going to be convening a task force on this marketing initiative in a day or so. Carolyn, I've got you on my list. If anybody wants to be added, email me please!