Welcome to the 2nd Indie Theater Convocation. It is absolutely great to see so many faces out there. And each of you is sharing your seat with at least 3 other indie artists – Melle Powers is in rehearsal but wants notes, so Julie sharpen that pencil and write faster; Pam Butler is out of town but wants lots of pictures, Ryan start clickin’; Emily Otto has a gig in Boston; Leonard Jacobs is teaching at the O’Neill; Mike Daisey is performing in DC; Michael Criscuolo, Ian Hill, and a slew of others are rehearsing. And on and on. Each one is here in spirit and the response has been overwhelming. Thank you, thank you all!
And extra special thanks to some really great folks who immediately stepped to the fore and volunteered to help. The absolutely indispensible Jo Ann Rosen whom you met at the sign up table – our lists will be perfect thanks to her. The talented Daniel Talbott (with 2 t’s) who made sure all the techie stuff would work and it does and Denis Butkus, actor par excellence who assisted Daniel to make sure this stuff I know nothing about all came together. Also Julie Congress, Mitch Conway (up in the booth), Ryan Emmons, and Samantha Hooper-Hamersley from the new theater company known as No. 11 who eagerly volunteered and have been scampering around doing a multitude of jobs.
Now on to my completely extemporaneous, short speech that I have here in my hand and will refer to often. On Wednesday I quickly wrote a fantastic speech which combined the lyricism of Shakespeare, the humor of Twain, the incendiary activism of Odets and Brecht, the wisdom of Aristotle, the succinctness of Lincoln, and references to the words and music of Michael Jackson, Michael John LaChiusa, and The Boss. On Thursday, I metaphorically ripped it up – that is I pressed the delete key and now it is gone to the cyber-graveyard of lost masterpieces. Seriously, I did this because what I had written did not have the passion I was looking for, the ‘of the moment’ that was important to convey to you. So here goes the new version – a version with many co-authors.
Indie Theater! In the two plus years since the 1st Ever Indie Theater Convocation, it's become evermore commonplace to hear it used. Here’s one thing that happened as a result of the convocation and, you may not know about it. Right here in, The Best Plays Theatre Yearbook 2005-6 on pp. 261-2. In the Off-Off-Broadway section, essayist John Istel immortalizes our movement in between the covers of this, the bible for academics and theatre lovers. After some background material we read: “Playwright Kirk Wood Bromley suggested ditching the ‘Off Off Broadway’ handle and replacing it with ‘Indie Theater’. No longer tied to geography or Equity contract, Indie Theater could be found anywhere as long as it embodied a certain aesthetic.” The article then quotes from Kirk’s essay on indietheater.org and concludes by stating: “Bromley’s use of the term ‘Indie Theater” was subsequently picked up by critic Martin Denton who created the website…”
But what does it really mean? What is ‘Indie”? Old English Lit major that I am, I looked for source material. Much to my amazement I found “indie” in the dictionary. And here’s its definition -- "one, such as a studio or producer, that is unaffiliated with a larger or more commercial organization; an artistic work produced by an independent company or group." And that aptly describes most everyone in this room.
Recently, Jessica Davis Irons, artistic director of AndHow! Theatre Company, gave a speech at a fundraiser for her company. She and co-founder, Margie Stokley emailed me a copy of her speech. I believe she does a great job of making this definition even more personal:
"There is a magical community in NYC. Some people call it Indie theater. Some people call it off-off broadway, some people call it downtown. I think it is the heart of American Theater. New plays and playwrights are born there....The neat thing about this community, is that we exist not as a springboard to get to the great white way, although that sometimes happens. We exist because there is a want for off the beaten track stories, innovative theatrical moments, odd characters and a place where plays grow."
I was most taken by her use of the word "community" for that it is what indie theater is and should be. The diverse forms of theatrical expression come together to form a community that will provide theatergoers and theatre lovers an opportunity to partake of the creativity of individuality – the creativity of imagination springing forth from the hard work of talented, intelligent people whose artistic vision is unique and of today.
According to Hamilton Clancy, artistic director of The Drilling Company, the roots of indie theater go back further than the ‘50s and ‘60’s, back perhaps to the founding of the Provincetown Playhouse and to the Group Theatre and the WPA. You can read more about this on his comment on Martin’s blog. Beyond its roots, Hamilton states there are other important points to consider and I quote:
"Throughout the history of theatre in New York, artists have been soldiering to create work with vitality. The reputation of the city, around the world, is renowned for attracting artists who were daring enough to start organizations like the Wooster Group or Richard Foreman downtown. This is what makes this a city worth traveling to if you are in search of modern culture either as an audience member or as an artist. The initiation and success of this organization are vital to the future of New York Theatre if it is once again to become a city where culturally relevant work is originated (rather than imported). If the independent theatre community commanded the press attention which the London Underground theatre commands, we would be churning plays to bigger audiences on a regular basis."
Yes, we are Indie Theater. I know it because so many of you have told me similar thoughts to what Hamilton and Jessica have said. I would like to read you one more email I received just the other day from Bryn Manion, co-founder with Wendy Remington of Aisling Arts. Here’s what she has to say:
"I think one of the most courageous moments in the evolution of artistic movements is when, independent of commercial purposes, people acknowledge that the current era is unique from those preceding it. The identification of the new moment, the naming of it, and the collective acknowledgement that, yes, it is a unique time, is an empowering and liberating experience. We live in a different era and make our work under different circumstances than our Off-Off predecessors.
"When Wendy and I first tapped into this "indie" community concept, we breathed a sigh of relief. For us Broadway was not the ultimate aspiration, in fact, it didn’t even register as an ambition of ours; nor did we arrive in New York to emulate other New York artists….. Our simple goal was to make the art we deemed worthy of the long tradition and history of our form, and forge significant/meaningful relationships with a wide variety of people along the way. We've paid largely for our work ourselves and never intend to bend it to someone else's wishes because of commercial needs…. We, sigh, were indie. We are indie. Pretty simple. To have a name for what we were changed our confidence level and our mission for our work. That dawning realization two years ago was a tremendous weight off our chests. Thanks for helping us feel at home as artists living in New York."
The Off-Off Broadway movement and its practitioners are to be revered by everyone who has an interest in theatre. Its importance can never be diminished. But, as Bryn states – indie theater is a new movement, a movement of the 21st century.
A theatre guy named Will asked hundreds of years ago “What’s in a name?” and then answered “that which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet.” I would respond to Will that a name is everything and really nothing. If you feel more comfortable calling your work off-off-Broadway or performance art or downtown theatre, or whatever, do so, because each of you is an independent artist and person with independent beliefs and leanings. But be an indie theater artist in addition. Support the indie theater movement. To continue my analogy, identify your art in your own unique way but more people will recognize us as a “rose” if we all use the same name.
Sunday, July 13, 2008
Indie Theater Convocation: Rochelle Denton's Welcoming Remarks
Here's the text of Rochelle's speech from the 2nd Indie Theater Convocation on July 12th. Rochelle is NYTE's Managing Director. Can't reproduce her inimitable delivery (or ad libs) here...but this is the crux of what she had to say: