Thursday, September 28, 2006


Sorry for the Claude Raines routine. Having a rough time getting into the rhythm of classes and the commute. It's starting to sort itself out, so...

I think the next logical and easily achievable step is to send the draft mission statement of this League idea around to all the 99 seat venue owner/operators and all of the theater companies that regularly work in those venues. Broaden the conversation and hear from the people directly working under the conditions we're talking about.

And as far as the Equity Showcase reform conversation, if you haven't yet, go to the Equity site and look at the LA 99 seat theater plan. Paul Bargetto tipped me to it way back when and I can't think of any good reason it wouldn't work in New York.

More soon.

Also, can anyone tell me how to add links to this site?

It's a wonder they let me walk around unsupervised...

Sunday, September 17, 2006

and we're back

Hey folks.

I started a teaching gig down in Glassboro, NJ a week after getting back in town and it's been a true ass-kicking experience. My ass being the one getting kicked. It's a 3 hour commute, one way. So I found a room in a house off campus and I'll be living down there Sundays through Thursdays for the next six weeks while I direct the first show of the semester.

So I'm semi-back.

Let's talk about the League. Still a good idea?

I make the move down to Glassboro tomorrow, so may not re-surface for a couple of days.

Hope all's well with all.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

summer vacation

Hey folks,

Long time no post. Now in Edinburgh, where Midnight Cowboy opens in two days. Early previews have been good, we'll see what the critics say.

With limited internet access and insane festival schedule, odds aren't great that I'll be posting much until I'm back home in September. Things may change, just heard rumor of a wireless connection to be had at the theater, but I can be a bit of a moron about those things, so if we don't talk, have a great August and check this space in the fall.


Wednesday, July 19, 2006

good question

This from Jake, in the comments on the Risk post below:

Here's the question, though. Is this a revolution from the inside or a full on erasure of what we know -- of the powers that be? Do we throw the baby out with the bath water? Are there agencies already in existence that could help us out? For instance, I'm currently enjoying a (rather substantial) grant from TCG in the mentorship program and that's defnitely an area they are interested. (They are also at the beginning of doing a pretty big joint program with opera, dance, and orchestra organizations.) Perhaps that's an avenue to pursue. What about Art/NY...who are our allies in this? And what is the ultimate goal? I like John's list, but a revolution makes me thing there's a king to dethrone. Is there one? Who is he? Where is he enthroned? Sometimes I feel like our rhetoric gets in the way of what we actually need to accomplish.

There is no king, I don't think, just like there's no actual physical wall between Houston and uptown or Brooklyn and Manhattan. And the revolution I dream of is not one of destroying something that exists but creating something that doesn't yet. There are a lot of good ideas and organizations out there and the more you look the more you'll find. In very simple terms, I'm interested in seeing a professionally run organization created that is dedicated to the needs of the artists and producers working in 99 seat theaters in New York. TCG is looking at the whole country. ART/NY is looking at the whole city. Wouldn't it be beautiful to have a collective organization dealing with organizations like those two to foster Off-Off and looking for the other partnerships and opportunities that are out there?

Ninety zillion degrees today in London. True fact. We've all been atomized.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Monday night late in the Big Smoke. One week down on Midnight Cowboy rehearsals. Thanks to an extraordinarily talented and game cast and an exceptional stage manager (Tom Jeffords, an American, hire him if you can), we are blocked. Moving slightly faster than the speed of light.

Moved into an actual apartment, out of the hotel.


What is it in a hotel that reduces a person to a body? Night after night, your individuality, your history, your personality is leached, reduced. You become a person who lives in a hotel. It defines your day and worst, controls your night. You sleep the shallow, empty sleep of a man who sleeps in a hotel.

Nice flat in Southwark for the next two weeks. Cats. Nancy. Real life.

Way out here in London, working mad on this show and yet thinking hard on New York. This whole League can happen, however, I can't do it. We can.

If you know me, then you need to help me do this, because you know it's a good idea.

If you don't know me, then you really need to help me, because it's help from unexpected sources that pushes things over the limit and makes the difficult easy and the impossible unstoppable.

And here's something else:

I just heard from my father that a great man has died. So rest in peace Robert A. Hetlage. I knew him from when I was a child, I knew him all my life. He lived long and he lived well, he died a devoted husband and a loved father and grandfather. He lived honorably. He was a true and complete friend to his friends. He was a man you could rely on to the end of the world.

A sad night for us. Rest in peace, Bob.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

back in London


Apologies for the silence here, I had to fly back to London early for some additional casting and design meetings for Midnight Cowboy. Rehearsals start tomorrow morning and I'm ready to get into it. If you're in London look us up, we're here all month. If you're in New York, check out all the good things going down at the Ohio Theater with their Ice Factory blow-out and something very good opening at PS 122 on Wednesday that I can't remember the name of... Lemon Orange Canary? Orange Lemon Canary? Something Something Canary, I'm pretty sure.

Interesting, fruitful conversations with Melody Brooks and Ben Hodges, among others right before I left. I'm working towards an action plan for the fall I can post up here. One thing that seems certain is that any changes to the Showcase Code or creation of a new contract are going to have to come from the Equity members themselves. So we need to start reaching out and contacting Equity actors with an alternate contract, getting their input and work towards a petition.

In an internet cafe in Hammersmith, paying by the hour, so I'm off.

Speak soon.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

great speech

Check out this link to Eduardo Machado's keynote speech at the annual ART/NY shindig. And thanks to Melody Brooks at New Perspectives for pointing me towards it.

When everybody's saying the same thing, maybe it's time to start listening to each other.

Friday, June 23, 2006

swing space

Just spoke with Hendrik Gerrits, manager of the Artist Space Program down at Lower Manhattan Cultural Center about their Swing Space program. They hook up artists with empty commercial space downtown. The program is only about a year and a half old and they have plans to expand it to the rest of the city. He was very enthusiastic about sitting down with a group like the League and giving some guidance on what's worked for them and what hasn't. They work with a lot of big firms, you can check it out on Their next deadline for applications is July 17, all of the info is below:

Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s Swing Space program provides artists and arts organizations with rent-free space to create, rehearse, and present work. It’s that simple.In partnership with area landlords, LMCC makes vacant space downtown available to artists, curators, and cultural organizations on a temporary basis for projects. And not only that, but Swing Space artists and art groups are also eligible to apply for stipends ranging from $300 to $3,000 to support project costs.Proposals are accepted twice a year through an open call and reviewed by a panel of artists, arts professionals, and LMCC staff. Next Deadline: July 17, 2006, 5pmInformation Sessions:RSVP required:, June 21 6PM125 Maiden Lane, 10th FloorFocus: Studio workspace Rehearsal space Office space Mon, June 26 6PM15 Nassau (at Pine)Focus: Installations Curated exhibitions Public programs PerformancesComplete information on Swing Space including guidelines and applications is available at: Jeanne at or (212) 219-9401 x108 with questions.Know any artists? Help us by passing this great opportunity on!____________

Thursday, June 22, 2006


Back on the blessed Lower East Side, banks of the East River.

Last week of the shows at PS 122, Americana Absurdum and The Complete Lost Works of Samuel Beckett, so come on down if you haven't yet. Both are very good fun.

Been thinking a lot about risk this last week. I guess since almost everything I've done in the last six years has been shown in New York over the last six months and then receiving an Obie for Sustained Excellence, I feel like one time is ending and something new is on the rise.

And I want to make sure that this new time is as interesting as the last one and I know the only way to guarantee that is to keep risking.

Risk being wrong, risk failure, risk looking foolish.
Risk offending people.
Risk ending my career.
Risk making major, public mistakes.
Risk alienating powerful people.
Risk sounding really stupid.
Risk losing everyone's respect.

High risk, high yield.

Talking about this League idea is risky because let's face it, it may never happen.
Taking on Midnight Cowboy is risky because I've never done anything like it before.
So, so far so good.

I've been going back through some old notes and reading old messages and I'm struck over and over again by the general acknowledgment that we're in a state of crisis and that things must be changed. If I had a dime every time someone called for "revolution", I'd be the one lined up against the wall. But let's be honest. Are we just blowing off steam? Are we just rattling the bars of the cage we've built and locked ourselves into?

Revolution sounds cool. But revolutions don't rise up like a tide and sweep things away. They are built, action by action. They are prepared by dedicated people working in an organized manner. They are often accomplished after many years of individual failures, brave attempts and flawed or foiled plots. A revolution has to be raised like a child, not embraced like a one night stand.

The real risk is to put your wildest dreams, your most extreme ideas, into action. Because they may not work and they may be laughed at or they may turn out to be commonplace and then you have to come up with new dreams. And that's the hardest thing I can think of.

Everyone who knows me knows how much I like talking. I will talk my ass off. I feel we've talked plenty about this League idea and plenty about how much it's needed and what a glorious future awaits us all blah blah.

Let's risk putting it into action. What's the first step?

Sunday, June 18, 2006

banks of the Thames

Things I've learned this week:

It is not possible to live in London on 20 pounds a day, no matter what a producer may tell you.

Always take the night flight. If you fly all day, you stay up all night, you're bleary and cranky the next day and it takes about 48 hours to focus.

Most English actors can do a pretty convincing New York accent, none can do Texan. Think Benny Hill doing Blanche Dubois on a lot of cough syrup. Strange, unsettling utterances I have sat through.

Everyone says they've seen Midnight Cowboy. Most, if pressed, have no memory of the film.

In England, lemonade is 7-Up. I actually knew that one, just forgot.

Flying home tomorrow and back for at least two weeks. Hope to get a lot of this League business in motion before the fall, so watch this space. Also may put some old essays up here if I can figure out how.

Be safe, speak soon.

Monday, June 12, 2006

day of rest

Woke up this morning with nothing to do but pack for a week away. A week ago we loaded two shows into PS 122, teched and opened them both, critics have been in and now they're running and I'm in that great, strange place in the director's life where I am of no real use to a project anymore. Very proud of them both, check them out if you can. And deep gratitude to those who came early, nothing gets a cast focused like a crowd.

Over the weekend I took part in a Creative Capital workshop at LMCC and heard about LMCC's "Swing Space" program. It's a working model of something we've been talking about, an arrangement between realtors and arts organizations to provide temporary rehearsal space. So no need to re-invent the wheel on this front. I'll talk to them when I'm back and see if the deal can be replicated throughout the city.

Something we need some help on is finding a simple way to determine how many Equity actors work under the Showcase Code in a given year. We have to start gathering this kind of information for a compelling case. Also, over-all attendance to Off-Off or indie theater. The collective numbers are impressive, we all know, but we need to do the research now to make the case in the fall. Any ideas on how to start?

And just to throw some seeds out there, here are the 11 things I wrote down when I first started thinking about what a League of Independent Producers might be able to accomplish, in no particular order of priority:

1. New York 99 seat theatre plan (new contract or code)
2. Rent subsidies for 99 seat theatres
3. Affordable or subsidized rehearsal space
4. Mentor program (matching established producers with first-time producers)
5. Creation of a National Alternative Touring Circuit
6. Creation of a new weekly arts and culture newspaper
7. Getting an accurate annual audience count for 99 seat theatres in New York and establishing a system to make that count each year
8. Completing an Economic Impact study
9. Out-reach to opera, dance and visual arts producers and venues
10. Creating an avant-garde curriculum for high school students
11. Getting financial commitments from commercial producers and film companies to support 99 seat theatres in New York

That's everything I scribbled down. Ambitious, but it's been my experience that dreaming big early is the most efficient way of getting something launched. Of all these, I think the first and the third are the most pressing and the seventh and the eighth the most important to get an accurate read of the territory. Let me know if anyone thinks differently.

Feels to me like we should start thinking about a meeting. I'm back from London on the 19th and then flying out again sometime early July, gone until September. So late June works. If not then, then it's the fall.

Again, thanks for supporting the shows and a huge cyberthanks to Steve Kovacs for designing our new website, Seriously spanking.

I'll see if I can do some London blogging over the next week. In the meantime, all good things to all.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

dreaming wide awake


Sorry for the silence. I've only had this blog for a couple of months so not sure of the etiquette, but I can tell you I feel a little pang each morning when a day has passed and I haven't posted. Time is just racing now and next week I'm out of the country. May have more time then, actually. Anyway, apologies.

Many, many good ideas and threads in the comments below. Just want to say that I'm very happy to be back in this kind of conversation, it's the one real thing I miss from my days as an artistic director. As artists we dream for a living, but it's usually an individual dream, a private vision. And god knows it takes all we have to get that singular, private vision up and running, but it's nice to dream collectively once in a while.

You can see, just by reading below, how much passion and imagination there is and also how much commonality. Let's keep talking and I'll try a little harder to keep posting. Individual dreams are individual burdens, and they take so much effort and often, sadly, never come true. Common dreams can be a lot easier to achieve. Because if we're all dreaming the same thing, who's to say it's a dream? Maybe it's time to wake up and go to work.

Come see my shows, you non-attending bastards. And thanks for seeing the shows, you beautiful, attending sons-and-daughters-of-bitches. Man, probably shouldn't post after 2:00 AM. I start sounding all abusive.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

mid-week thoughts

Working like a lunatic this week, two shows opening at PS 122 next week (both of which every one of you will come to early with nine friends in tow, I trust) and beginning work on the stage adaptation of Midnight Cowboy which I just got hired to direct at the Edinburgh Fringe in August. Hot, frantic, strange few days.

A few thoughts on this League:

Some folks have talked about a physical site being important, a venue with rehearsal space, maybe a place with more than one stage. I like the idea, naturally, but every physical space eventually evolves into a clubhouse with some people on the inside and others knocking at the door. No way around that. So I think a physical location is important, in fact, some actual office space at the very least is essential, but thinking broadly, how about an organization that as part of its mission works to create new spaces, working with realtors, donors, merchants and politicians? Organized sweat equity, long-term neighborhood preservation or neighborhood development, etc. That's one concrete thing the League could work towards that no other organization I'm aware of has as a stated goal. And it's something that makes success verifiable, at the end of a year you could say this much square footage was created or acquired for small theatre artists, these many new affordable rehearsal halls were built, this many performance spaces were found.

Riffing off someone else's idea in one of the comments, how about an organization that works with local colleges and universities to train and place administrative, technical and creative interns with small theatres? So it's not just the random eager or not-so-eager kid hanging around getting in the way, it's someone who's gone through a process familiarizing her with the environment and even the particular Off-Off or indie theater she'll be working in. Same wing of the League could work to organize those sought-after group sales with a theater class that can make an iffy early Wednesday show into a solid, rowdy audience.

And another goal is to work consistently and ferociously with the local, state and federal government to preserve the cultural eco-system of which we are the key. Simple recognition of that fact and recognition that it's an organized community, not just a lot of individual artists, is the first step towards financial support of that community.

What do you think?

Come see the shows. Midnight Cowboy onstage, that's pretty strange, right? And most importantly, who's got free rehearsal space for me on Friday and Saturday afternoon? And a couch for Americana Absurdum.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

comment round-up

A lot of great comments and the beginnings of some good conversations since the Draft Mission Statement post. Thanks everyone for reading and joining in the discussion. In the interest of efficiency, I'll summarize some of the thoughts:

Walls and Bunkers comments:
James points out part of the problem may stem from too much supply rather than too little demand. This has been Zach's point for years, there's just too many little theater companies in New York. I think the problem is not that there are too many, it's that they're not organized.

Jake calls for a multi-generational and multi-disciplinary movement. Now that's interesting. Visual arts collectives and homeless theatre companies pooling resources to get a physical space.

Ann, god love her, applauds the general idea and speaks for the audience, saying the artists shouldn't do all the heavy lifting. She talks very practically, pointing us towards theatre departments in universities, getting administrative support, etc.

And then Jesica, an AEA member and co-founder of Collaboration Town, gives a hearty hell yes, let's do this thing.

Comments on the original post, the Draft Mission Statement post:

Colin calls for a broader approach, not just changing the Showcase Code, but changing Equity. There's some support and concern expressed and then Zach goes a little further and proposes starting a new union, perhaps along the lines of that Freelancers Union I used to see advertised on the subway. Mark and George weigh in, helping to differentiate this embryonic idea from what ART/New York is already doing.

There are more comments and more issues expressed than the above, but in order to steer the conversation forward, let me ask this:

How do people envision this League operating? Non-profit? Membership organization? What's the staff? Does it need a physical office? Where might that be? Would anyone reading this pay dues or a membership fee? What would the League do, actually and practically, to merit that money?

And let me say this:

I'm enjoying being an artist right now. I've also got a lot of producing and consulting and teaching work lined up right now. So if this is going to happen, we're going to need three or four more people to devote some time and focused energy to build it. And once we build it, I may not be the right guy to run it.

Calling out for a little vision here. General sense is that the thing is needed. What does the thing look like?

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

walls and bunkers

A comment on the previous post from Jake highlights a problem I'm always running into and a conversation I've had with many people over lo these many years. I'm wrestling with this problem, or choice, as I type these words. I've got two plays I'm working on right now, a very loose Woyzeck adaptation and a big crazy full-length with a gang of clowns invading and over-running a 19th century well-made play. I'm also re-mounting two shows now, Americana Absurdum by Brian Parks and The Complete Lost Works of Samuel Beckett as Found in an Envelope (partially burned) in a Dustbin in Paris Labeled "Never to be performed. Never. Ever. EVER! Or I'll Sue! I'LL SUE FROM THE GRAVE!!! "discovered" by Greg Allen, Ben Schneider and Danny Thompson. But instead of working on any of these four shows, I'm typing on the old blog, trying to stir shit up.

Activism or organizing or agitating or whatever it is I'm doing when I talk out about a new League of Independent Producers, or a new Alternative Touring Circuit, takes time and thought and energy. Most theater artists in New York have a precious small supply of these three things and choose, wisely, to spend them on their work. This is especially true of younger artists still chasing their own voices and visions. So those with the most to gain from a systemic change in the Off-Off or indie world, the younger artists, have the least amount of resources to contribute. And this is where we all begin to climb the wall or build the bunker.

The wall is the status quo, the existing conditions. We climb the wall by accepting them as unchangeable and adapting to them. These are the physical, economic conditions of the American theatre industry and the common, accepted understanding in this country of what theatre looks like, what it does, how it behaves, how you buy it, where you see it and how you judge it.

The bunker is the safe place, physical or psychological, where a committed artist hides and schemes. The Theatorium was my big old tumble-down bunker for a few years. Clancy Productions is my current bunker. Bunkers are vital. They keep you alive. The only big problem with a bunker is that the view is for shit. You're dug in, walls all around you, safe, but essentially blind.

It is extraordinarily difficult to sustain a life or what can laughingly be called a career in the theater in this country in these days. I believe it is our collective responsibility to make it less difficult. It's the logic of collective action. It's enlightened self-interest. It's believing in the future.

This belief was the driving force and the main reason we put together the New York International Fringe Festival nine years ago. The festival didn't solve the problem, obviously, the problem is bigger than that, but for a few years there it felt like we were dealing with each other in a different way, we were climbing out of our bunkers and looking at the wall together and it didn't look that high or that strong, not when you looked around and saw how many of us there were.

Now it's nine years later. The wall is still there and we're still here, by and large. Some new bunkers dot the horizon, some old ones have been abandoned or over-run. And it feels to me like it's time to poke our heads out again.

We built the festival by talking to everyone who would listen to us, pooling all of our collective resources, holding onto each other as tightly as we could, and then jumping off a cliff, screaming all the way down. At least, that's my memory.

And the time and effort it took to talk and pool and hold onto each other and jump off that cliff was time and effort I didn't spend on my art. After five years of it, I had to step away and see if I was still an artist.

It's been almost five years since I resigned from the company and the festival. Built myself a nice, roomy bunker in those years. New bunker, old wall, same story.

I hate this story. I hate the story of the starving artist, the struggling playwright, the tiny houses, the eviction notices, the vast indifference, the institutional disregard.

Yes, Jake, an artist's first responsibility is to her art. But when external conditions make it all but impossible to make the art, some time and effort and thought should be directed to changing those conditions.

How do we do this?

We talk to each other honestly and directly about the conditions.
We identify things we'd like to see changed.
We plan how to change these things.
We put the plan in action.

Sounds simple because, actually, it is. There's no guarantee we'll accomplish anything, but there's nothing stopping us from trying. The trick is to keep talking, stepping slowly out of the bunker and walking towards the wall.

Got to get to rehearsal. More later.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

crazy talk

We can cut a deal with realtors to renovate properties and revitalize neighborhoods that benefits both sides.

We can argue with the city about the vital need for recognition and protection of the young, unknown artists and the environment they work in, and we can win that argument.

We can work with the unions to create more work and a much more rewarding work environment.

We can tour our work across the country and host the work of like-minded small theater companies and artists here in New York.

We can build a new, strong, engaged audience by focusing on younger people and working together.

We can write the history books. Literally. We can write them. We're living them, we just need to write it down now while it's fresh.

We can do a lot of things, friends. Only real problem I see is that there is no we.

Every generation recognizes the same problem. Every generation comes to the same wall.

Most generations divide into two camps. One camp recognizes the wall, measures it, and begins to climb it. Some may actually get over to the other side, who knows? Most of the first camp, however, settle on finding a position somewhere on the wall and begin to jealously guard it.

The other camp, standing at the wall, not climbing, divides as well. Half spend their lives standing at the foot of the wall, shaking their fists and shouting. The other half grows bored and walks away.

That's what most generations do, upon finding themselves at the wall.

The exceptional generations, the historical generations, tear down the fucking wall.

We all know the situation. We can all talk about the same problems and tell the same sad stories. The answers may not be easy, but they certainly aren't complex. We can change things. We're the only ones who can.

Only problem is, there is no we.

In the meantime, let's all pursue our individual agendas and work on our individual shows and publicize our individual endeavors and hope that it all works out.

See you on the wall.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006


I won a goddamned Obie last night. Stood up there behind the podium with my mind empty, mouth moving as always. Nancy was in the ladies room, came running in from the back of the hall. We did our Adrian/Rocky bit. "Nancy!" "I'm here, baby!" "Naaaannnncy!"

"Sustained Excellence of Direction". Sounds like I never wavered or bumped into the wall. Which I can assure you, is not true. It's sitting over there on the floor. The cat is, strangely, unimpressed. Full list of all the awards on

Got a suggestion that we should move the Equity conversation to a moderated message board. I have no idea what that means. My belief is that when conversations get to a certain pitch, they should be moved into a real-life sitting around a table type of situation. Everyone's busy, but we might be getting to that point.

Again, to repeat the call from last post, if there are Equity actors reading this, please weigh in with whatever opinion you have, or email me at

And again, there are other issues to figure out. The always dapper and unflappable Brent Cox, he of the Dog and Pony Show, has a take on new audiences/old audiences in the comments below.

Monday, May 15, 2006

great ideas and big picture

Some very good ideas and suggestions have come in on the Showcase Code issue, check them out in the comments to the post below. I've noticed that in this town when we start talking about unions, people get tense and knees start jerking. I'd like to hear from union members if you're out there, pro and con. Bottom line, if the union actors working downtown are happy with the code, then any effort to change it or create something new is going to be quite a struggle and may not be a legitimate cause. It's their union.

Other issues I'd like to kick around:

Rehearsal space- There's a lot of empty office space in New York. In Dallas, years ago, a deal was worked out between realtors and theatre companies. Only issue, I believe, was insurance.

Creating an endowment- How much revenue is generated in this city from all of the film and television that goes on? What would 1% of that mean to a bunch of small theatre companies? Can we make an argument to the city and to the massive media conglomerates that as the research and development wing of American culture, they should invest in us? Can we make the same argument to the League of American Theatres and Producers? Broadway shows that recoup begin to give half a percentage point back to the New York theatre?

New audience- How many colleges and high schools are in New York City? Why aren't we inviting them to take part in the unique cultural opportunity of downtown theatre? We'd be getting a good, rowdy crowd, filling some otherwise empty seats and engaging with a new audience, getting to know them now.

This is an especially insane week for me, so I'll try to stay in the conversation but if I grow quiet, don't worry, I'll be back. If anyone knows of some cheap and or free rehearsal space, let me know, I'm a little bit screwed. Too many balls juggling and dropped one.

Obies tonight. Always a strange evening.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

League of Independent Producers draft mission statement


Here's a first draft. Cribbed a lot of it from existing leagues, trying to balance between a broad, inclusive definition and a clearly defined membership criteria.

The League of Independent Producers mission is to foster theatrical productions produced in 99 seat theatres and promote the common interest of its membership- theatre owners and operators, producers and presenters. The League assists in the voluntary exchange of information among its members, serves as the collective voice of its membership, works to increase interest in Off-Off or independent theatre throughout North America, strives to foster a sense of community among all members, and develops programs addressing the unique needs of its members.

In its first year, the League will seek to reform the current Equity Showcase Code, commission and execute a comprehensive economic impact analysis of the New York independent theatre industry and work with the city and state government to address the affordable rehearsal and performance space crisis.

A couple of quick points:

1. I have no pride of authorship on this thing, please whack away with suggestions.
2. The purpose of this first draft is to start a conversation. I'd love to hear and discuss what other people might like this proposed organization to look like and do, or indeed if such an organization is a good idea.
3. For reasons I've put down below, in the Towards a Definition post, I've purposely avoided any reference to a "downtown" or indie aesthetic. I've also avoided any adjectives like "adventurous" or "cutting-edge" or all the rest of the blather we put in our press releases. The individual work will determine all that, this is just a place where the work can be supported.
4. The stated goals of reforming the Showcase Code and the rest are just what Nancy and Paul and I came up with. I like them, but again, please whack away.

I'd like to have a good, spirited cyber-discussion on this for a couple of weeks with the goal of an agreed-upon mission statement by, say, June 1. Then sometime in July or August all interested parties can sit down and yell at each other somewhere.

Let's see if we can build something.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

scrappy gets a job

I just got hired to teach acting and directing at Rowan University next year. For you geography buffs, yes, that's in Glassboro, NJ. Got some thoughts rattling around about the post-Stanislavski methods of actor training and the general state of the theatre that these kids will be walking into after they graduate, will post soon.

In the meantime, please go by 59E59 Street and support our British brethren. It's the Brits Off Broadway Festival, a lot of stuff from last year's Edinburgh Festival, usually top-notch. And the theater has a bar. Very civilized.

keep off the grass

I'm climbing off the barricades for a moment with this post, trying to nail down a slippery thought. I've been hired to teach acting and directing at a university next year and so I'm trying to get some basics clear in my head.

What keeps me motivated and working in the theater is a profound and near-complete hatred of the theater. I hate the literalism of most design, the straight-faced mimicry the actors are asked to perform, the cowardice and obviousness of most of the writing, the confusion and dereliction of most directing. If I see a show and there are five minutes that genuinely surprise or hold me, that's an exceptional night in the theater. Five minutes out of seventy five. If it were music, I wouldn't buy the album. If it were a novel I would have thrown it across the room a long time ago. But every single time, when I 'm sitting there with others and the lights go down I lean forward, excited, focused, ready. That's usually the best part of the event. The leaning forward, the gathering of thought and focus and energy. And then its an hour or so of watching talented people slop around in horseshit.

So, not to just curse the darkness, here's where I think the problem begins:

The basic cul-de-sac or bear-trap that American theatre and most Western theatre has gotten caught in is this limited idea of representational realism. We think, in general terms, that that's our job description. Represent (which means imitate) reality. You hear it when someone asks you "what's your play about?" meaning what is the story or the issue you're presenting or exploring. You don't hear anyone ask that question about a Pollock painting or a Charlie Parker recording. We're hooked into this straight-on or fun-house mirror relationship to what we call the "real world". (I actually used that phrase in a press release for Fatboy, "a fun-house mirror reflection of the world we live in" or something like that.) And when we say or lazily think "the real world", we're accepting, right at the start, that the real world is the phenomenal world only and that people behave in an orderly, understandable, rational manner and that by and large, we all want and believe and fear the same things. We're all a bunch of good Freudians when we sit down to work.

The truth is, of course, that "the real world" is a place of wonder, mystery, chaos, terror, beauty, confusion and sudden illumination. That's the real world. We can all negotiate it and try to make some kind of individual sense out of it, but the experience of a gradual unfolding of events that lead towards a greater understanding is not one that I can ever remember having. Not in the real world. I don't experience a lot of reason or rationality in my day-to-day life, I deal mostly with faith, luck, superstition, habit and surprise. And I don't think I'm that different from most people.

By accepting this severely limited and frankly false definition of "reality", we wall off the most fertile soil we can work in and are left to toil in a bare, parched, well-traveled patch of public property. "Write a love story, because lovers always get together in the end." Just like real life. "Write a court-room drama, because they system of justice always triumphs." Just like real life. Whatever you write, just make sure that the characters and all of their actions are understandable and the whole thing means something that anyone paying attention can comprehend and sum up in three sentences. Just like real life.

What we're experiencing is the final, hollow triumph of empiricism, the result of a centuries old raising of Reason to the status of religion. We earnestly believe that Things Make Sense and Things Add Up and Things Happen for a Reason. And so our theater reflects this belief and because we're not as creative or as cruel as whatever Life Force/Playwright that has cast us in this "real world" situation we find ourselves in, our plays are pale, watered-down, slow, obvious forgeries of the Original, of "life". And the more we try to represent "reality", the more we fail.

When I was a young actor I got cast in a Horton Foote play, The Traveling Lady. The set was the front lawn of some boarding house in Texas. We were rehearsing in the theater and one day I walked in and they had laid sod on the stage. It was real grass. I started laughing. I stood in the audience, on a wooden floor, and then stepped onto the stage, real grass, and couldn't stop laughing. No one else found it remotely funny, and I couldn't explain how ludicrous and sad the design choice was to me, how intrinsically wrong it was to me. I don't know if I'm being clear about it now, but I'm just going to try to keep chasing the thought. The other actors and the director started getting a little mad, so I shut up about it, but I couldn't stop giggling. The futility of it. The attempt to use something real to represent something false in order to increase its realism. The complete and unacknowledged failure of the imagination.

I see this same "real grass" phenomenon in most Stanislavski-schooled actors. The good ones are very good at pretending to be real people. Problem is most real people are very boring and physically and vocally do everything they can not to stand out from the crowd. This attempt to be "real" is responsible for the Plague of Subtlety in the American acting world. All these small choices, choices based on "what the character's thinking" or "what the character feels". I spend half the time in rehearsal telling actors to get a wider physical base and shout more. Not half, but at least a third.

The real grass rule works great for film and television. You know why? Because you can show real grass. Real grass, real trees, real sky, real buildings. In the theater, the real grass is hanging out there alone, looking sad and a little foolish Looking like it showed up at the wrong party and is wondering where all its friends are. I felt bad for the grass after a while doing that show.

Same real grass reaction to most plays I read based on historical situations. Same thing when I saw Guantanomo and The Exonorated. Those were particulary strange because you had actors saying the actual words of real people. And I kept thinking...Man, this would make a great documentary.

So what's left for us if we abandon "reality" and turn the mirror to the wall? Everybody running around shouting gibberish? Long, strange, boring light shows?

There are already some things out there, contemporary things worth pointing to. Here in Manhattan there's a company called Vampire Cowboy Theater. They have these two cowboys slouching on the side of the stage the whole time and at the beginning and the end and in the middle too, I think, they do the classic cowboy showdown bit, but one of them is a vampire and attacks the other one. Lights down. No attempt to weave it in to the rest of the show. Brilliant. Chicago's Neo-futurists have been doing theater not attempting to reflect anything remotely real for fifteen years now, they don't reflect reality because they accept and acknowledge openly that they are part of the same reality as the audience. In the same place, same time, doing a show in front of them. Brilliant. You all have similar and better examples of this. I'm suggesting that this kind of immediacy and honesty and acceptance of the actual place and time is something we should begin to base our work on and instead of attempting to make things seem real, accept that they are real.


The thought remains out in front of me, but I'm going to post this anyway in the hope that others help track it down. I've been reading some people out there in the blogworld who seem to have a great grounding in theory, more than me, so tell me if I'm talking about something obvious or if I'm making any sense at all.

A theater that doesn't pretend, that doesn't imitate. A theater that engages an audience and keeps focusing them on the realities in front of them, not any fiction. A theater that reverses the usual flow of energy, that doesn't try to draw the audience into world of the play, but draw the play into the world of the audience...

And it can be funny, too.

More on this League of Independent Producers soon. Some great meetings going on already, seems like it might be a very good idea.

Monday, May 01, 2006

may day

Like a pilot spiraling out of the sky...

Ian Hill has some great answers to the seven questions below on his site, . Ian, besides being a fine director, is one of the unsung heroes of the New York Fringe. We broke on him and Art Wallace like a tidal wave that summer of 97 and they held fast, the Warriors of Todo con Nada, Defenders of Ludlow Street. Unthinkable to me that the festival is now ten years old, with all that has changed and, sadly, all that hasn't.

George Hunka, has me as a "recent veteran of the downtown world". The Times of London dubbed me a "veteran of the Fringe" last summer, so let me run with this. Imagine me sitting here in a bunker, grizzled and smoking a Lucky Strike, mad glint in the eye, tight-lipped, left cheek twitching... the horror...

"Tell us about the battle of Charas, Captain Scrappy, or the seige of Stanton Street the long winter of 99..."

No, no war stories. Not on May Day. How about a battle plan.

I believe we are losing a war of attrition here in New York. I believe we have to find a way, together, to preserve and strengthen the Off-Off or indie environment. We have to work collectively, defining common goals and achieving common objectives. I've already written about this in a previous post and others have been talking and writing about it as well. It's not that complicated or radical an idea. We are a strong, creative, large, diverse community. We work in substandard conditions for little to no financial reward. We have no plan to change this. No one outside our community has any reason to change these conditions. Why would a realtor or an audience member or a journalist or an Off-Broadway producer or a politician or a philanthropist or anyone outside our community want to change our conditions? Either we're working to their advantage or they just don't care. Either they're happy with the way it works or we haven't made a coherent argument.

Mayday. Who are we calling to? Who's going to come?

It's just us, folks. So we stay here, accept our conditions and go on with our individual projects and paths and wish each other the best or we work together to improve our collective lot. No one is going to change this but us.

What do we do?
1. Organize. Form the League of Independent Producers with the mission to advocate for and increase communication between the producers, presenters, companies, venue operators and service organizations of the Off-Off or indie industry. By acting collectively we act with clarity, efficiency and clout.
2. Mobilize. Define the concrete advancements and objectives that will improve the community's condition and begin working towards these goals. Rent subsidies, contract negotiations, increased visibility, we all know this list.
3. Realize. That we are strong. That we are vital to the cultural life of the city and the nation. That if we don't act, no one will. That there is a historical window that for whatever reason is open right now and that it will close if we don't jump through it.


This is Captain Jack, veteran of the Clemente Soto Velez campaign, signing off.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

seven questions

I found these scribbled in a notebook. I assume I was asking myself. Any answers would be most welcome.

1. Did you choose the stage for vanity?
2. Did you think it was a place to hide?
3. What makes you think people have time to sit and quietly admire your beautiful work of art?
4. What makes you think you have time to sit and carefully craft your beautiful work of art?
5. When Artaud called for no more masterpieces, did you see some sort of exception that applied to you?
6. Why spend your time saying dead men's words, whispering bedtime stories to a bored and sullen elite, when you can speak your own words, shouting terror, joy and revolution in front of enemies and friends?
7. If you're not entertaining an audience, what exactly are you doing out there?

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Political theatre and melodrama

All theatre is political, just as all theatre is ethical. Theatre is a public act. When you act in public, in front of others, you act in a political and ethical context. Jaywalking is a subtle, but clear political act, as is waiting for the lights to change when no cars are coming. The first says to anyone else watching "I understand the rules and I choose to break them." The second says, "I follow the rules even when I see that they are unnecessary." Not giving your seat on the subway to an elder is an ethical act. Poaching a cab from someone is an ethical act. Giving directions is an ethical act. If you're acting in public you are acting politically and ethically, by what you do and what you don't do.

This is why Barefoot in the Park is political. It beautifully and subtly trumpets the status quo of it's time. How much more political could The Lion King be? Like most Disney work, the monarchy ethos could not be clearer, in this ethical and political universe there are those born to rule and those born to be ruled and the most interesting issue, the question we're asked to spend all of our time and energy focusing on, is: how do rulers evolve and become good rulers? Now that's some old school politics. What a playwright or a producer chooses to put on a public stage, or not put on that stage, is the result of interior political and ethical calculations. This isn't true, or certainly it isn't as pressing an issue, for a painter or a novelist or a musician. The playwright and the producer are working towards a live showing in front of live people. The stage, the theater, exists in a political and ethical zone that other artforms do not.

Political theater, or the lack of it here in New York, is a hot topic this spring. We're hearing a lot of people asking "where's the political theatre?" We've got Stuff Happens, we don't have Rachel Corrie and that seems to be the end of it. Guardians down at Culture Project, sure. But in this insanely hyper-politicized era, in this time of global turmoil and open conflict, you'd think there would be a clearer response. Because there is a response, and that response is maintain the status quo. Keep quiet. Soothe the traumatized audience. Convince people, with your silence, that things are the same as they were four years ago.

The last two shows we've put up in New York, Fatboy and screwmachine/eyecandy, have both been branded "political" by the press. Both are fast, angry, funny at the top and then awful at the end. The only "message" they have in common is "we're in deep fucking trouble, folks". We've tried very diligently with both pieces not to point fingers at an administration or an individual. They're not about us and them. They're for and about us.

Because most theater called "political" is just modern-day melodrama. Do we need to spend two hours being told that the Iraqi war was a collosal mistake? Do we need to spend our money and more importantly our time being told that Bush is a moron advancing an apocalyptic agenda? Why are we saying things that we already know?

There is a difference between "issue" theater and politically engaged theater. Issue theater, be it Guantanomo or The Exonorated or Stuff Happens, actually works against the stated or unstated political agenda of the artists involved. Issue theater puts an issue on stage, tells us all in varying shades of black and white how awful and important the issue is and sends us home feeling better about ourselves because we feel that by sitting quietly and listening to something we already know, we've engaged in an issue. We haven't. We've watched a show. And we've been told, explicitly or implicitly, that there are bad people out there and good people out there and by our applause, we've chosen the right side. How far are we from Dick Dastardly tying Sweet Sue to the railroad tracks?

These artists work against their political agenda by taking the outrage and anger and energy of their fellow citizens and turning it into applause. The energy is released. To what practical end?

I'd like to call for a temporary halt to this "issue" theater. If you're working on a play about an issue, put it down and take the time you were planning to devote to it and engage in the actual issue. I'd also like to see a lot more of us aware of and working more directly with the political and ethical ramifications, opportunities and manifestations of our work.

Political theater, like politics, is messy. It should work to implicate, not explicate. It should be frustrating, not illuminating. It should try to make a dangerous animal growl and attack, not jump through beautiful, artful hoops.

Someone somewhere defined politics as the art of the possible. The art of the possible. That's not a bad definition for theater.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

towards a definition of indie theater

Last fall when Bromley started this discussion, I wrote on Martin Denton's blog that trying to re-define Off-Off was a waste of time- time better spent improving the conditions of Off-Off.

After attending the convocation organized and hosted by the indefatigable Dentons last week and listening to some of the arguments, I'm coming around to Bromley's side. The clearest argument for me was economic. New audience members look at the listings and see Broadway, then Off-Broadway and then Off-Off. We're on the bottom of the menu, most people don't read that far down. But a cool name doesn't create a community or help focus energies. And if we're not able to explain what we mean when we say "independent theater" then it's just a new name for the same old chaos. Clearly, something is happening again in the Off-Off or indie or poor-ass crazy theater world of New York. I can't tell you how gratifying and exciting that is, as someone who rode the last great tidal wave of the 90s and has been crawling through the same desolate desert as the rest of you have during the last four or five years. I've been doing some of my crawling in the UK and Australia, so, personally it hasn't been all bad, but to come back to New York and feel things just drifting and bumping along like a dying hot-air balloon has been brutal. I feel a second wave, brethren and sistern, so let's start paddling.

I don't think it's wise, healthy or even possible to describe a common aesthetic to the work created by the independent community. The diversity, idiosyncracies and individual voices and expressions are the exact things that give the community strength. Mark Lonergan and I are not trying to do the same thing and neither of us are tilling Bromley's field. Also, we lose the game before we begin if we define ourselves opposed to anything, especially if that anything is Broadway or commercial theater. So if we take aesthetics and "not being Broadway" off the table, what are we left with in common?

Our shared experience of continuing to produce work despite financial hardship and scant press and audience attention.
Our budgets.
The places we perform.
Our tenacity.

Like it or not, our broadest and most basic commonality is economic and geographical. We spend and earn roughly the same amount of money and we perform in mostly the same places. I would like to champion the adventurousness and the spirit and the genius and brilliance of the community, but let me lay down two uncomfortable truths:

1. Adventure and risk and spirit and genius and brilliance can be found in all levels of theater. Even Broadway, kids. Liz McCann put Well on the Great White Way. Leigh Silverman, the director of Well is one of us from way back. They put Festen up there, which I haven't seen, saw the London production, straight-out brilliant. I know it feels good to say "This is where the art happens, man, not all that commercial bullshit", but it's naive and inaccurate to say it.

2. Some of the work in the indie community absolutely sucks. I don't have to go into detail here or call anyone out, just, come on. If we can't be honest with each other, we're not going to build anything that lasts. And if we claim brilliance and some stranger comes down and sees crap, we look like liars and idiots.

So if we start with economic and geographical, we have a clear, simple definition. We are artists who work in theaters with 99 seats or fewer. We can all name ten to twenty of those theaters. They are physical sites we can point to and direct audiences, politicians and other artists towards. The advantage of an economic and geographical definition is that it is a concrete definition.

If we define the indie community as those artists working in these spaces, we can move immediately to the next step, which is turning the indie theater community into an indie theater movement. A community has common interests, a movement has common goals. So what are some goals? Top of my head:

All the venue operators of 99 seat or smaller theaters and all the companies that work in them and all of the union actors who have spent years and years doing these goddamned showcase code productions get together and in an organized, patient, friendly and public way negotiate the deal that L.A. has with the 99 seat theater plan. Paul Bargetto from East River Commedia turned me on to this. He is fired-up to make this happen. It's not as complicated as creating a new contract, the contract already exists, it's just a matter of getting it approved in a different territory. This alone would transform downtown or indie theater entirely.

Begin a comprehensive survey of our collective audience. In a year we could demonstrate precisley our economic impact and we use this to get respect, money and access to the city and state politicians.

Begin to advertise together. Obvious one.

Begin to create a National Alternative Touring Circuit by exchanging shows with like-minded, young, poor artists outside of New York who run or have access to similar venues.

So here's my big idea:

To do all of this in an organized fashion, I propose we create the League of Independent Producers. Anyone who produces in a 99 seat theater or smaller in New York is eligible to join as a full member, anyone who produces or is interested in what we're doing can join as an associate member. The League is dedicated to increasing the awareness, health and security of companies and artists who work in 99 seat theatres and facilitating communication and collaboration between 99 seat venues. The League has a chairman and a secretary, all full members get a full vote and all decisions are made by a majority vote. We meet four times a year for a big brawl. Now I'm starting to make this up off the top of my head, but you get the idea. It's the Joe Hill mantra, "don't mourn, organize".

That's why we lost the last Cultural War and don't kid yourselves, that war is over and we lost badly. We're not organized. We're not thinking long-term. How many more small theaters have to flare up, fight for five years and close? How many more bright young artists have to stand backstage and be told that there are only three people in the house? How many more checking accounts will be drained with nothing to show for it? Off-Off, to use the old term, is over 45 years old. It has a legacy. Does it have a future? What are we doing, concretely, to assure that future?

Let me know what you think.