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July 16, 2009

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RLewis

How about inviting these press folks to start a new Award program for Indie Theater? With OB and IT awards off in their own directions, Drama Desk too, we have hundreds of terrific Indie shows every season without an opportunity for any recognition. Wouldn't it be a great way to get more press out to see our shows and do a lil’ visibility raising?

Aaron

RLewis, I have the feeling that the majority of critics affected by no longer being able to vote for Tony Award shows are also the ones who rarely venture to see "indie theater."

I see what you mean for the OB awards, but not quite sure what demographic of theater you think the IT awards is missing. I know there's some protective hyperbole in your post, but I don't think that there are "hundreds" of "terrific" shows that still wind up without ANY opportunity for recognition... unless by recognition, you mean "these press folks."

RLewis

A, if Indie theater could peel off a few of these critics, I think that would be a big plus. And for a community that has grown 10x what Broadway and Off Bway has over the last few decades, maybe now is the right time.

Look, I love the Obies and the VV, but doesn’t it seem like they give more awards than ever to the big OB theaters? (I don’t know if Passing Strange or Ruined needed such attention.) And don’t they seem to pay less attention to the kinds of shows they used to champion at a time when there are exponentially more of them to consider? Also, they seem to award several different awards to a single flavor-of-the-moment show. And I love the Drama Desk awards, but since they raised the minimum number of performances for a show to qualify, didn’t they really just tell Indie theater where to go? Also, I love NYIT and their IT awards, but isn’t their system of registering a show something that a lot of folks (outcasts that we are) are just not going to do? And isn’t having to review your peers’ shows to qualify for your own award, a process that leaves out more great shows whose members do not think that’s the way to win anything? I can understand the reasons for this process, but the winners tend to be the new folks willing to do anything to get on the map.

Last season, I posted a list on Martin’s blog of dozens of terrific shows that were not considered for anything, because they fell in this gap. And I’m happy to do that for the past season, if it helps, cuz I know there have been some really good ones this year. I think it’s a shame, and our loss, that we do not have a tool for recognizing and promoting our best Indie work. With as battered as the critics have been by commercial theater these days, maybe they'd be a natural ally.

sashanaomi

Agreed. I was so disappointed the first time I saw a Tony voter list.

Aaron

I think the real problem is that there's just too much. The only solution I can see is to have a rapid-response network of bloggers and critics recommending shows to one another.

The last time I saw a truly terrific show, "How Soon Is Now?," I posted a quick review and e-mailed all the critics and bloggers I knew, urging them to go. (I also offered to buy three tickets for my readers.) So far as I know, I'm the only person who wrote about the show; consequently, I doubt it will get any awards (except from me).

Here's the catch, though. If our solution is to make sure that someone vocal goes to one of the earliest performances of a show, then when they strongly recommend it, other shows are going to wind up neglected, because everyone will be busy checking out this other show that may or may not be award worthy.

It also requires a lot of last-minute planning, and it might be DETRIMENTAL to a theater (if, say, twenty comped people show up to a 40-seat theater). Hence regulations that winnow down the pool of shows for consideration in the first place. And ones that impose a minimum number of shows. (I won't see anything running for less than four nights.)

I have hopes for the ITBA (Independent Theater Bloggers Association), but so far, they're mainly focused on Broadway and the bigger Off-Broadway shows, too. But hey, it's up to *us* here to change that, right? If anyone's got any ideas, my ears are open.

RLewis

A, just wanted to follow up to say that I agree wholeheartedly with your recent points. I think the only option is to take these presumed negatives and find some angle to make them positives. While I too am holding out hope that the ITBA can help, I'm surprised at how few of its members I follow - you, Patrick, begrudgingly Ken D. and formerly Leonard (it's so hard to make heads or tails of his blog anymore).

Personally, I think Kul, nytheatre.com, Parabasis and a couple of others should give out awards. With all the ground that you bloggers tread, it wouldn't take many of you to cover the hole in the field that I'm seeing. But if print critics are being shunned by the commercial theater, then why not see this as an opportunity for additional coverage? (They do see a ton of shows, so maybe they’d like to see more Acting and less singing and dancing.)

But I think there’s a bigger picture here that Indie theater could better address, and maybe awards and other recognition could shed some light. It relates to the very volume of Indie theater that you regret. Look, I’m no Clay Shirky (although I do think he started as a lighting designer and did a show I was in at The Kitchen years back), but I believe that we’re in the middle of a social shift in entertainment options. It’s becoming a Niche World now that some may see as more competition for our leisure dollars and fewer patrons attending theater. But it’s this very social fragmentation that offers theater a new growth opportunity. We no longer need to woo the young video gamers or older film fans; we just need to grow our own Indie niche while the others (network tv, studio films, label music, etc.) shrink back to us.

This growth can’t happen unless the audience can tell the difference between the sub-niches of theater. (An example of Sub-niche importance: one can’t miss the difference between a D&D gamer and a Trekky just by looking at their attire even though they share the same Fantasy niche.) Even though the growth of Bway and Off-Bway has been relatively stagnant, the growth of other theater has been incredible. Take away their musicals and performance events, and I’ll bet that there is way more Acting going on in Indie theater than those 2 combined. It’s the first A in AEA, and we should be making this case to them, too, since they are a big part of what is holding down our maturation.

I don’t believe it’s good enough anymore to just have an “all other” sub-niche. Of course, Off-Off-Off Broadway is absurd, and just changing the name from Off-Off to Indie is not enough either. I think there needs to be a way to distinguish between Indie theater and showcases and experimental work and workshops, etc. – these are all different things. If an audience goes to a workshop thinking it’s a full Indie production, the expectation game is going to make for fewer repeat customers. Too many times I’ve been invited to see a Production only to find actors “on book”. Even makes me want to give up peer show-going. So, I think that if we find a way to be more honest about what is ready for recognition – better labeling – then maybe we can work on getting longer runs for them, fewer perf.s for the others. There will be a more reasonable set of shows to cover, so buzz will lead to less neglect, and comps will not matter as much (not that box office $ is that big a deal).

Sorry if this is too much for a blog comment and only skimming the surface, but while it seems that we might be doing a lot of snipping and sniping within the field, I’m trying to think more about how marketing and recognition might drive a real change in our Indie culture. Let’s beat Them, not each other.

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