Falling in Love with Indie Theater

The New Group’s production of The Fastest Clock in the Universe (1998)

Back in 2011, the New York Innovative Theatre Awards folks invited me to be a guest blogger on their “Full Of IT” blog. I wrote three pieces for them in the last week of January that year. One of them, titled “Why I Love Indie Theater,” reverberates clear and strong.

The piece begins with this confession:

When I began nytheatre.com, nearly 15 years ago, I was a Broadway guy. For me, back then, “New York theatre” was the stuff that got done between 42nd Street and Lincoln Center, with the occasional anomalous foray to Greenwich Village, or, rarely, somewhere else in Manhattan. All the other stuff—what used to get lumped into a category called “off-off-Broadway”—was completely off my radar. My preconceived notion about it was that it was located in undesirable parts of the city, was experimental and/or somehow dangerous, and probably lacking in the professionalism (not to mention lush production values) that I was used to.

I then debunk my preconceived notion (which should not surprise anyone reading this!).

There’s a great paragraph in the article about how the theater I got exposed to in 1998–the first full year I reviewed on nytheatre.com–changed my perspective about the NYC theater scene. Here is what I wrote, now annotated with links to reviews of those productions from the nytheater indie archive:

Thinking back on some of what I saw in 1998—the year I really found my niche and shifted my energies and nytheatre.com’s focus to the world of indie theater—makes me feel a little giddy: Matt Maher in W. David Hancock’s The Race of the Ark Tattoo at P.S. 122; Kirk Wood Bromley’s The Death of Griffin Hunter at Walkerspace (the first show of his I ever saw); Let It Ride!, the first production of Mel Miller’s Musicals Tonight! series, at the Lamb’s Theatre; Tim Cusack in Rachel Kranz’s Stunt Man, Eric Winick’s Ian Fleming Presents Steve Gallin in Nobody Dies Forever, and David Summers & Gary Ruderman’s “So, I Killed a Few People…”, all at the 2nd FringeNYC Festival; Marc Geller’s revival of Dark of the Moon at T. Schreiber Studio; Philip Ridley’s The Fastest Clock in the Universe at the old INTAR space on Theatre Row; David Fuller as King Lear in Rod McLucas’s production for Theater Ten Ten; Joe Calarco’s R&J at the John Houseman Studio Theatre (before it went off-Broadway); Letty Cruz’s revival of The Mulligan Guard Ball at Creative Place Theatre; Mark Lonergan’s The Return of Avant-Vaudeville at Nada, where we saw the first glimmer of what would become his first hit, Velo/City; Storm Theatre’s revival of The Shaughraun at Looking Glass Theatre; and Jason McCullough’s Home Again Home Again Jiggity Jig at ATA (which was directed by Adam Rapp before he was famous; Shay Gines was the publicist… and that’s where she and I first met).

It would not be overstating the case to say that these productions, and others I saw that year, taught me about 1000% more about the possibilities of theater than 20-odd years of Broadway/off-Broadway had. Thanks to the quality, diversity, and sheer exhilaration of this work–and to the welcoming embrace of the community of artists who made it (most of whom remain good friends 20 years later)–I fell in love with indie theater.

Here is how I closed that blog post (emphasis added):

One of the things I love about being a theatre reviewer is that I don’t have to supply the topic for the evening’s entertainment—that’s the job of the playwright and other artists. All I have to do is show up, watch, and listen.

So, to all the indie playwrights, directors, actors, producers, designers, etc. who are reading this: I’m never going to tell you what kind of art you should make. The only thing I want you to do is to make the art that you know you have to make, and to do it with honesty and without cynicism, embracing the independence that working outside the mainstream provides. You inspire me, and for that I am eternally grateful.

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