John Clancy, great playwright and director, co-founder of the New York International Fringe Festival, and founding executive director of the League of Independent Theater (on which more soon!), is as seminal a figure in the NYC indie theater movement as there is. Here are some of his thoughts (emphasis mine), adapted from a longer piece he created for Indie Theater Now a few years ago. He takes a long view on the subject, and a historical one.
John called our community a “neighborhood….It was a place I used to live and work in and one where extraordinary work by remarkable people was a common event, the frontier of new American theater, the independent theatre world of New York City.”
The works “stretch across that territory and represent some but by no means all of the trends and tribes that have grown up over the last fifteen years or so. By tribes I mean both the common understanding of the word, a group of people with a shared history, territory and language who don’t much trust those outside the fold, but also Deleuze and Guattari’s definition of a rhizome, something characterized by
‘ceaselessly established connections between semiotic chains, organizations of power, and circumstances…’
“They describe it further, writing that
‘a rhizome has no beginning or end; it is always in the middle, between things, interbeing, intermezzo.’
“I don’t know a better description of what it was like to work in independent theater in recent years.”
John wrapped up his essay this way:
And here’s one more perspective….this is great and helps make a larger point:
“…this new theatre makes available an unmediated perception that is probably without precedent in the theatre’s long history. It intentionally sacrifices suspense, naturalistic representation, characterization, romance, vicarious identification with a star, sympathy-arousal, mirth-provocation (and even the courting of audience ‘approval’) for the stubbornly single-minded purpose of triggering a radically deranged and psychically liberating- or shall we say ‘mind-blitzing’ or even a ‘mind-blowing’ beyond-the-rational insight into the human soul.”
That was written by Robert J. Schroeder in May of 1968 in the preface of his great collection The New Underground Theatre.
The more things change…
Call it Off-Off, underground, downtown, alternative or independent, the fact is it’s been going on for sixty-plus years now and it’s high time it got taken seriously.