What’s Indie Theater? (A Synthesis)

So this week I’ve posted ideas about what indie theater is from three of its seminal practitioners, Kirk Wood Bromley, Trav S.D., and John Clancy. Today I conclude this series with some thoughts of my own, hopefully tying everything together.

When Kirk sent me that email in October 2005, I wrote back to him:

The central idea of my manifesto would have been that Indie Theater is created as an end in itself, as opposed to being a “showcase” or “workshop” or whatever you want to call it that’s intended to “try out” material that can then be “fixed” for consumption at a “higher” level of the theatre food chain.

It’s a view of making theater that corresponds to my own practice in making a nonprofit theater support and advocacy organization and in making various websites and web-based resources over the course of two decades. I believe in making the thing that I want to make, that I think needs to exist. I don’t make it because I can but because I have to.

That’s the kind of company I wanted to make. It’s the kind of theater I want to see. And I think it’s the kind of theater that Kirk, Trav, John, and so many other indie artists I have talked to over the years believe in.

***

Shortly after the First Ever Indie Theater Convocation, we launched a new website called indietheater.org. Its mission was to exclusively highlight the work of indie theater artists, and it lasted for a few years before being merged into nytheatre.com. One of the first pieces I wrote for indietheater.org was called “What’s indie theater?” (sound familiar?). In it, I said:

The first New York International Fringe Festival was my first real immersion in this community, and what I learned right away was that it was just that: a community. (Still is.) I also discovered that there was an astonishing lot of creative, challenging, smart, exciting theatre happening in places well beyond the boundaries of what I had always thought was “New York theatre.” In those days, in the mid- to late-’90s, it was in the Lower East Side, in venues like Nada and The Piano Store and Expanded Arts and House of Candles and the Present Company’s Theatorium; and also on the Upper West Side and Greenwich Village and the East Village and Gramercy Park and in pockets all around Manhattan.

Wherever it was, this kind of theatre had an energy that was almost always missing from its more mainstream counterpart. It wasn’t the deadly amateur-hour no-budget theatrics that I was afraid it was going to be; it was raw, gritty, and, yes, economical: a crucible for creativity; a laboratory for experimentation, a breeding ground and playground for up-and-coming theatre artists. It was good, first and foremost—stuff worth seeing, stuff worth tracking down, stuff worth tracking….

 

Here’s what I think indie theater is:

  • Indie theater is Cheap Art.
  • Indie theater is diverse—by, for, and about people of every stripe.
  • Indie theater looks backward, forward, sideways, at itself, in every direction.
  • Indie theater takes risks.
  • Indie theater challenges audiences, its creators, and, most important, the status quo.
  • Indie theater is entertainment.
  • Indie theater is political.

***

Final thought: Indie theater is as much a community endeavor in 2017 as it was in 1997. I did an informal poll of sorts on Facebook a couple of days ago. I asked folks “What theater-related thing are you doing today/tonight/tomorrow?” I got 77 replies, breathtaking in their breadth and diversity. By and large, folks talked about the show(s) they’re currently acting in, rehearsing, directing, designing, etc. But no fewer than 22 (more than a quarter of the responses) talked about helping out or seeing work by colleagues and students. 29% of this (non-random) sample of indie artists were spending their free time supporting other indie artists. I am awestruck…and not one bit surprised.

 

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