March 4, 2014
At the FringeNYC Town Hall Meeting in 2002, I announced that nytheatre.com would review every show in that summer's upcoming festival. It was something that no organization had ever attempted at that time.
It seemed so obvious: why wouldn't you want to review everything in a festival? Even if that meant somehow reviewing 180-200 shows in a couple of weeks?
The way we did it--the way we have done it every year for the last 12 years--is to throw a whole bunch of bodies at the task. Not just any bodies: our reviewing squad, which has had several hundred members over the years, consists of people from the world of indie theater. They're actors, playwrights, directors, designers, stage managers, dramaturgs. They're theater students. We've had publicists, musicians, producers, and artistic directors, too.
There are two compelling ideas that underlie this ongoing project of ours. The first is that providing informed commentary and feedback about all the shows in the largest theater festival in North America is necessary and valuable. Audiences crave it. Artists deserve it.
The second is that enlisting members of the indie theater community to provide this very significant service is itself a potent and empowering act. It means that artists get a chance--at least during those 2-1/2 weeks of FringeNYC (though many continue on to write for nytheater now all year round)--to wear a different "hat" than they usually do. They have to think critically and generously about what they've seen; harder still, they have to write coherently and interestingly about the experience they had. Some are superb. Some never want to do it again. I think just about all have grown and benefited from the experience: they've gotten opportunities to see shows they otherwise might not have seen, and to engage with them in a unique way.
Engage is the key word in that last sentence. What we strive to do at NYTE--for many years on nytheatre.com, and now on Indie Theater Now AND nytheater now--is to provoke engagement with contemporary drama. We want to bring attention to ALL the work: to meet it on its own terms, to hear what it has to say, to communicate back to it, and to enthusiastically spread the word when it captures the imagination.
We've done 100% coverage of FringeNYC 12 years in a row. For lucky year #13, we are rebuilding the process. Scheduling and ticketing, which once upon a time were the big time-hogs in this project, are going to be more automated than ever before. And we plan to take a very proactive approach to matching shows in the festival to the artists who we want to have write about them. I think I might be more excited about NYTE's 2014 FringeNYC coverage than I even was about what we did in 2002.
Our goals are the same: we want to make sure that every single show in this year's FringeNYC gets equal attention. But the outcomes will be a little different: we are going to give our squad members the best experience we can manage--not only by engaging them more deeply in their selection of shows, but also by involving them in our planned FringeU educational events and crafting an excellent FringeNYC 2014 Anthology for Indie Theater Now. (Discovering amazing new plays is always the focus!)
So, here's the call to action that the title of this post suggests. Are you an indie theater artist--a playwright, director, actor, designer, stage manager, dramaturg, student, whatever? Do you think that engaging with cool new work this summer at FringeNYC (and other festivals!) feels like a meaningful endeavor? Do you understand first-hand what it takes to produce theater in the indie/festival sector? Do you want to help NYTE and Indie Theater Now do the daunting thing we and only we have done within and for our NYC theater community for the past 12 years?
If your answer is yes, then I do indeed want YOU for nytheater now. Specifically, I want you to email me right now. If we know each other, just say something like "I want to be on the squad." If we don't know each other, tell me a little about who you are and how I might learn about your work.
The 2014 Squad is now in formation. Don't sit on the sidelines; don't settle for letting a few friends know what you think via Facebook or Twitter. Jump into the community with both feet! I can't wait to hear from you.
(And...he adds teasingly...news about our FringeNYC coverage and FringeU plans will be trickling out, right here on the blog, in weeks to come...)