April 21, 2014

In 2009, my co-producer and wife, Jennifer Larkin Kuzler, an independent theatre artist herself, and some close friends started DecadesOut (www.decadesout.org) whose mission is to contribute to the growing dialogue between art and science.

This blog post is being reprinted courtesy of the Innovative Theatre Foundation. Please take a moment and check out their fantastic work supporting the Independent Theatre community.

We decided to start documenting the people involved and start meeting new people who had perhaps never heard of off-off Broadway or independent theatre. So borrowing a phrase from The Living Theatre’s founder Judith Malina (“If you’re not burning to communicate, why do this? Get out of the way, and let the people who are do their jobs.”) the documentary Burning to Communicate was started. Then in 2010 we started work on the Awareness Project in which we interview people on the streets of NYC and ask them a series of simple questions that have to do with the off-off Broadway/independent theatre world in some way: Define a black box. If you could create one thing, what would it be? If you have a show running for four weeks under the showcase code with 6 equity actors, how many shows can you perform a week, and shouldn’t you be allowed to shoot video for marketing purposes since it’s 2014?

The results so far (and we have just scratched the surface) have been amazing. Over the last four years, we have had the opportunity to sit down with some of the artists who started this movement including (just to name drop) Lanford Wilson, Doric Wilson, Judith Malina, and Edward Albee. They described textures of careers and historical landscapes that brought our country and the art form to greater life for me. I could see it all playing out visually: the personal or historical events that inspired the work, the creation of the pieces themselves. They welcomed us into their lives as all great artists do, sharing deep passions. Lanford Wilson brought us out into his garden where he described every flower in great detail including its latin genus and species. This is how a great writer’s mind works, I thought. This is what I was doing this for. Listening to these icons of American theatre tell their stories after having read and seen so much of their work as an audience member, student, and young artist was a humbling experience. This is why I wanted to make a film: to grow as an artist, share these moments and capture this history.

We missed some of the important ones though, Ellen Stewart in particular. That was a tough one. We tried, but the timing was wrong, and she is sorely missed within the community. She left such a fantastic legacy though, and I am sure there are many people who will help tell that story.

From these, there are the people who got handed the mantle — the over 150 companies working in NYC alone. Companies such as Boomerang, Flux, Gideon, Retro Productions, Vampire Cowboys, Blessed Unrest, Terra Nova, and I am so sorry for the many that I do not have room to list from NYC, the USA, and the world.

It is through the theatre companies, the artists consistently producing new theatre, and the advocate organizations such as the League of Independent Theatre (LIT) and the Innovative Theatre Foundation (ITF) that the independent theatre community is galvanizing into a national cultural institution.

Thank you to all the people (artists and the ever important patrons and donors) who continue to keep it thriving. I believe live theatre — the original 3D dramatic experience, the closest artistic form to actually living the experience — will always be world changing.

Thank you to organizations like the Innovative Theatre Foundation who are celebrating their 10th anniversary this year for being a major element in the support of the new American theatrical life.