Not too long ago, I put together a little robot–a toy one, really–from a nicely made kit by a company called SparkFun. I haven’t done anything like this since I was a boy: carefully following about 14 pages of instructions to assemble the little fellow piece by piece, and then hooking up the various electronic components until, finally, I switched it on and it made its first steps forward. Now I have to teach it to do more stuff–and I will, by experimenting with some computer programs that can make the robot buzz, turn, and do a variety of exciting tricks.
It’s very satisfying.
It’s also about as close as I get, as a creator, to the craft of the theater-makers that I admire so much. Of course, they don’t have a kit with prefabricated plastic parts and integrated circuit boards. They start with pure inspiration. And miraculously they create something that has the capacity to walk, buzz, turn, and do tricks… and to teach, to enlighten… to touch hearts and minds…perhaps even change them.
From Thornton Wilder’s Our Town I first came to terms with the preciousness and ineffability of life, and later in David Cromer’s production I heard it, felt it, (spoiler alert!) and smelled it in the sizzling bacon on Mrs. Webb’s breakfast stove. Rodgers and Hammerstein taught me about tolerance and intolerance and the need to engage head-on with people who are different from you. Carol Channing, in the first revival of Hello, Dolly! (40 years ago!) demonstrated what sheer and unfettered joy could feel like, in a roomful of strangers, when she descended that restaurant staircase in an over-the-top red dress.
I’ve been lucky enough to spend most of my adult life immersed in a world of art that constantly enlarges me; in the theater and at my desk, writing/editing/curating first nytheatre.com and now Indie Theater Now, I am surrounded by miracle workers who spin wonder and happiness, delight and despair, truth and beauty from the gossamer of their fevered imaginations and poetic souls. Julia Lee Barclay-Morton and John Clancy taught me to be present everywhere I am (especially in the theater). Saviana Stanescu and Qui Nguyen showed me what it means to be a newcomer to the country I have taken for granted all my life. Mark Lonergan revealed to me the rapturous music in everyday modern existence and Dave Dannenfelser made me question whether all of these nifty gadgets we play with are stealing something from us.
Those half-dozen examples stand in for hundreds of life-shifting transformations I’ve received from indie theater artists over the past two decades. You can find a lot of those artists on Indie Theater Now. And, come spring, you’ll start finding them on the nytheater indie archive at nytheatre.com.
For yes, spring is coming. 2016 has been a year of remarkable intensity. We are all ready, I think, for it to come to its end. Let us take note, as Tony Kushner put it, that in this world, there’s a kind of painful progress; that the world only spins forward. That we will be citizens. That the Great Work continues to Begin.
The Great Work will be made, as it ever has been, by artists. All kinds, of course; but I’m partial to the ones who endeavor in the theater, particularly those heroic talents who make indie theater, in New York and everywhere else. I don’t act or direct or design sound. My job is to weave databases and computer programs into useful resources on the Web, and to bring the work of the thousands of foundational theater artists–Innovators and Geniuses, all–to the rest of humanity. To make that art easy to find and to make sure that it’s always there. To provide, maybe, a little context and background so that others can appreciate it with depth and gratitude.
So: 2017. A milestone, because nytheatre.com was born 20 years ago (in February 1997). A banner year, because we’ll mark that milestone with the launch of NYTE’s newest project, the nytheater indie archive. Look for that launch next month.
Then look for more stuff honoring the Great Work of indie theater artists. The archive will continue to grow and expand throughout the year. Indie Theater Now will get a much needed and long-desired full-featured search resource by about midyear. New plays will be coming to the site, presented in a manner that’s still being noodled over that we believe will be more engaging and valuable than ever before.
And, with some good friends and collaborators, I think we’ll have some neat surprises for everyone in 2017 in addition to what I’ve just mentioned.
And all of this will be done to pay tribute to and to celebrate the art that the people I love and respect so much in the world of indie theater will make in 2017. I know that it may feel tough to make that art. But I know that they will make it anyway. Because they have to. And because we need it more than ever.
[Photo of the SparkBot robot is from SparkFun’s website.]