Category Archives: ITN Editor’s Corner

Chris Harcum, Chris Harcum

Chris Harcum is writing a play about me called Martin Denton, Martin Denton.

So it seems only fair and fitting that I should write a blog post about him called Chris Harcum, Chris Harcum.

Chris is a playwright and an actor; he has many plays on Indie Theater Now.

red-rover-2One of Chris’s plays is called Mahamudra; it’s about–of all things–a theater critic. (Above is Chris as Roy the Critic in that play.) When it premiered at the Brick’s Moral Values Festival in 2005, nytheatre.com’s Richard Hinojosa described it this way:

Roy is a theatre critic who has begun to believe all of his own BS. The power of his pen has transformed him into a real jerk. Roy proceeds to lay down all that he hates about the theatre, solo performance being at the top of his list. He harbors a particular dislike for a solo performer named Chris Harcum. After a tragic event, Roy is compelled to try is hand at acting. Before too long all his demons are chasing him in a sort of dream world: actors he’s panned, his overly critical inner self, and of course his nemesis Chris Harcum. In the end Roy completes a journey of self discovery and frees his mind of its burdens.

Speaking of theater criticism, Chris has engaged in some of his own over the years; from 2007 thru 2012, Chris reviewed shows for us on nytheatre.com. Unlike Roy the Critic, Chris never believed his own BS, at least not when he wrote for us. All of his reviews of FringeNYC shows on nytheatre.com can be found here; check them out. (To make this even more meta than it already is, take a look at this review from FringeNYC 2011 of a one-man play by famous theater critic Jeffrey Sweet.)

Martin Denton, Martin Denton is coming to the Kraine in July; details here.

Re-living My Life

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Above: The Rebel Mess (fronted by Hank Wagner) in Kirk Wood Bromley’s The American Revolution in Central Park, 2002 (photo courtesy Inverse Theater)

These past few months have been exceeding strange for me — and not just because of what’s going on in our country (strange though that has indeed been!).

You see, since the end of 2016, I have essentially been re-living the last 20 years of my life. The main reason I have been engaged in this singular activity is because I am manually archiving the reviews I wrote during the earliest days of nytheatre.com (from 1997 through 2004). (Soon — and by that I mean within the next week or so; I’ll announce it when it happens — you will be able to access this material on the nytheater indie archive.)

So my days have been spent re-reading hundreds of reviews that I wrote when I began my theater career… and recalling, often astonishingly vividly, some remarkable work that I have been fortunate enough to be witness to. I’ll read something I have literally not laid eyes upon in 17 or 18 years and think: that was the first time I saw a Gorilla Rep show. Or: that was the first time I saw Susan Louise O’Connor in a play. Or that was when I met Mia Katigbak. Or (see photo at top) that was the hot and noisy July afternoon when we saw The American Revolution in Central Park.

And so on, over and over again, hundreds of times. Flashes of great memories playing in my head; different ones, day after day. I have been lucky. And I am glad and proud to be sharing all of this work. Like the librarian in Glen Berger’s Underneath the Lintel, I’m able to justify a life by proving another — the other, in this case, being the oh-so vital and vibrant life of NYC indie theater at the turn of the present century.

And layered on top of this endeavor has been one even more singular and un-looked-for. As I reported a few days ago, a play about me (called Martin Denton, Martin Denton, of all things) will be presented at the Kraine in July. So at the same time that I have going over the fruits of my labor on nytheatre.com, I have also been recalling it for playwright Chris Harcum, who interviewed me over the course of many days during the past six or seven months.

More recently, I’ve read a couple of drafts of Martin Denton, Martin Denton. It’s the most meta thing you can imagine. Here I am, a theater reviewer/play publisher by trade, reading a new script in (relatively) raw form. On one level, my training kicks right in, evaluating the work in all the ways I know how. And then on another level, I’m meeting up with a character who has the same name as me — who, for his hour on the stage, will be me. Who is this guy? He feels weirdly familiar and yet way outside me as I strain to regard him with reasonable objectivity. I’ll love a turn of phrase and then realize, oh, I think that’s exactly what I said sometime in my life. And then I’ll love another and think, gee, I should have Chris be my writer all the time because that is said better than anything I could have thought of.

Profound weirdness, my friends.

But the memories of the work are all good.

As I mentioned earlier, we’re just weeks away from having ALL of the nytheatre.com reviews go live on the archive site. And we’re a couple of months away from Martin Denton, Martin Denton‘s opening night. We’re gonna party like it’s 1997 (and ’98… and ’99… and onward) as we celebrate this 20th year of the website that turned into my life’s work. I’m excited that I’m in this new phase of life where I’m not so much re-living as re-experiencing the stuff that jazzed me so much, and looking for new ways to share it with you all over again.

More soon…

A Play Called “Martin Denton, Martin Denton”

I used to joke that one day I would do my own one-man show, at FringeNYC or someplace: an evening of theater reviews, delivered from the stage by yours truly.

Of course, that never happened–I really was just kidding. But thanks to the folks at FRIGID@Horse Trade and Elephant Run District, there is going to be a play about me at the Kraine this summer.

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Wacky, no?

It came about one day last summer when Chris Harcum and Aimee Todoroff came down to the Jersey Shore for a day of R&R at the beach. We met them for dinner and, as we were chatting, one of them remarked that some of the stories I was telling about “the old days” (i.e., early days of FringeNYC and the indie theater movement in NYC) would make a good play.

Would I do a one-person show of anecdotes and reminiscences?

No way!!

And then Chris said: what if he were to write the play, and star in it?

Hmmm. I really thought he was kidding, too. But to my surprise… he wrote it. And now Martin Denton, Martin Denton is coming to the Kraine. (Get tickets here.) (Read about the production on ERD’s website here.)

Chris spent literally days with Rochelle and me, gathering information for his play. (And I know that he interviewed lots of other folks in the indie theater world as well.) Being asked questions about myself was fun.

Then came perhaps the weirdest experience of my career: reading the first draft of a play about me. This is something that few people ever get to do. It’s strange, untethering, surreal, amazing. Especially when you’re someone who has been seeing and reading new plays professionally for the past 20 years.

I think that some of what I have learned about the theater–and how to appreciate it–comes through in Chris’s play. That makes me happy.

So, now I just have to somehow get through 64 days of anticipation before Martin Denton, Martin Denton opens at the Kraine. I hope that I will get to see lots of old friends and colleagues when I come to the show!

Your Program is Your Ticket

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Sean Chandler, whose play At The Flash is on Indie Theater Now, has just launched a new podcast series about independent/fringe theater. It’s called Your Program is Your Ticket, and you can hear it on Soundcloud. The second episode just went up yesterday, and I am delighted to say that I am Sean’s guest on this 30 period audio-cast.

Sean’s a great host and interviewer, and I had blast having this conversation with him. We cover a lot of ground in the podcast:

  • What we like and don’t like about Shakespeare
  • What I consider to be my two greatest strengths in my career (see if you agree!)
  • Advice for theater artists who want to make sure they are doing work that’s important and relevant (a quote from a Sondheim lyric figures here)
  • Great discussion about current trends and technologies in the world of theater

I also got to do a few shoutouts to some wonderful playwrights and creators like bluemouth, inc., Taylor Mac, Saviana Stanescu, Qui Nguyen, and Chiori Miyagawa. The last three are mentioned in a section of the podcast about the importance of immigrants writing about their experiences for the stage. A few names I should have also included in that part of the podcast are Roi “Bubi” Escudero and Adrian Rodriguez (the links take you to the nytheater indie archive, where you can read more about these two folks).

Please check out the podcast!

 

Marc Spitz

I always think of the playwrights we published in the Plays and Playwrights anthologies as members of my extended family. Today my sad duty is to report that one of the members of that family has passed away. Marc Spitz, whose play Shyness Is Nice is in Plays and Playwrights 2002, died last week at the much-too-early age of 47, in NYC.

Marc’s “day job” was as a music journalist; unlike most of the playwrights I have had the pleasure of knowing and working with, he was already a published author when I met him (We Got the Neutron Bomb: An Oral History of Los Angeles Punk Rock came out the year before our book; others followed). Back then he wrote for Spin Magazine, and most recently he was working for Salon, still on the music and pop culture beats. (Here’s his obituary in Rolling Stone, where you can find out more about this aspect of his career.)

I knew Marc almost entirely as a playwright and playmaker, and I had enormous respect for his craft and his remarkable off-kilter way of making the edgy and off-putting utterly hilarious. Tim Haskell of Publicity Outfitters made me see Shyness Is Nice at Westbeth Theatre Center in May, 2001; I’m pretty sure I protested that it wasn’t going to be my kind of thing, but Tim persisted and, of course, was right: Marc’s plays were ENTIRELY my thing. In my review of Shyness, I floundered a bit trying to peg him, comparing him to Monty Python. By the time I published the play, about eight months later–and had gotten to meet Marc, and to know him and his aesthetic–I was better at describing the work:

Shyness Is Nice is…an envelope-pushing comedy with an extraordinarily well-developed sense of the absurd; it’s a post-everything sex-drugs-n-rock-n-roll farce; a hilarious cartoon laughing at and in the face of just about anything you can think of.

I tried not to miss a single one of Marc’s subsequent comedies–at indie theaters all; the work never made it to one of the commercial venues where it deserved to be, sadly. He worked with lots of folks I admire and respect throughout his career; Arthur Aulisi, the consummate indie theater actor, reminded me that he appeared in Marc’s 2009 farce Up for Anything, which was the last of his plays that I wrote about. (Here’s that review in the nytheater indie archive; the earlier ones will be coming to the archive later this year.)

I remember vividly the first time I met Marc, at Wolf’s Restaurant way downtown, just a month or so after 9/11; he had walked all the way from his place in the Village because he was still spooked to take the subway. The first thing I noticed about him was his gentleness, and the next thing was his quiet intellect; I knew I wanted him to be part of the Plays and Playwrights community immediately. He will be greatly missed.

nytheatre.com is back

Folks, with pride and excitement I announce today that the nytheater indie archive launches today. It’s online and live RIGHT NOW, at the old familiar address for indie theater in NYC — that’s right: nytheatre.com.

The archive database is perhaps a quarter of the size it will eventually be. Right now we’ve got:

  • Every review of the New York International Fringe Festival that we can find. That includes all 13 years when we reviewed every single FringeNYC show on nytheatre.com (2002 thru 2014), along with hundreds of reviews from all the other years (except 1997 and 1999).
  • Every review from 1997 that I can fin d.
  • Almost every review from 1998 that I can find. (A few more will be coming up very soon!)

Still to come: all the rest of the reviews, from 1999 – 2015. All the podcasts. Lots of interviews. And lots of supporting/contextual content TBD. The archive is a breathing organism and it’s just a baby at the moment. With your continued help and support, we’ll make it into a dynamic resource that provides permanent recognition of the remarkable body of work produced by NYC’s indie theater community over two decades.

Meanwhile, please check it out.

I’ve posted some screenshots on Facebook.

And please let me know what you think.

 

What I Learned in 2016

Following the lead of the  online technical learning resource Pluralsight, I thought it might be interesting to look back over the past 12 months and take note of some of the new stuff I learned this year. My focus here is on technology: there is so much to try to keep up with, and I make it a high priority to stay on top of it, with a view toward figuring out what will have applicability to the indie theater world.610sfktplul-_sl1000_

So, in (more or less chronological order):

  1. Data Science/Big Data/Machine Learning: These are very popular buzzwords these days, but they represent some really significant areas of exploration. I spent some time brushing up on statistics (which I studied in college) and then read and did some video training in some of the ways statistical methods can be applied to help businesses make decisions. Machine Learning leverages statistics to automate decision-making processes. There’s not a lot of direct application of these techniques to NYTE’s mission, but it underpins some cool stuff that we’ll be working on in 2017, such as how to collect and analyze data to automate sophisticated recommendation systems.
  2. Python: This is a programming language (not a big snake). For the past seven or eight years or so, I’ve worked almost exclusively in C# (another language; I’m not composing music!) to write the programs that drive all of NYTE’s websites and databases. But Python offers some very intriguing opportunities, especially in areas where a lot of data is being processed (such as analyzing website traffic); it’s also really good at analyzing text. To that end, I’ve learned a lot this year about a Python software framework called the Natural Language Toolkit. I used this to do some fun analysis of Indie Theater Now’s plays back in February, and I’ve got some plans for making this resource valuable to our community this coming year.
  3. New Microsoft Azure Services – DocumentDB and Search: Our online ecosystem is deeply rooted in Microsoft Azure’s services, because they’re reliable, affordable, and easy to work with. I explored a couple of their new offerings this year, a new-style database called DocumentDB which I think may lend itself to a redesign of our play database on ITN this year; and their new search offering, which is going to serve as the engine for the nytheater indie archive site as well as a new search facility on ITN.
  4. Raspberry Pi, Arduino and the Internet of Things (IoT): Here’s a case where a pursuit that started as sort of a hobby wound up bumping against my “job”. I got interested in playing with the Raspberry Pi, a very inexpensive computer ($10-$35) that can be used in a variety of applications, from learning about electronics and circuits (which I spent some time on) to building a home media center, to driving projects in home security, wearables, and other areas that are broadly being referred to as the “Internet of Things”. Raspberry Pi is cousin to another teeny computer called the Arduino–a version of that powered my little robot that I told you about in my previous blog post. Anyway, this whole world of robotics and electronics and making tiny single-purpose useful computer-based products feels pretty significant and I am continuing to learn more and more about the field!
  5. Node.js and React.js: These are two JavaScript software frameworks that I have begun experimenting with that I think will pop up in some of our web development in 2017. Their main strength from my perspective is that they’ll reduce the amount of time it takes to refresh web pages on our sites–which I think is something our readers will appreciate.
  6. Conversational UI and Bots: This is the latest technology that has captured my attention. There are lots of flavors of this tech, most popularly Amazon Alexa. Bots were featured in the latest issue of Wired Magazine; they’re hot. Do they have application in our world? You bet. Stay tuned.
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