Category Archives: ITN Editor’s Corner

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.

2017

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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.]

Announcing Plays and Playwrights 2017

It’s time for our other annual announcement on Indie Theater Now (following last week’s announcement of the 12 most popular plays of the year)!

Yes, it’s time to share my selections for the Plays and Playwrights annual anthology. We’ve been bringing the most interesting, most innovative, most challenging, and most pertinent new works to readers — one way or another — since the millennium began. This 18th edition of “Plays and Playwrights” includes works about race, illness, justice, aging, the environment, and a host of family issues.We’ve got sci-fi… a play about chess … a play about a woman’s search for her birth parents… a play about a man who is trying to become infected with AIDS… and a play about three men who inspired the playwright in various ways. Plus we’ve got a trilogy about the life of the great social activist Emma Goldman.

The playwrights represented are (alphabetically): Suzanne Bachner, Laura Brienza, J. Julian Christopher, Zach Donovan, Mike Folie, Ayun Halliday, Christine Toy Johnson, Jessica Litwak, Derek Lee McPhatter, Sean Pomposello, Nicholas Priore,  and Don Thompson.

Here’s the collection.

This anthology, together with the most popular plays of the year and the 2016 FringeNYC collection, provides a terrific cross-section of what was happening this past year in indie theater.

ITN’s Best Sellers

As we head toward the end of 2016, I am happy to announce the most popular plays on Indie Theater Now during the past 12 months. It’s a grand, eclectic list — with several repeats from last year along with a number of brand new terrific plays. You can find (and purchase) all of them here. They’re listed in order of popularity right here:

  1. “So, I Killed a Few People…” by Gary Rudoren and David Summers
  2. Sister Cities by Colette Freedman
  3. The Ask, Dream Tim, Backfire & One Night Stand by David Lee White
  4. In the Bones by Cody Daigle
  5. Elephant by Margie Stokley
  6. Smoker by Bob Brader
  7. Not to Be Negative, But… by Jack Sundmacher
  8. Burning the Old Man by Kelly McAllister
  9. Magic Trick by Mariah MacCarthy
  10. The Demon Hunter by Nat Cassidy
  11. Out of Focus by Geralyn Cassidy
  12. Chatting with the Tea Party by Rich Orloff
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