The New vs. Minnesota

by Alan M. Berks • Oct. 23

News and notes |

I want to draw a little extra attention to two blog posts on the website of the New York Innovative Theatre Foundation, written by Mark Armstrong, Artistic Director of the Production Company about making it as a company in the small theater world of New York city. (Mark directed a production of my play, Goats, in New York in 2006.)

First off, in a few small ways, he's giving—and getting—good advice for any young theater artists, anywhere. "Invite people you'd like to work with to see your work." Good idea. "When you see work that you really respond to, send a note to the artists whose work you liked." Also, a good idea. People like to know that their work had an impact, even on just one person. It's not sycophantic or obnoxious to let an artist know that their work had an influence on you. They will appreciate it (unless of course you don't really mean it, you're only doing it because you think it will get on their good side, and you're obnoxious and overbearing about it).

In the blog about advice he got (as opposed to advice he's giving), there are also some worthwhile points—like simply asking advice of everyone who will talk to you just as he did. Forgetting about grants in the early years is advisable wherever you set up shop. All foundations like to know they're giving money to real operations and not—as local playwright, and former New Yorker, Dominic Orlando described it to me more than once—to people who are writing checks as they hop in and out of the back of taxicabs (also a New York reference). I wonder if what Mark has to say about corporate matching donations works here also.

But what struck me most of all is actually how much this advice only fits New York and does not fit Minnesota. His specific and important points about Equity contracts and length of performance run have little resemblance to AEA and calendar issues here. Does any small company here ever pay an official press agent? And, if so, was it worth it?

And what fascinated me enough to write this little blog is this:

If you're working in New York, you have to show people something new. Do NOT do another low-budget revival of plays like The House of Yes, The Shape of Things or Two Rooms. Audiences in New York have seen those plays in expensive productions with great actors—or, they've seen the films that two of those plays were made into. Seriously, get out and find something else to do.

I have often wondered why so many of the smaller companies here do much more established (or what I consider to be established) plays than I see at small theaters in New York, or even Chicago, and I think this puts it all into perspective, brilliantly: In New York, the theater-going audience has a chance to see any relatively notorious play in an expensive, high level production at a major theater with some of the best actors in the business.

In Minnesota, many plays that have been done at large theaters in NY don't even get produced here until a smaller company like 20% (Anon)or Walking Shadow (Some Girls, et al) get their hands on it. It is less necessary that you (a young, small scrappy theatre company) do something NEW in order to get noticed as it is essential that you simply do whatever you do well. Your production of certain scripts that are well-known in national theater circles may be the only production that Minnesota's general theater audience gets to see at all. (In seven years I've been here, I don't even recall a production of The House of Yes--and I'm not complaining, mind you.)

Huh. Hadn't thought of that before.