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GUEST POST BY AMY LEE PEARSALL: Indie Theater Hall of Fame

December 5, 2014

Please welcome Amy Lee Pearsall to the blog today! Amy Lee is an active and valuable member of the indie theater community here in NYC, most recently appearing in Wide Eyed Productions’ Dead Special Crabs. She’s here today talking about the Indie Theater Hall of Fame and what it means to have been inducted last year.

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Earlier this week, Rochelle and Martin Denton of New York Theater Experience (NYTE) launched the online Indie Theater Hall of Fame after a decade of honoring performers, designers, directors, producers, and organizations for their contributions to the NYC independent theatre community. The inductees for 2014 were announced today, and social media within the local indie theatre sphere has been aflutter since this morning with the news.

As an inductee in 2013, I have to tell you – being recognized for my work by my community is a lovely thing. It’s a balm on days when I’m sitting at my desk job, eating cheese and crackers while trying to make sense of a spreadsheet, updating the social media for my theatre company, following up on digital footage for my reel that is way past overdue, and scheduling yet another seminar with a casting director whose eyes will almost certainly cloud over until I tell them I was inducted into the Indie Theatre Hall of Fame in 2013. And it’s nice to have good news to send home to family and friends – a missive of sorts to the effect that they shouldn’t give up all hope of ever seeing me on Law and Order: SVU. But inevitably, I get the question: “What’s independent theatre, anyway?” 

While the phrase “off-off Broadway” may be better known, within the theatre community in recent years, it’s become somewhat derogatory. Indie theatre is to Broadway as indie film is to Summer Blockbuster. We make magic with small budgets and borrowed materials for short runs. We dust off Shakespeare and set it in a coffeehouse. We foster new works with upcoming playwrights and help them to figure out what works and what doesn’t. We create crazy sci-fi trilogies and haul a giant bug leg out on stage (it happened, and it was awesome). And when the run is over, we strike the set and the experience is gone like a sand painting in the wind, for that is the transitory nature of what we create.

Contrary to popular belief, producing independent theatre is not easy, and it is not cheap. It takes money and time, and the payoff ranges from winding up with an AEA showcase with a rave review in the New York Times to producing a brand new one-act for a five-night run in a Harlem apartment for a grand total of 50 people. At the end of the day, we create this gorgeous, ridiculous stuff out of love. To have any kind of formal appreciation and acknowledgement for the theatre we create on this level – with these budgets – is a rare and wondrous thing, indeed. And that’s where Rochelle and Martin Denton come in.

Martin and Rochelle Denton are no strangers to the independent theatre community. NYTE was founded in 1999, and one of their very first initiatives was nytheatre.com – a website responsible for reviewing thousands of productions that otherwise would not have had any press at all. In 2011, NYTE turned their focus to Indie Theater Now, a website dedicated to sharing and promoting the works of upcoming playwrights to audiences worldwide. In 2013, companion site nytheater now was launched to generate commentary on the contemporary theatrical works currently being produced in New York City.

The Dentons have said that everything they generate “is based around a single compelling idea: that the artists we tell people about are going to somehow change the world through their art. We think that by providing encouragement to these folks – by giving them hope and a platform and a voice – that we can help them to do the work they’re meant to do, and keep on doing it.” One could make the strong argument that the Dentons themselves should be at the head of the class in the Indie Theater Hall of Fame. They have given so much of themselves to this community, and like all of us toiling in the theatrical trenches, they do it out of love.

There are days when the rejection gets a little hard to bear. There are days when I feel as though my voice is failing me. There are days when there’s hardly anything left in my bank account, and the heat is off in my apartment for whatever reason, and the only thing I’m being creative with is whatever’s left in my refrigerator. Those days, I wonder why I am still here, doing what it is that I do. And then I remember that I’m not alone. I’m part of a tribe here. Someone saw me perform on stage. Someone read my words. Someone was touched by my work. And someone cared enough to take the time out of their day to say so. And some days, that’s what keeps me going.

Today, the 2014 Indie Theater Hall of Fame inductees were announced, and to all the honorees, I wish you hearty congratulations. To past and present Hall of Fame members, if I have not worked with you yet, I hope that we will. If I have worked with you in the past, I look forward to our next collaboration. I think you are all swell, and I remain humbled to be included in this great community of artists.

And to the members of my tribe – and you know who you are – I see you. I see your work. I hear your words. I like what you’re doing. And I think what you are doing is beautiful.

 

Thank you for sharing your beautiful words and work with us, Amy Lee! Check out Amy Lee’s website and follow her on Twitter, and be sure to visit the Indie Theater Hall of Fame to see this year’s inductees!

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