Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Talking About the Community Board Meeting on the Indie Theater Scene

This post is cross-posted at the beta Clyde Fitch Report. Do check it out and send comments.

I found this story about the recent Community Board meeting on the indie theater scene to be a good summation of everything I heard about the meeting. And I'm thrilled it happened -- and I applaud Paul Nagle and all the folks at the various community boards for coming together and making it happen. So it is in the spirit of that positive vibe that I will offer a confession: I thought about attending the meeting until the very last minute. In fact, I was having drinks with the head of a very well known OOB theater just around the corner from the meeting. But I didn't go. I didn't go because no one from the press was on the panel -- and it was made pretty clear to me that a press representative was not welcome on the panel or, for that matter, in the audience, or at least not especially. It left me a little miffed.

I understand the reason for the meeting was, as the article states, to "hold a joint forum on how to keep small theaters thriving in New York City," and that the question of press coverage of the OOB scene is not necessarily the key thing to keeping the sector afloat. I fully realize that real estate and funding -- well, those really are the big issues, as they always are, it seems, and as I suppose they always will be. But some of us -- and here I graciously cede much of the credit to Martin and Rochelle Denton -- have been covering the sector for years and in myriad ways. And if you don't get the word out, especially about indie theater -- and yes, dear fellow bloggers, this means you, too -- you don't get butts in seats. We help drive butts in seats. We promote the hell out of the sector. We identify the magical and the mysterious, the major and the minor, the rising and the risen. And one of us -- not me, just one of us -- belongs on that panel. Because the question of coverage is vital. And the community boards should have known it.

Indeed, the organizers of the event, if the article's narrative is to be our guide for this post, understand the role that press and publicity plays. Consider the third paragraph:

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer told a crowd of more than 300 theater buffs, community advocates and elected officials gathered at the Players Club in Gramercy Park on Feb. 17 that he realizes the importance of a flourishing theater scene to New York City’s economy. Stringer said politicians in the past have viewed theater as an industry that would sustain itself and always remain in New York City. Tourists don’t come to the city to see its big buildings, he said. “They want to see our art and our talent and they also want to get a peek at us.”

How do they find out about such art and talent, hm? Isn't press one way? Here are some other paragraphs on who spoke at the meeting:

John Clancy, executive director of the League of Independent Theater, said if he had to rate the entire independent theater sector, he’d say companies are currently doing “fair to really, really, really awful.”

Virginia Louloudes, executive director of 350-member organization ART/NY, said that the 250 members who produce in spaces they don’t own are “probably the healthiest.” However, she sees the crisis as an opportunity and “the beginning of a new era.”

Anthony Borelli, Stringer’s director of land use, said that the city and local community boards can and are doing things to help small theaters. An old school building in Harlem, for example, is being converted into affordable housing for artists and their families, because the city was made aware of local priorities and “was lobbied from the very beginning.”

Paul Nagle, director of communications and cultural policy for Lower Manhattan City Councilmember Alan Gerson, said their office has sent legislation to Albany to create a property tax abatement for commercial landlords who rent to nonprofit theaters. Nagle noted it takes surprisingly few people to move a politician and encouraged people to band together.

Isn't it true, in the case of what Nagle said, that coverage of that legislation is key to raising awareness of it? True, the paper Chelsea Now, which published this story, covered the meeting. But coverage should have been widespread.

Here are some videos, available via YouTube, from the event:

I hope there will be more such events and that press people, in particular those who have perenially contributed to the sector, will not be ignored. Simply because doing so is a waste of resources, and really rather a shame.

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