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Matthew Freeman is a Brooklyn based playwright with a BFA from Emerson College. His plays include THE DEATH OF KING ARTHUR, REASONS FOR MOVING, THE GREAT ESCAPE, THE AMERICANS, THE WHITE SWALLOW, AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR, THE MOST WONDERFUL LOVE, WHEN IS A CLOCK, GLEE CLUB, THAT OLD SOFT SHOE and BRANDYWINE DISTILLERY FIRE. He served as Assistant Producer and Senior Writer for the live webcast from Times Square on New Year's Eve 2010-2012. As a freelance writer, he has contributed to Gamespy, Premiere, Complex Magazine, Maxim Online, and MTV Magazine. His plays have been published by Playscripts, Inc., New York Theatre Experience, and Samuel French.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


After the community board meeting, it occurred to me that the theatrical community in NYC has spent a fair amount of time identifying its challenges and debating the ins and outs of them. I think now the next step is ideas and action.

Here are a few ideas I've got personally, some easy, some less so, that I'd love to offer up for some discussion and consideration. Some of these are already happening in some form.


1. Cooperation between companies with complimentary missions.

At the community board meeting last night, the term "co-opetition" was used. Obviously, in a city of hundreds of productions, we compete for tickets and eyeballs. The problem is that we're competing for an increasingly small number of eyeballs and actively interested audience members. By working together, we share our audiences, broaden interest, and pool resources.

That is not to say that all theaters should drop money into a bucket. It is to say that there are many theater companies in this city with complimentary or similar goals, and that by working together, we can serve each other's mission.

A perfect example of this was, coincidentally, on display the very night the idea was brought up. The Ma-Yi Theater Company was the co-producer of the Vampire Cowboys production. Ma-Yi supports Asian-American Artists; Qui Nguyen is a member of that community. Instead of having Qui create one show for Ma-Yi and one for his own company, the companies pooled resources and gave the Vampire Cowboys a broader budget and range of support than they had on their own. It's the perfect complimentary relationship, and it does good things for both organizations.

Think of the countless theater companies in this city dedicated to performing "new works." Or the number of theaters that do Shakespeare outdoors in the summer. Or companies dedicated to ensemble performance. Surely, working together, many of these companies could find complimentary ways in which to serve their own artistic needs and reduce their financial burdens and time constraints.

2. Showcase Code Reform.

I won't really stop harping on this. It still hasn't happened and it needs to happen. Reforming the Code, or creating a new realistic code, is a lot like modernizing the Health Care industry. Make the change and the benefits will be across the board and immediate. More productions will have a better chance of success and therefore more small producers could move towards mid-sized contracts. That means more actors who work for small companies they believe in can see the dream of being paid realized. More success means more work for actors.

I continue to propose that the best compromise here is for small producers to contribute a prorated amount to actor's health insurance in a lump sum for a production that extends beyond 16 performances. Then, Equity actors can recieve a portion of their "weeks" towards health insurance. One week of a Independent Theater show would equal 1/2 or 1/4th weeks towards health insurance coverage from their own union.

3. City-wide premieres.

Early on in the life of this blog, the idea of a national premiere of a new play (a single new play performed by many companies across the country at one time) was thrown around, and it got a lot of us excited. I know there was some movement on that topic, although being the myopic apartment dweller and internet lazybones I am, I was pretty much out of the loop on that before the rubber hit the road.

That doesn't mean it's not a good and exciting idea. What if it was just done within this city? What if, for example, several small theaters with a dedication towards producing new work commissioned something by Ken Urban (for example) and all opened it on the same night at several theaters throughout the city. It would create a big event feel for the premiere of a new play, in a world where a new play seems to appear and drop off the radar every two weeks. It would also celebrate the uniqueness of different designers and directors and celebrate the power of the live event.

4. Answering the important questions.

If you're a theater company with a space...maybe it's time for you to sit down and work out your answers to these questions and questions like them...

a. The local businesses in my area are:

b. The other theaters in my area are:

c. My theater provides my area with this unique service:

d. My theater promotes the following demographic to come into my neighborhood:

e. It costs _____ a year for my space to operate. Our funding is ______. That is a shortfall / surplus of ______.

f. The companies that utilize our space include:

Those are just a few. I'm sure you could come up with 20 questions worth. Maybe something standard like this would help theaters look at themselves economically and look at their community, not only at their artistic mission.


That's a good start. How does this look to you? What else should we be doing or considering?


Anonymous said...

Matt, you really have some terrific Ideas, and I’m glad that you brought up the National Play Production thingy, cuz it really reminds me of just how useless Ideas are until the talk results in Action.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe that Talk is vital to our community’s growth, and I hope that you’ll talk more about just how hard it is to execute the Ideas that you’re proposing. I believe that things like this are even harder for theater folks than it is in other careers, cuz we already have to be so diversified just to cobble together a life and career.

1. Don’t almost all local artists work some day-job to pay the rent – at least 40 hrs/wk?
2. Don’t many that you’re addressing run a theater company, which takes more time than god provided?
3. Don’t most theater folk wanna do their own art more than anything? Writing, directing, acting – any one of which takes so much time.
4. And still, don’t most artists wanna have a real life, too (esp’ if ya sacrificed having a family for your art)?

So, Showcase Reform or any other community involvement starts as the 5th priority at the very highest, but already there is no time remaining. Where are the resources (not money, Time) to turn your Ideas into Action?

Also, much of what you’re saying needs to be done is already being done, and even if it’s still not enough, I wonder if your “myopic apartment dweller and internet lazybones” is just not seeing it. Just on my end, I know that I and members of my company as well as Aisling Arts recently spent the day painting the lobby floor of the new Dixon Place. Funeralogues is still using lights I went and got out of our storage months ago. My company was part of hooking up Theater Askew with their recent production of Cornbury. I helped Culture Connection with their recent Roar, and my partners and I often provide producing advice to other groups, including Mad Shag Prod’s and Concrete Temple’s recent The Whale. I’m on the Archives Committee for Judson Church, helping them preserve their theater material. I am on AEA’s OOB committee and 2 LIT committees (one of which met a couple of nights ago and only 2 other people showed up). I keep up with the LCT Directors Lab and try to help Paul Adam’s Artistic Director’s forum when I can. One of my partners is on the Board of ART/NY, and the other is currently helping with Drama League awards. A we are each on Boards of other theater companies. On top of all that, we feel it’s really important to actually show up to see the work of our peers – that’s at least a couple of nights a week.

Producers learn after a few meltdowns that whenever someone says, “I know what you should do, you should….” (and we all hear it often), the only reply is, “You’re so right; you should head that up for us.” It’s the only way to move Talk to Action, cuz Talk without Action is eventually depressing.

Comments like yours always make me wonder what that person is doing for the community, so feel free to share how you have addressed your sage advice to the rest of us. I know that we all are doing more than is humanly possible, so I hope you’ll reflect that more in posts as you encourage us.

Freeman said...

I completely respect how overburdened everyone is and it's not my intention to say "Hey! Why isn't this done already? Start digging!"

I think we all know how hard this all is. I am, for example, writing this from a cubicle at my salary day job. I try, like everyone else, to balance immovable objects and irresistible forces.

That doesn't mean we shouldn't try (in my small way, in the way John Clancy thinks big, for example) to do what's hard, to hope for the hard things to be overcome. This isn't criticism of the over-extended; it's just my way of helping and hoping.

I hope you'll take it as such.

99 said...

I fully intend to bring that checklist/questionnaire to a theatre I'm a member at and see how it goes. We really need to start thinking about different ways to revitalize our community.

Adam Szymkowicz said...

I wonder if you implement #3 if you'll end up competing with yourself. On the other hand, if I like a play, I might want to see three different productions of it. If I don't though, I won't want to see any of them. It reminds me of when Chuch Mee had Big Love, True Love and First Love all up at the same time. (I think those are the titles.) Or Johnna's trilogy that just went up this summer. Maybe that is more the way to go.

David Johnston said...

I've circulated your blog with ideas from the community meeting (you & John Clancy) around the office, Freeman. Good stuff, although not sure if the pro rated health weeks would fly - simply because AEA is subject to all the fed laws & regulations that come with being a union. What you advocate sounds really interesting - but in reality may be a nightmare to administer, or simply not be permissible under the law.

Freeman said...

David -

Glad there's some discussion there. I don't know much about how health plans must be administered by unions, but I do know there was a recent (as in a few years ago) extension of the number of weeks actors must work Equity jobs in order to be insured. So those rules aren't entirely rigid. I'm no expert. Perhaps as opposed to giving prorated to weeks to the actors, you simply asked small companies to contribute to that particular fund. If they alleviate the burden for Equity, Equity compensates with a new code that works better for actors in NY.

Not sure...but I do know there has to be something offered from the producers side that appears to benefit actors (or Actor's Equity) in another way, if we can't afford more money in weekly pay.