Last week I attended a reading at a small, unassuming theater space on East 4th street. Little did I know (I was invited last minute and kind of had no idea what was going on) I was bearing witness to a unique theatrical event that could – and should! – serve as a model for all young working artists in New York.
It’s called (not just) 3 New Plays and its mission is to establish “an artistic ecosystem.” Cool, right?? What they’re doing is renting out a space in New York for a month (Tom Noonan’s Paradise Factory), and premiering plays by three up-and-coming playwrights (in this case Kevin Armento, Jaclyn Backhaus and Jerry Lieblich). In addition to encouraging early-career thespians to develop their work, (not just) 3 New Plays makes the space available, all day every day they have it, to tons of artists: actors, directors, playwrights, musicians, dancers, filmmakers, comedians, etc. All artists use the space free of charge, and all performances, workshops and readings (events curated by the Distilled Theatre Company) are “pay-what-you-can” for audience members. Audience members who, like me, enjoy fresh contemporary theater, and are broke.
That’s what makes this pop-up event so delightful to me, this defying the conventional New York theater model which hinges on expensive tickets to help pay for expensive real estate. While my Chicago friends lounge about in their mansions, acting and directing to their hearts’ content, my fellow New Yorker theater-makers scrimp and save to rehearse in any dismal square inch of performance space. Executive Producer Allison Bressi devised (not just) 3 New Plays to foster new work and encourage people to come support it, yes, but also to “combat the individualistic, competitive structure of self-production.” We are all, especially us debt-ridden millennials, in this together! Pulitzer Prize nominee Lisa D’Amour, who was one of the artists using the Paradise Factory to develop her work, pointed out in an article for BroadwayWorld.com just how unusual such an idea is today: “Free space? Without having to stress, beg, borrow and steal? It’s like a dream.”
Why isn’t everybody doing this? Theaters and other artistic venues, instead of staying dark most of the time, could benefit from allowing artists to work or perform there, both in terms of networking and promoting their own space. What struck me during the reading I went to was how darn smart these people were – they’re maximizing their use of a venue, they’re making friends and important connections in the theater community by reaching out to artists, and they’re looking good doing it. It was also just exciting to attend a show that contained no one over the age of 30, served rum at intermission, and happened to be excellent.
The piece was called “Seawife,” a play with original music by Seth Moore and the Lobbyists, a folk-rock band of actors (Bats from the awesome Flea Theater). Directed by the Naked Angels’ Liz Carlson, in a staged reading well on its way to a full-fledged production, the piece drew inspiration from ancient whaling stories and pirate-esque folk tales. The music, which provided Moore’s tale its sense of heady mystery, took my breath away. The mandolin is a freaking remarkable instrument. “Seawife”’s second, more Melvillean act took a turn towards magic realism that relied more on atmospherics than clear-cut storytelling, but as far as readings go, I’ve never felt more immersed.
(not just) 3 New Plays ended its run at Paradise Factory, but I look forward to keeping up with the many many people involved in putting together this inspired artistic endeavor. Sharing is caring! Follow Distilled Theatre Company on Facebook, follow the Naked Angels on Twitter, check out the Lobbyists’ website, and let’s make this New York artistic ecosystem happen.