Friday, October 29, 2004


Part IV: The Cutting of Press Coverage

This is the fourth and final part to my rambling thoughts on the olden days versus the present day Off-Off-Broadway theatre world, the next generation of theatre-makers and the theatre community (or lack thereof) as a whole. Weird to think that this whole “can of worms” was opened by one outing that took place nearly three weeks ago.

Today I’d like to talk a little bit about the New York Times, as well as other publications, deciding to cut their theatre coverage, the response from OOB theatre-people, and (of course) my unwanted two cents.

This is from an open letter by Martin Denton, founder, editor and chief reviewer of, given at the symposium:

“…[T]he New York Times unveiled its new arts coverage and dealt a significant blow to the theatre community – especially the nonprofit, off-off-Broadway segment of the New York theatre community, the artists who put on most of the new work in this town and in whose hands the future of American drama and musicals rests.

“What the Times has done is to drastically reduce their print theatre coverage. Their reviews have been steadily decreasing for at least a year. Now, the comprehensive weekly listings that appeared in the Sunday Arts & Leisure section – a full page directory of Broadway, off-Broadway, and off-off-Broadway shows – have disappeared. What’s especially important is that the Sunday listings were free: theatre companies did not have to pay for these, as they do for the “ABC” and display advertisements that appear elsewhere in the Times. This was a boon to the off-off-Broadway sector, where money is always scarce. Now it looks like this important free resource that enabled small theatre companies to reach a huge audience at no cost has disappeared.

“The Times is not the only media outlet that is reducing coverage of the theatre, by the way. Almost every major New York City newspaper, including weeklies like the Village Voice and the New York Press, has cut theatre coverage in the past year or so.”

Now, I freely admit that this sucks. Abby Marcus from LAByrinth and Vampire Cowboys sent out an online petition to reverse the Times’ position, and I signed it.

However, this is far from the end of the world.

On the Dish listserv there was a big back-and-forth on the subject, and talks about starting up a magazine dedicated to OOB theatre were brought up a lot. On one hand, I’m not against such a magazine, but on the other, this has been tried before many, many times without much success, so I’m not holding my breath (and no, I’m not focusing my efforts and money on such a thing – playwriting and Nosedive are needy enough mistresses as they are).

Of course, like discussions of such lofty goals, someone brought up the simple idea of cross-marketing, and everyone involved in the discussion cooled down and went, “Oh. Okay. Cool.”

And that was that.

(See how I write that there’s no theatre community, then write incessantly about the community? Yeah, I do that.)

Some of Nosedive’s shows have been listed in the New York Times, the Village Voice and the New York Press, and it’s sad to realize that this will no longer happen. The good thing about those listings is that they really impress your close friends and family members (“Hey, ma! My play’s mentioned in the New York Times! Your baby boy’s not a fuckup after all!”).

However, that really is (was) the only real benefit.

Let’s face it: how many OOB theatre companies got significant increases in attendance based on listings in major print publications? We didn’t garner one single audience member from our Times listing, and we got 3…maybe 4…audience members based on listings in Time Out-New York and the Village Voice.

Sure, they can’t hurt, but they aren’t really what draw audiences to such a weird niche market.

Ultimately, an OOB theatre company’s listing in the New York Times is going to mean fuck all unless you’ve already made a name for yourself. “Nosedive’s Christmas Carol” will not rise above the countless other listings of “Christmas Carol” adaptations taking place in the city.

Coverage from free online theatre resources such as, and has been much more effective, as has coverage from the print publication Back Stage. People who read those sites are actually interested in OOB theatre. (Even though, yes I know, and agree, that there’s something nice about having a listing or review of your play in print.)

If I read like I regard some of this panic as worries from Chicken Little…I kind of do.

Alex Linsker from the OOB theatre company Tiny and Vast Things, playing devil’s advocate on the listserv discussion I had mentioned above, brought up a good point:

“Given that there might be ‘little interest or need to read the publications that do already exist,’ can I ask a really simple question: What are the real reasons to have a listings guide, listings section, or reviews of off-off-Broadway shows? What are these listings and reviews actually accomplishing, and might there be a better/easier/more useful way to accomplish whatever goals are being served? What's the goal?

“Yes, I know that listings let people know about the show, and reviews can be used to help the theater company gain credibility, but if those are the only two goals, then why isn't a publication like OOBR (e.g., circa 2001) ideal, where theater companies had to pay to get reviewed? If reviews/listings aren't worth $50/year to the theater companies (or however much it was), and listings aren't valued by non-artist readers....?”

I’m tired of people coming into my sandbox* and doing nothing but complaining. I like the sandbox, and I’ve been having fun. But recently I’ve been surrounded by people who do nothing but complain about the toys — or lack thereof — or the size of the box or the quality of the sand. And considering that Off-Off-Broadway theatre is one of the few fields where anybody — ANYBODY — can get into without any experience, credentials or permission, I sometimes find it surprising that it’s a field so prevalent to whining, self-righteous outrage and entitlement.

As OOB theatre-makers, we are not entitled to press coverage, reasonable rental rates or funding. We’re not owed anything. Yet a number of us act like we are.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I think it is fairly shitty that resources are shrinking year-after-year for the modern OOB theatre-maker. Certain resources that were completely free when Pete and I started (such as databases of theatres to rent, liability insurance) are new expenses we have to factor into budgets. Certain resources that existed (listings in major print publications, affordable performance spaces in the Lower East Side) are now gone.

I’m not flippant about the increasing difficulties of creating self-produced OOB theatre. These are tough times for putting on plays. But at the same time, anything largely inessential to our breathing (like theatre) will invariably see tough times.

I don’t think the Times cutting their theatre coverage will push OOB theatre further underground. Then again, if it does, is that horrible? For people who do want to get careers in mainstream media, the answer is probably yes. For Nosedive and companies of similar ilk, the answer is “feh.”

I absolutely applaud Martin Denton’s efforts at (and others who want to promote independent, self-produced theatre). His site is increasing the number of reviews it posts and upping the number of shows it lists. I also applaud those OOB theatre-makers who try to find unique, alternative ways to publicize and promote their shows, and trouble-shoot rather than gnash teeth when obstacles arise.


What’s my conclusion to all of this? Ultimately, I guess it’d be both, “Chill, babies. Chill,” and, “Let’s get to work.” Off-Off-Broadway theatre has been around long before us, and will be around long after we decide to call it a day and devote our time to our desk jobs. Although I do think now may be the time when we need to step up and take the torch that’s being passed to us, there’s no guarantee that many people will be paying attention. Theatre has not been a medium for the masses for a long, long time, and won’t be again.

But that’s fine.

The whole fun of making independent theatre is to genuinely talk to people, and helping to (at least temporarily) de-hypnotize people who have been beaten spiritually and imaginatively by television (the one mass media – the black tar heroin of media). By definition, you can’t really de-hypnotize large masses of people at once, can you?

“Culture today predisposes us to receive our information predigested and prepackaged, and most, as a rule, tend to shy away from anything which hasn't been simplified to the level where anyone could understand it. That is not the job of an artist or a creator, yet all too often in the mainstream you'll find that is what people are doing in order to remain popular. They know their audience, and they know if they push the right buttons in the right order that they can create another bestseller or whatever. I'm very content with this kind of strange, underground ghetto that I've been shunted into. It's a wonderful place and you meet a much nicer class of people.”
—Alan Moore

I’m glad I was able to finish this before the election, because that may take up a lot of time (either spent ranting online at the election results or hiding under my bed sucking my thumb).

Besides, after November 2, who the fuck is going to have theatre on the brain?

Alienating everyone,

James “Just Needs a Puppy” Comtois

October 29, 2004

*By “my sandbox” I mean the sandbox I’ve been playing in for the past few years. I don’t mean to imply any sense of ownership.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Community. Riiight...

Part III: The Community

“Community” is a word that gets thrown around a lot whenever theatre-makers get together and people nod their heads at the sentiment, giving very little thought to what it actually means. “Support” is another one. They’re good and happy and nurturing connotative words, so they’re used to an excessive degree whenever there’s a conversation about independent theatre.

Now…we all know there isn’t really a theatre community, right?

Well, I know that sounds harsh, and it’s not 100% true (more like 99%), but hear me out.

Again, a lot of this was triggered by the symposium with the founders of the Off-Off-Broadway movement Nosedive recently attended. It dawned on me that:

a.) Despite the dinosaurs playing lip-service to the idea of a theatre community, none of these people knew who the current OOB theatre-makers were, and

b.) There is no interaction/awareness of current OOB theatre-makers with one another, the way the founders of the Living Theatre knew (and followed) the founders of La MaMa.

There’s no dialogue — that is, any dialogue of any value — going on between theatre groups. No discussion about the merits of one another’s shows (creatively or artistically) is happening at all.

Again, I’ll be making many references to the Community Dish (hereafter referred to as “the Dish”) in this Jamespeak, which — for those who don’t know — is a consortium of about fifty-odd Off-Off-Broadway theatre companies.

Recently, we at Nosedive had our “Pottymouth Social” fundraising show. It went quite well; we had a large turnout of attendees, and the bulk of said attendees seemed to enjoy themselves.

We also did not have one Dish member in attendance.

Now, I’m not pointing fingers, naming names or trying to make anyone feel guilty (honest — considering my spotty attendance record for OOB shows, I’m in no position to be superior). But when I went to the Dish meeting the following night, I heard many of the same complaints of “lack of support,” “dwindling audiences,” and the implicit, j’accuse, “We need to support each other to fix this problem of dwindling audiences and where the hell are YOU?” And I couldn’t help but think: “Folks! None of you were at our function last night, and we still damn near sold out!”

It did make me notice that — for good or for bad — much of the stuff that Nosedive is doing is happening with or without any sort of theatre community.

I suspect many other theatre companies are having similar experiences.

(I occasionally get quite grumpy contemplating this when I first worry that I’ll get a flood of angry responses from the Community Dish chastising me for negating and shitting on “our community,” then realize that the people who use the words “community” and “support” the most in the Dish — and most of the Dish in general — CAN’T BE FUCKING BOTHERED TO READ THESE ENTRIES!


Although it certainly doesn’t surprise me, I have noticed of late that the people quick to denounce the deplorable lack of support within the theatre community and the ones who are the most vociferous in their attacks on other theatre people are the people who are curiously absent from virtually every OOB theatre event.

(Personally, I try to see as many shows as I can, which isn’t nearly enough, and if I like what I see, I try to let others know. I fuck up a LOT on this — playwrights Claudia Alick, Stephen Gridley and Mac Rogers will attest to this — so I don’t consider myself to be in a position where I can climb aboard the “Support the Little Guys” train.)

The Dish (and many collectives of the same ilk) is trying to force community. And that just doesn’t work. It’s like trying to force a long-lasting loving relationship based on a series of shitty blind dates.

Blind support for the sake of blind support (i.e., going to shows you know you won’t like in order to have people who don’t like your shows go see your stuff) doesn’t really make a community. It becomes an endurance contest that whittles away the wills of already tired and depressed people (and I don’t think I’ve met any group of people more collectively tired, depressed and depressing than self-producing Off-Off-Broadway theatre-makers). And it’s a lose/lose situation: you’re seeing things you don’t want to see (which therefore drains your enthusiasm for theatre) and the members of the other group are guilted into seeing something they won’t like.

Maybe not having a theatre community isn’t the worst thing in the world. As younguns now taking over the OOB theatre world (for the time being, anyways), it’s important for us to carve out our own path, find our own voices and — most importantly — find our own audiences. Sure, it seems very lonely and intimidating, but perhaps it’s just what we need.

I do have to take a break from interacting with other OOB theatre-makers from time to time, simply to remind myself that the world of self-produced independent theatre is not nearly as bleak as they say it is.

It’s also important that we don’t write/direct/act to impress other playwrights, directors or actors. If our prime goal is to one-up other OOB companies or OOB theatre-makers — unless they genuinely “wow” you — I suspect our work will suffer greatly.

I for one care more about the response and opinions of non-theatre-people after shows, perhaps because a.) They’re less timid about giving me their opinion, and b.) They can’t resort to jargon (i.e., they have to talk about their emotional response rather than show off how educated they are). For some reason (and again, I don’t know why this is), Nosedive’s biggest fans are people who admittedly hate theatre.

“I want people to see my play ‘cause they want to, not ‘cause they owe it to their friends.”
—Mac Rogers

Two colleagues of mine (Ben Branson and Randy Anderson of Stages 5150) suggested that we continue to see each others’ shows, even if we don’t like them. I don’t know if I agree with this. First of all, if you’re not a fan of Nosedive’s plays, I’m not a sadist, and don’t like the idea of seeing you inflict pain upon yourself by showing up show after show, consistently bored or disappointed (not that we won’t take your money, mind you). Second, if I see a company’s show, and despise it, I’m not rushing out to see their next project. Why would I want to do that to myself? Plus, wouldn’t that be a bit, y’know, false? I don’t want to give this company the (false) impression that I’m a fan!

Not that this idea doesn’t have merit. The idea behind it is to build and maintain longer-lasting critical relationships with theatre companies; to keep attending shows, being open-minded, and telling them openly your likes and — more importantly — dislikes about the company’s work. That way, perhaps more open dialogue can occur in the OOB world.

I still think it sounds a little bit too much like Charlie Brown with the football, Or just a torturous endurance test.

Now of course all of this is sounding excessively bitchy and unduly harsh. The reason why I bring this all up is that, when Nosedive started, we felt like we were producing in a vacuum. Now that we’ve been more integrated within other OOB theatre companies, I for one feel like I’m in more of a vacuum. I guess this is because when you become aware of how many companies there are, it’s simply overwhelming. Too overwhelming to maintain any sense of community; you don’t even know where to begin.

The good news is that there are splinter cells of genuine community forming within the Dish, and forming within OOB theatre (hey, I just made reference to the opinions of three other theatre-makers). Not big ones, but very small alliances and honest interactions within (say) two or three companies that occur naturally and organically.

Maybe that’s where a real sense of community can grow from.

Wavin’ His Penis at Traffic,

James “Village Idiot” Comtois

October 28, 2004

Part IV: The cutting of theatre coverage in the press — Responses and options — Conclusion and final thoughts

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

"Kids These Days..."

Part II: The Passing of the Torch

“Kay, my father's way of doing things is over, it's finished. Even he knows that.”
—The Godfather

As an armchair philosopher and columnist, two examples of the old generation of American theatre dying out have recently stood out to me, both pointed out by fellow blogger Mac Rogers. The first one, as I’ve mentioned before, is the closing of Larry Kramer’s play The Normal Heart. The second is the canceling of a production of a play by Edward Albee.

Many bloggers, theatre administrators and other armchair philosophers see these two examples as proof that American theatre is rotting and dying and becoming obsolete. I mean if two heavyweights such as Kramer and Albee can’t get produced, what hope does the next generation have?

Well…isn’t the more obvious lesson to draw from these two examples is not that theatre is dying, but that the previous generation of American theatre is on its way out?

The established types of plays aren’t garnering contemporary audiences, and it’s time for the next generation to step in. (This concept is so self-evident it just screams, “Well, DUH!” to me.)

"Literature has always more resembled a torch race than a furious dispute among heirs."
—Thornton Wilder

When I brought this up to Patrick (Philucifer to you bloggers) after the symposium, he agreed with reservation, saying: “Well, yes, but…there’s nobody to pick up the torch, and nobody around to watch the race anymore.”

It really is sad that there’s no market for an Albee play now. It’s really sad that there’s no reason to invest in theatre (financially).

It’s also really sad that nobody’s paying attention anymore. The older generation of playwrights, directors and actors doesn’t really have any interest in what is happening in the Off-Off-Broadway world, and neither do audiences.

But again, we’re talking about evolution here, folks; the evolution of culture, ideas, trends and institutions. This is STILL the time where the older generation’s work is becoming irrelevant to current audiences, meaning the newer generation (we) have to step the fuck up and find a new way to present theatre.

Now this does not mean just offering watered-down versions of works from the past. I see many playwrights, directors and producers being Albee-lite, Schneider-lite, Cino-lite. And that simply isn’t working; audiences don’t want it and audiences don’t buy it.

What we need to do is learn the lessons from the past without parroting them.

“[T]he reason the world is so fucked up is because we're undergoing evolution, and the reason our institutions, our traditional religions are all crumbling is because they're no longer relevant.”
—Bill Hicks

Right now, we’re seeing and experiencing some—let’s face it—very fucked up things; borderline nightmarish things, politically, socially, philosophically. However, as young, relatively spoiled twentysomethings, there’s something very fraudulent about producing plays about oppression, and about breaking the rules. I’m seeing very little in OOB theatre that truly wants to go against the status quo (but they want to appear to be doing so).

And as a result, audiences are dwindling.

Now there is some hope (that’s a relief, eh?) in that those truly original and groundbreaking artists are out there and producing work, but are being ignored because they can’t be pigeonholed. Their work doesn’t resemble the works of the past in any conventional way, so they’re not immediately recognized as taking the torch.

The real problem is that many of us younguns want it both ways, and we’re slowly realizing that we can’t have it. You can produce theatre as an underground, subversive bohemian shtick or you can produce it as a means to get a professional paying job in theatre, film or television, but you can’t do both.

Let me put it another way: what’s more important, having an audience see your work that you have complete creative control over, or being written about in American Theatre Magazine?

(Pete and I went to a party at a bar in Alphabet City, with many liberal Dish members in attendance [those people who “Want to change the WORLD!!”]. We were seated in the courtyard area, but were then told by a very officious and snooty waiter that We Had to Keep it Down, because there was an old lady who lived upstairs. Now, let’s forget for the moment that

a.) it’s Friday night,
b.) we’re in Alphabet City, and
c.) many of us never plan to return to this bar again.

Everyone in attendance, like cattle, just fell lock-and-step with the order of Keeping It Down. When the voice volume rose, everyone went [with urgency]: “Shhhhhhh! Shhhhhh! Shhhhhh!”

I pointed out to Pete that these people, who wanted to be the edgy, subversive heirs to OOB theatre were THRILLED to follow orders, and probably none of them got the irony.

Pete’s response was to sing in very hushed tones the Beatles song: “You say you want a revolution…[Shhhh! Shhhh! Shhh!]…well, you know…[Shhhh! Shhhh! Shhhh!] we all want to change the world!”


As fucked up as things are, we have to admit how lucky, pampered and coddled we are; all of us. If I lived outside of America I would have starved to death years ago.

Many of you may believe that I’m suggesting we make OOB theatre more underground, less accessible. I’m really not. But when things are changing so rapidly (and not necessarily for the better for the theatre world) it’s time to just do some on-the-spot trouble-shooting.

When Nosedive first started producing plays five years ago (not that long ago, really), things were a bit different. There were a number of small theatres in the Lower East Side that charged reasonable rates (about $100 a night). You rehearsed in one studio: Buzz Shetler (there were others, sure, but Shetler was the one you went to). Each theatre provided its own insurance.

Now there are virtually no spaces in the Lower East Side, and if they are, they’re either quite expensive (more than $100 a night, let’s just say), on the verge of closing, or both. Most theatres require the renter to pay for the insurance. Shetler Studios charge obscene prices (up to $20 an hour) for use of what are ostensibly closets.


There has been a recent boom in rehearsal spaces with competitive prices (Nosedive found a space in Williamsburg that charges $10 an hour for cavernous rooms, and we were just told of another in Manhattan that charges $5 an hour). There’s more online coverage of OOB theatre ( and increasing their number of reviews, the creation of newer sites such as and, all of which generate respectable traffic).

But it seems I’ve gotten off track a little bit.

Big surprise.

Things are changing. They always have, always will. But we should interpret these changes as just that: changes, not The End of Theatre As We Know It.

Not only have the racers changed, but so has the track.

It’s time for us to pick up the torch and continue the crunkin’ race, even if there aren’t as many people watching.

We didn’t go into this for the glamour, did we?

Rounding the fifth lap,

James “Young Pup” Comtois

October 19, 2004

Part III: Concerning this new generation — Community — Isolation — More yelling from your intrepid cybergrump

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Dinosaurs and Fresh Meat

Part I — The Symposium

The next four or five Jamespeaks will sort of coalesce into a larger argument, although…not really. They’ll be connected in a 1001 Arabian Nights sort of way. Hang in there. You’ll see what I mean.

The whole thing starts off with the symposium at the Drama Book Store Nosedive Productions attended. The evening opened a huge enough can of worms to merit a few like-minded entries.

So, today I’d like to talk a little bit about the founding members of the original Off-Off-Broadway movement.

* * *

On Monday night, I was invited to the Off-Off-Broadway Symposium at the Drama Book Shop, sponsored by United Stages and the NY Innovative Theatre Awards. Upon arrival, Pete, Patrick and I were quite happy to see some photos from our shows in the display window. Thanks, Shay!

One of the primary functions was to promote a book by Stephen J. Bottoms called Playing Underground, A Critical History of the 1960s Off-Off-Broadway Movement. The other function was to meet and listen to a panel of the founders of said movement. The panel included Paul Foster of LaMama, Walter Hadler of Theatre Genesis, Doric Wilson and Robert Heide of The Caffe Cino and Lawrence Kornfeld of The Judson Poets’ Theatre. Ellen Stewart, founder of LaMama, although not on the panel, was also in attendance (as were many other “old school” playwrights, directors and actors).

I must say, it was great to hear the heavyweights of Off-Off-Broadway theatre. I mean, these people here were the underground theatre movement of New York. And it was great fun hearing their stories on meeting Joe Cino, working with a young Sam Shepard, getting arrested, doing lots of drugs and creating a coterie of self-admitted criminals.

My kind of people.

“Yes, goddammit, yes. YEEEESSSS!!”
—Coconut Pete

“We were counter-cultural without being chic,” said one of the panelists (since I’m just an armchair journalist, I didn’t take notes and can’t quite remember who to attribute the quote to, although I believe it was Walter Hadler). I dug that.

Doric Wilson said at one point that we were listening to the dinosaurs of OOB theatre. I guess us newbies were the fresh meat.

The other thing the Nosedive gang dug was when Ellen Stewart went at it with Paul Foster. Foster made some comment about his involvement with LaMama, and Stewart took offense, got up and went head-to-head with him. When this happened, we Nosedivians realized that this shit doesn’t change. The self-proclaimed dinosaurs were just as likely to get into pissing-match smackdowns with other theatre-makers as the newbies. I don’t know if this is good or bad, comforting or depressing, but it’s just plan weird to see the founders of OOB theatre behave the same way us twenty-something newbies act. There were divides among the elder veterans, with Stewart’s crew on one side of the room and the panelist’s crew on another. Now, I don’t know the whole story behind the acrimony, so I’m not taking any sides or implying that either Stewart was out of line and being a drama queen or that Foster usurped her rightful position on the panel (in the words of Jesus in a South Park episode: “I’m not touching this one with a ten-foot pole.”). But it was very telling to see that you don’t outgrow the bitterness and rivalry in this weird underground self-made world.

What I didn’t like was this reiteration of the dinosaurs insisting that the OOB movement needs support, and they, for one, give it.


No, they don’t!

I’ve been doing this for nearly five years, and I have even met at least one person on this panel (who I won’t name), and I’ve never seen him or anyone else from the older generation at one of my shows, and I probably never will. This isn’t sour grapes, it’s just the truth.

Let’s face it; the founders of this movement don’t give a flying fuck about the careers of young, fledgling—and underground—playwrights, directors or actors.

And, so we’re quite clear on this, here’s what “support” means:

1.) Show up,
2.) Buy a ticket,
3.) Either bring someone, or recommend the show to someone if you like what you see.

“Support One Another” seems to be a nice, self-righteous mantra that is becoming nothing more than empty rhetoric to me (which I plan to address in part three). I guess this is why I try not to use the jargon too often.

I guess when I hear the older generation talk about their interest in what the younger generation is doing, it sounds disingenuous.

“Well, James, when you become old and obsolete, will you be showing interest in the next generation of theatre-makers?”

(Fuck no and I never pretended to think otherwise because I’m a selfish cranky fuck.)

“Then what are you arguing—”

(—I’m just pointing out that people like Stewart or Foster or Wilson don’t need to pretend; we don’t look up to them for their compassion.)

The sad thing that Pete pointed out is that the founders of the OOB movement don’t have aesthetic or artistic followers. Their creative works haven’t paved the way for the next generation of writers, directors and actors; their politics, perseverance and attitudes have. In other words, they weren’t the plays themselves that influenced this new generation of OOB, but the process of mounting them.

(Show of hands: who got into theatre because hearing stories of counter-cultural revolution taking place with theatre in the 60s? Okay, a good number of you. Now, how many got into theatre because reading or seeing American Hamburger or Silver Queen Saloon changed their lives?)

Again, I don’t really know what to make of this. On one hand, if it weren’t for people like Ellen Stewart, Joe Cino, Judith Malina and Julian Beck, we wouldn’t have independent theatre. They set the precedent.

But on the other, it strikes me that their heirs are pale imitators, who know all the words to the songs but not the meaning. These self-proclaimed dinosaurs were fearless, dangerous mad dogs; sociopaths. They were heavily involved in drugs. They got arrested. They ran in very violent circles. The people who look up to them (for the most part) are anti-Bush, sure, but that’s not the same thing as being counter-cultural dangerous mavericks. Not even close.

North American leftists just keep trying to relive the '60s, or to make the '60s happen again. Oasis are a pretty poor excuse for The Beatles, and John Kerry is a pretty poor excuse for John F. Kennedy.
—Dave Sim

One of the problems exposed with the current OOB world that the panelists pointed out was money. Back in the day, space was cheap. DIRT cheap. A 100-seat theatre cost $300 a month. Now a 60-seat theatre costs $1700 a weekend.

(Side note: Stewart got up again to bring up a point about not worrying about money, and suggested that young theatre-makers get their sets and props from off the streets. That way, we’d use our imagination rather than our wallets to create theatre. I thought it was a good point, although I was thinking both, “Well, DUH,” and “We’re not six years old, lady!” It reminded me again that the older generation sees its heirs as retarded infants.)

But again, the founders of the OOB movement weren’t making theatre for money, weren’t making it for prestige or for the desire to be accepted, where I would say that—despite insistences otherwise—most of us younguns are (more on this in Parts II & III). The founders, the dinosaurs, were often performing shows under arches of bridges, in cafes, in backrooms of bars, in churches.

A modest proposal to halt this money problem: why don’t we start performing and rehearsing in alternative spaces? Right now Bryan K. Brown is performing Wallace Shawn’s The Fever as Shawn did himself: in people’s apartments. Why not take advantage of word-of-mouth, of going underground, of ignoring mainstream media as it ignores us (more on this in Part IV, which will primarily deal with press coverage and the New York Times’s decision to cut its theatre coverage).

Isn’t at least one lesson that the dinosaurs taught us is that the tearing down of affordable spaces, the jacking of rent prices and the cutting of press coverage will not kill independent theatre?

I understand that not everyone is going into OOB for the same reasons that I have (staging plays with complete creative control & freedom and taking advantage of a cheaper, more immediate and more imaginative medium than film or television). I’m referring to the wannabe revolutionaries in the present OOB scene; the nouveaux hippies who “want to change the world” (just as long as it doesn’t jeopardize their management careers or their cell phone plan). It strikes me that so many people (in general, not just in theatre) want to be counter-cultural and chic; to be accepted into the mainstream, but grudgingly, annoyed, as if they always believed they were too subversive to get any accolades.

Overall it was a very informative experience. Some points depressed me, some exhilarated me. It did make me have to yet again re-re-reassess whatever role I (or Nosedive) have (has) in the OOB scene, or if we have one at all.

(Well, we do—there are pictures of our productions in the Drama Book Shop! Woo-hoo!)

Being eaten,

James “Raw But Not Rare” Comtois

October 14, 2004

Next time: Part II. Concerning the old generation versus new generation of theatre-makers — Passing the torch— Getting burned.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Subject For A Future Jamespeak

A real problem I have with these Jamespeak entries is that I’m trying to find a balance between writing a quick, fun and to-the-point blog-like entry and a much more serious, analytical essay. When I come up with an idea for a new post, it’s either something that would require a 10-15 page essay that would be very dry or a 50-word entry that’s not worth anyone’s time.

These things aren’t quite in the vein of LiveJournal entries, nor are they in the vein of scholarly pieces.

In other words, should I be writing biting yet amusing 2-page comedic rants about why everything sucks, or laconic, academic yet vaguely depressing pieces on the current artistic and financial trends in today’s theatre industry?

The other problem is that I end up having five entry ideas at once, and they all tend to both contradict and overlap one another.

So, do I spend my time responding to other theatre blogs? That could help with the concept of creating a theatre community (which we DON’T have; a subject for a future Jamespeak). Or do I carve my own path out? That would lead to fewer readers (a subject for a future Jamespeak). Or do I try to expunge the idea of a theatre community, and just promote my own stuff? That could help with the concept of helping Nosedive (a subject for a future Jamespeak).

Qui Nguyen of Vampire Cowboys fame went on hiatus with his blog because he believed he wasn’t being mused, didn’t find blogging particularly fun anymore and saw his blog just being part of his theatre company’s PR site. I understand the frustration Qui feels, but for me, there’s a side of “suck it up and finish whatcha started, bitch” (I’m saying that to myself about Jamespeak, not to Qui).

Another problem: I’m having trouble budgeting my time. I have to write something reasonably insightful and funny about something immediate (I held off posting the last entry that mentions the first Presidential debate until right after the Vice Presidential debate—my post was already out of date). When you start a new job, and are in preproduction for a show, and writing new plays, sometimes the Web site journal entries suffer (when they should be worked on the most).

Eventually, I’ll get the hang of it.

Or maybe not. I may end up just wanting to spend more time writing, producing and promoting plays.

(But James: isn’t the reason you wanted this Jamespeak link was so you could promote your plays?)

(Shut up, shut up!)

(Dude, seriously, you’re typing out loud.)

(I am? Oh, fuck. Uh…)


Here’s some shit I’m working on for Jamespeak:

1.) The intention of mass media to deteriorate our frazzled collective unconscious and theatre aiding this process rather than fighting it,
2.) The symposium I went to last night with the founders of the Off-off-Broadway theatre movement,
3.) Dispelling any deluded notion of there being such thing as a theatre community,
4.) The passing of the baton (or not) of the “old school” playwrights versus new generation.
5.) The New York Times’s and The Village Voice’s decisions to cut their theatre coverage

Yes, all of these ideas overlap into one big Jamespeak. But I’ve already written one of them, and have to tell myself to stop re-re-revising (if you’re maintaining a blog of sorts, you need to do two things: keep it short and keep posting).

So, I guess think of the next few Jamespeaks as perhaps one big lecture from an addled lecturer.

Well, clearly I’m opting for academic term papers for the Internet.

Sucking it up,

James “Whiny Little Bitch” Comtois

October 12, 2004

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Laid Back

The first Presidential debate has taken place, and I do have to say, I feel a little bit better about things. Only a little, mind you. Although I saw it in a packed bar (The Raven, of course), which felt like watching an important sports match, I couldn’t help but think that, for every time the crowd in the bar cheered vociferously every time Kerry spoke, somewhere at a bar in a red state groups were cheering over Bush’s jingoistic and repetitive responses.

Well, two more left. We’ll see how this turns out. I am of the opinion that, if Bush gets elected,

a.) he has carte blanche to do Whatever The Fuck He Wants, and

b.) we deserve every bit of it.

* * *

Now the VP debate took place, and all I can say is Goddammit. No real insight and critical analysis from this end, just frustration at seeing Cheney hand Edwards his ass. And did the moderator blow Cheney beforehand? Sigh…

* * *

Mac Rogers, fellow playwright and theatre blogger, has recently been laid off from his day job. Interestingly enough, I’ve just been offered my first full-time day job in nearly two years. I got laid off back in December of 2002, and haven’t had a real “job-type-job” since. Sometimes these coincidences freak me out.

I am interested in seeing what happens when I return to the land of day jobs, since I can’t seem to find a real correlation between the business of my work schedule and my creative output.

In fact, I’ve compiled a list below of the full-length plays I’ve written that I’m proud of, and indicate what I was doing in the “real world.”

Allston: two-act written in school, working at Starbucks part-time and later at an office part-time

Ruins: three-hour, three-act play written while at a full-time job

Mayonnaise Sandwiches: started while at a full-time job, finished while unemployed (but freelancing here n’ there)

The Dying Goldfish: written when I was as unem-fucking-ployed as you can get.

McTeague: written at the same time, so Ibid.

And I’ve also written a(n admittedly shitty) novel while working at an office full-time.

The advantage (for me) of writing while working at a full-time job (besides, of course, getting free phone service, free printing, free photocopying) is that I’m forced to budget my time and get cracking. If I finish my office work, I still have to sit in my cubicle for the rest of the day and look busy. And, believe it or not, playing solitaire five hours a day every day can be draining. So, the downtime I have at an office really pushes me to write.

When I sleep in until noon, have nothing to do for the day except think about showering, think about eating, and think about what to watch on TV, I’m not particularly motivated to write. Maybe I just need the distraction of having to do work.

Then again, I just admitted I’ve written two full-length plays I’m proud of (three if you count Mayonnaise Sandwiches) while having no source of income, so that may put a wrench in the two preceding paragraphs.

What is draining for me is going to a job then going home to write. That rarely works for me. I mean, yeah, I’ve done it, but not too often.

Actually, my writing habits and practices are very weird, sporadic and inconsistent. I wish I could do what Anthony Trollope or Isaac Asimov did (that is, have a rigid—and I mean RIGID—writing schedule and timetable). Sometimes I write longhand in a notebook, sometimes on a computer. Sometimes I need a list of errands to focus my time, sometimes I need nothing but free time. Sometimes I write with the television or stereo on, sometimes I need complete silence.

I’ve also tried different methods, many of which didn’t work. I once tried a tape recorder (didn’t work at all) and once tried the whole “writing in a small notebook at a coffeehouse” (that REALLY didn’t work).

I was really hoping to try to give some sort of insight as to the effects of having or not having a day job on my writing, but the more I think about it, I can’t find one.

But actually, I would be interested in hearing about other writers’ (or actors’, directors’, whatever’s) habits, if they’re willing to share (I’m just reminded now of my recent brief conversation on the subject with fellow self-producing independent playwrights Steven Gridley and Randy Anderson). Do you prefer steady work or temp work? Full-time or freelance? Or does it matter? I would like to hear (for prurient interests, of course) how people prefer to work, and why.

Hey, it may make a decent “letters page” for this site.

Just wanting fan mail,

James “Love Me” Comtois

October 5, 2004

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