Two New Theatre Sites Are Born 

Morgan Lindsey Tachco 
11/16/2009 


In this economic climate, it's inspiring to see colleagues focus on their instincts, both on stage and off. In a time when the arts have to struggle to keep themselves in the news, I caught up with two innovative entrepreneurs who have recently launched theatre websites that make it a point to include Off-Off Broadway in their coverage. Read on as Molly Marinik from Theatre is Easy and Karen Tortora-Lee of The Happiest Medium talk about what inspires them to help keep Off-Off Broadway talked about.


Molly Marinik, Founder and Editor, Theatre is Easy


MLT: Tell us a bit about you and your contributors’/staff's background in journalism and/or the arts.

MM: All 18 Theasy staffers are active in their own theatrical endeavors. Our team is comprised of working actors, directors, writers, producers, stage managers and designers, and everyone brings something a little different to the mix. Most of us studied the arts in college. As far as I know, however, I am the only staff member with a journalism background (BS in Visual Journalism).

MLT: How did Theatre is Easy come about?

MM: When I first moved to New York a few years ago and began working in the Off-Off-Broadway world, I was immediately aware of the lack of information available about good "indie" theatre in the city. I worked on some great productions that couldn't fill their houses for anything and it made me sad that work of such high quality would be missed by so many people who would really enjoy seeing the show. I realized that one of the big problems with getting regular (non-industry) folks out to Off-Off-Broadway shows is simply the lack of information about these productions available to potential audience members. Hell, I'm in the industry and I still manage to miss shows that I would love. Don't get me wrong, the information is out there, it's just not readily accessible and not frequently searched for by people who aren't already theatre fans. For people who aren't in the biz, even if they made the decision to see an Off-Off-Broadway show, the prospect of sifting through the listings and researching the dozens of productions running would be overwhelming at best, and would most likely turn them away from the whole experience. I wanted to create a resource for everyone, where information about local theatre is easy to access and easy to digest. And that's how Theatre Is Easy was born. At the end of 2007 I created a blog where I would muse about what I'd seen (commercial and indie theatre alike) and before I knew it my staff of writers had grown to 10 people. This proved amazing as we could see so much more theatre. This past fall we launched the official website (it's no longer a blog) and I hired 8 more writers to join our staff. All of Theasy's contributors share the same goal - to make theatre accessible to everyone - and we hope our website is useful for both locals and tourists who want to see great theatre.

MLT: Who is your target readership?

MM: On a broad scale, our target readership is anyone looking for information about what's playing in New York City. That can include theatre professionals as well as tourists from Germany who are visiting the city for the first time. More specifically, though, our target readership is potential audiences who don't have the resources to find information about New York's theatre scene. We hope to appeal to tourists and locals who don't have an "in" and who don't generally go to performances. They might like the idea of seeing theatre, but they feel overwhelmed by the choices and they don't want to do the leg work to find out what to spend their hard-earned money on. They don't gossip on All That Chat, they don't read theatre news on playbill.com, and they probably don't know the difference between Broadway and off-Broadway. And consequently they might not think that theatre is for them.

MLT: What do you hope people take away from your site?

MM: I hope people can come to the site and find the information they are looking for within minutes. Theasy offers many ways find information like our Best Bets list, and recommendations from Theasy writers. We also write in an intentionally conversational way so that when you read a review on Theasy, you know the writer is communicating his or her thoughts as he would talk to a friend, rather than using the opportunity to wax philosophical with pretentious theatrical insight. Our goal is to provide information clearly and accessibly, so no one ever feels like the theatre scene is out of the reach. If readers can leave the site with a little more knowledge and the feeling like they can be part of the theatre experience, then we've done our job.

MLT: What's in store for Theatre is Easy; what can we expect to see in the future?

MM: It's my hope that Theasy gets bigger and better and more recognizable as a theatre resource for everyone. Since our redesign launched in September, we have been consistently finding ways to add content, improve ease of use, and pack the site full of helpful tips and bits of info. We intend for the site to be a one-stop-shop to plan a theatre-going experience. With the information so readily available, we hope to empower potential audience members to get out and see shows, thereby filling the seats of deserving productions with appreciative audiences. (A perhaps lofty set of future goals: having big audiences will bring more money into the downtown theatre scene and companies will be able to do even more amazing work. New performance spaces will be renovated so downtown theatre gets revitalized and becomes a destination for audiences. Artists will be able to quit their day jobs and pursue their theatre careers exclusively and new work will blossom in a fully embraced artistic niche without the setbacks that lack of funding and support can bring to struggling performances. And Theasy will be a the helm of the revolution providing information about the Off-Off-Broadway theatre scene to the masses. But you know, everything in its own time.)

MLT: ...and one last question: Is theatre really that easy?

MM: No! I mean, yes. I mean, it depends what side you're on. We hope that our website makes theatre easy for audiences. The site isn't called workingintheatreiseasy.com. Because that just isn't true at all. For more information, go to www.theatreiseasy.com ______________________________________________________________________________


Karen Tortora-Lee, Editor, The Happiest Medium


MLT: Tell us a bit about you and your contributors’/staff's background in journalism and/or the arts.

KTL: Everyone at The Happiest Medium has a long, long love affair with theatre, movies, television ... they've studied it, trained in it, work in it, teach it or just love it! I think that enthusiasm shows through in the articles. I'm so lucky to have worked with K.B. Abele, Dianna Martin and Antonio Minino on other projects and I'm thrilled that they are all now writing for The Happiest Medium – bringing their unique perspectives, and their wonderfully expressive opinions to my site. They each have such a unique voice, and a real rapport with the readers. Just read any post by them and you can feel the passion they have for their topic – and their topic can be whatever they choose that day! Since all the contributors have a love for several different media it's easy for us to really be excited about the things we want to share. I was around 12 and working with these incredibly seasoned actors. All of them so willing to teach me about the craft. I learned about blocking, choreography, harmonies, as well as how to project that one line of dialog so it hits the back of the theatre. That led to doing a lot of theatre in high school. I, however, went to high school with Kerry Butler, and she got all the starring roles (not that we were ever up for the same parts!). Kerry Butler, a Tony Award nominee, who created the role of Penny in Hairspray, who played Belle in Beauty and the Beast. She was in Bat Boy, Xanadu and is in Rock of Ages right now. No one else even compared! So I got to play the character roles like Mrs. Peterson in Bye Bye Birdie and Mother Burnside in Mame. In college I went behind the scenes; I studied writing for the stage and writing for film and television. I made dark, artsy films on 8 millimeter – exactly like the ones you see people make fun of now. All black and white with quick cuts, someone dies, the usual college angst all set to a Susanne Vega / Communards / Sinead O'Conner soundtrack. I wrote my first play "They Boy with the Banana Colored Hair" about punk chicks living in a loft in Soho who find a lost boy in the park and take him home and show him all this crazy black light stuff and sing him Cure songs. I became a double major in film production and art, and then I got more serious about writing and started a novel. So my formative years were filled with a lot of creativity. I got to intern for several TV production companies; I even worked at MTV for a while. I did a one-woman show, wrote some more plays ... then I started writing theatre reviews for neighborbee blog. So, if you look at The Happiest Medium, you'll see a little bit of all those things, Theatre, Film, TV, Music, Books, Art. All the things that make me happiest ... that make me me.

MLT: How did The Happiest Medium come about?

KTL: I'd been doing reviews at neighborbee and then, after 6 months, became managing editor there while still keeping my weekly theatre column. At neighborbee's height I was managing 14 writers covering restaurants, family issues, politics, gay advocacy, books, film, fitness, spirituality, community activism just to name a few. Once you start to think like an editor for a website, everything becomes a possible story to you; everyone becomes a possible feature or interview. But neighborbee wasn't solely media-based, so I wound up keeping a lot of stories on the shelf, hoping I'd get to them later. It was hard! Sometimes I'd want to write twice in one week, but at the same time, I didn't want to favor my own column! How would it look if I gave myself more space than all the other writers? So the story ideas and connections I was making just piled up. Then Kristin (K.B.) came on to neighborbee doing a fun column called Friday Night In, recommending great movies you could find on Netflix that might not jump right out at you. I loved her energy and even more, she and I had a lot in common in terms of writing background. I appointed her the entertainment editor at neighborbee and she and I fleshed out some ideas for great features – we kept thinking of more people we could talk to, more people who would give us an exclusive story, but again, we didn't want to hijack the site which was supposed to be about neighborhoods. A few months after that I started reviewing for The Fab Marquee which is where I met Antonio and Dianna who both were (and are) awe-inspiring to me. Between the two of them, they have so much talent, they're so immersed in what they love, and I could (and sometimes do) talk to them all day about all the great things going on in theatre. At The Fab Marquee I was really able to cover all the theatre I wanted; during Fringe I went to (and covered) 10 shows in 14 days! And still, I wanted to cover more. There's so much great theatre out there – I wanted to be doing this full time. Over the summer neighborbee moved towards what it was originally envisioned as - a neighborhood-based resource designed to bring people together. As editor I had to make a choice, since going full force meant moving further away from what I loved, and from what I was beginning to be recognized for. By this point I'd started seeing my reviews quoted and mentioned – Michael Urie even re-tweeted a review I did on his performance in The Temperamentals. I wanted to pursue that and continue to grow that side of my talents, along side others who are passionate too. Then Antonio explained that The Fab Marquee would be going on a bit of a hiatus, so it just made so much sense to pool our talents, resources, contacts and excitement. However, none of that matters if you don't have an actual platform and I'd be remiss if I didn't credit my husband Stephen with being the true hands-on genius behind the whole thing. Stephen is amazing at listening to me describe what I want and then designing it. The first Happiest Medium was created entirely by me, in Flash, because it was "pretty". However, it was also "useless" :) The site I created by myself wasn't scalable for what I wanted to eventually have - the best website ever! So I went with wordpress ... and that decision was really hard for me. I didn't want to look "bloggy" and I didn't want to look like everyone else. Luckily Stephen was able to find an amazing template based on what I'd described to him, then incorporate all the designs I'd already created and he put it all together. It was so great to see all my handiwork but in a way that made wide-scale sense. I'm proud to say that every little picture you see - every font, bevel, picture frame, TV Guide cover, even every star in the background was chosen and arranged by me. But it wouldn't be there without Stephen translating it all into code and making it do what it's supposed to do. He's a master at finding all the right bells and whistles that somehow meld perfectly with the overall vision. During the design phase I started referring to him as Santa Claus - because I'd go to bed with an idea for the site and when I'd wake up he'd have made it happen while I was sleeping.

MLT: Who is your target readership?

KTL: I want to reach anyone who just wants to kick back and read a good article about something going on in the arts that's not another “Is Lady Gaga really a man?” or “Jon and Kate plus Hate.” At The Happiest Medium we all write for the people who are interested in the hidden gems: the shows that will only run for three weeks but which will blow you away. Or the art installation about making the world a better place. Or the local band that plays to a packed bar every weekend but isn't know outside of Williamsburg because they can't afford a publicist. We also write for each other - as you may notice in the comments! Ultimately, THM is for the reader in search of an alternative to all the mass-market stuff out there. And yes, sure, at times you'll see some big names on THM. But it's because we have a personal connection to them, and hopefully we'll give you a story that you can't pull right off of Reuters.

MLT: What do you hope people take away from your site?

KTL: A real appreciation for the unsung hero. I hope they have a giggle, an "a-ha" moment, I hope that they click on a link and learn more about a show, an exhibit, or a person. I hope I spark an interest in something they didn't know they wanted to know about. I hope that between all those of us contributing the reader will come away with a real palpable feeling of how much we all love what we do, and how much we love sharing it with the readers. When I first started designing The Happiest Medium I wanted it to have the same vibe as Elaine's, albeit a virtual one. You know how amazingly talented people gather at her restaurant because they know they'll be welcomed and treated well, and it's not phony there? It's just a little haven to escape the fakeness that fame and celebrity can sometimes create. I want to create that same environment, a cozy site where our readers are like our personal guests; readers can come back knowing they'll be treated well – nothing fake or phony. They won't be talked down to, or made to feel like they don't belong because they're not cool enough. Rather, they'll feel like they've just read something from a good friend, something with a lot of heart and a lot of expression and enthusiasm and warmth.

MLT: What's in store for The Happiest Medium; what can we expect to see in the future?

KTL: Well, the great thing is, we can take all those shelved ideas off the shelves now! You'll see more of what's already there – great reviews of Off-Off Broadway shows, in-depth interviews with some of the most talented people who live and work in New York. You'll see more of the series that we've started, like Antonio's “The (Wo)Man In The Window” which is so much fun. We've got “A Week In The Life,” which is a feature where we follow, let's say, a reality show casting director or a composer who's in the process of getting his show on Broadway. It can be “a week in the life of an acting studio;” it will be places as well as people. We also have a number of great guest bloggers who (I hope) may one day become full time contributors, but for now I'm thrilled that they are lending their talents to THM when they can. We've planned interviews with authors, a few TV show creators, a radio personality, some designers, and even better surprises! I hope the reader looks forward to reading it, I'm already looking forward to putting it together!

MLT: ...and one last question: What's your happiest medium?

KTL: Right now, my happiest medium is my website of course! It sounds like a plug, but it's not. I love to see what my fellow contributors have written. Every morning when I check to see what's pending, I get a little tickle of joy to see a new post waiting to be edited. I love what my fellow contributors can teach me about something I haven't seen or heard about. As far as my favorite medium out of the media we actually cover – while I really do have a bit of my heart in each of the categories, my happiest medium is always going to be the theatre, be it experimental, traditional, old fashioned musical, a revival, a brand new voice. I love sitting in that darkened theatre and being transported by someone who is exposing all their talent and vulnerability to me. I love the sharing that goes on in a small theatre. I love how selflessly an actor can give up their entire spirit and core to an audience, and I love applauding when it's over and giving the love back to them. I love writing a great review about a show that affected me, or a specific performance that moved me because it's the closest I can get to thanking them personally for doing what they do. I covered three shows in the last week and each one had me in tears by the end for completely different reasons. Off-Off Broadway is the siren song that keeps me so in love with New York City. And, like any fan, I wouldn't have it any other way. For more information, please visit www.thehappiestmedium.com


 

username:
password:
 
Join the community!
Forgot your password?