The Recession and OOB
Off-Off-Broadway is used to working with modest budgets. What we lack in funds we make up for with ingenuity. Because we tend to work outside the commercial theatre economic engine, we weather economic changes better than our counterparts. However the recession has been long and difficult and has certainly affected our community. The 2009-2010 season found us all tightening our belts even further and seeking out communal support and resources.
Like most OOB companies, Flux Theatre Ensemble faced financial challenges this year. After less-than-hoped-for ticket sales for their spring production of Jacob’s House, the company took time to reevaluate their game plan and make some critical changes to their season and their business model. Flux’s Managing and Development Director, Heather Cohn shares her experience and discusses some of those changes.
Heather Cohn: Flux Theatre Ensemble was inspired to do some serious soul searching over the summer and fall of 2010, rather than launching into another production in the calendar year. We came out of that searching with a revised mission, clearly articulated core and aesthetic values, and a defined community of collaborators, our “Friends of Flux.” Whether this was thanks to the recession is hard to say, but I do think, in a strange way, the recession has had a positive effect on Flux and, in my opinion, the OOB community in many ways. Because theater venues were feeling it strongly in 2010 also, we were able to negotiate a significant discount for our two upcoming productions – Dog Act and Ajax in Iraq—something that would not have been as possible in stable economic times. I think the recession also caused many companies, including Flux, to strongly consider co-productions and discover new collaborations; we are now working regularly with Judson Memorial Church, for example. Innovation became a buzzword, and companies were encouraged to take risks, try new models, and for the first time, funding for this kind of risk-taking seemed more readily available. But beyond these outcomes, we as a community discovered the need to look further than our own discipline, outside our circle, to put our experience into a larger national and international context, which of course, in the end leads to the creation of better theatre.
Having the ability to quickly and relatively easily adapt to a changing market place is one of the benefits of working in independent theatre. So Rising Phoenix Rep’s Artistic Director, Daniel Talbott is not surprised that companies like Flux and others can turn hard times into opportunities.
Daniel Talbott: One of the reasons I feel so lucky and proud to be a part of this community is that if you give a company like The Amoralists, Flux Theatre Ensemble, Boomerang, The New York Neo-Futurists, Nosedive Productions, Vampire Cowboys, etc. a box of matches and a street corner and tell them that’s what they’ve got to work with, they’ll make magic with it. The economy’s definitely been hard on everybody but there’s no one who's more resourceful and innovative than the artists of Off-Off-Broadway. We always strive to make the best work we can whether we have a hundred thousand dollars in the bank or we’re working with a deficit (usually the latter), and we take anything we’ve got and turn it into a positive and make the work happen. I think big theaters could learn a lot from the never-say-die attitude and constant perseverance that is the spirit of so many wonderful indie companies and artists I know. They inspire the hell out of me.
The determination and ingenuity of the OOB community certainly gives credence to the saying “where there’s a will, there’s a way.” The recession may well been on its way out and many artists and companies have already seen some foundation support and individual giving starting to return. But it is heartening to know that during even the hardest of times, our community can turn to one another for support. Perhaps our most valuable talent is the ability to use a lack of resources as an opportunity to innovate.