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By MARK BLANKENSHIP
There's a bold theatre experiment happening in Queens, and the Martians are just the beginning.
From now through July 1, three celebrated off-Off Broadway companies---Boomerang Theatre, Flux Theatre Ensemble, and Gideon Productions---are jointly presenting their seasons at the Secret Theatre in Long Island City. They're calling themselves the BFG Collective, and together, they're mounting seven shows.
Here's how it works: In January, Gideon presented part one of Mac Rogers' The Honeycomb Trilogy, a series of sci-fi dramas about a mission to Mars that changes life on Earth. Part two, Blast Radius, arrives on March 29, and part three bows in June.
In between the pieces of the trilogy, the other theatres are producing work in the same space. Through March 25, Boomerang presents a repertory of Much Ado About Nothing, Tom Stoppard's The Real Thing, and Spring Tides, a new play by Melissa Gawlowski about a pregnant woman who accidentally stumbles into another universe. On April 28, Flux premieres Deinde, August Schulenburg's drama about the terrifying consequences of an attempt to cure a global pandemic. (TDF members can currently buy tickets to the Boomerang shows via the off-Off @ $9 program.)
Crucially, all three theatres retain complete creative control of their own productions. However, because they made a joint agreement with the Secret Theatre for a six-month residency, everyone shares the cost of renting the space. And since various technicians and staffers are spreading their expertise across all the shows, set pieces can be shared, marketing efforts can be united, and a hundred small details can be split among a large team.
When everything works, the BFG Collective lets theatres triple their audience base and their economic heft without sacrificing their identities. "We are all fond of---and in a lot of ways jealous of---one another's abilities to do certain things very well," says Sean Williams, artistic director of Gideon. "We've all learned to make tiny adjustments in the ways we do things to better reflect the way the other companies do those things." He notes that Flux is good at creating a "very organic and very warm" sense of teamwork, while Boomerang has "a high spit and polish of professionalism on everything they do."
Reduced costs also let the companies pay their collaborators more than usual. "We're actually paying a salary to all the actors of every show," Williams says. (In many off-Off productions, actors are paid a tiny stipend for the entire process, not a regular salary.)
The project does have roadblocks, though. As Williams notes, "There are things we need to make a decision on as a collective, like building a website or [assembling] the advertising, and having three companies that each have their own style of making things happen can mean it's like turning an aircraft carrier."
Still, he says the benefits outweigh the hitches. And the rewards aren't only financial. The collective---which was hatched after a potluck dinner for off-Off Broadway artists---also shares a larger artistic vision. "There's a sense that we're fighting for all the characters in all of the stories," Williams says. "In all of our plays, for all three companies, all of the characters are acting from a place of feeling like they're the hero and the good guy."
Ideally, the collective's shared sensibility will spur a large conversation that engages audiences for months. "It feels like we're creating a sense of curiosity and empathy," says Williams. "We're hoping it might lead people to think more about the people they disagree with or can't understand."
Mark Blankenship is TDF's online content editor