Let's get experimental!
Ever seen a show at a downtown company like La Mama ETC, the Nuyorican Poets Café, or HERE Arts Center? Or a mind-blowing piece staged by a short-lived ensemble in a converted garage space that completely upended your idea of what theatre can be?
If so, you know something about off-Off Broadway(OOB). The term dates back to the late 1950s, when theatre artists reacted against what they saw as stifling artistic conservatism of the commercial Broadway theatre, and later of the more established Off-Broadway companies. The movement flowered as part of the countercultural underground of the 1960s and 1970s, and to this day it continues to thrill and amuse and shock and entertain and challenge.
OOB is where playwrights like Sam Shepard, Lanford Wilson, and Maria Irene Fornes cut their teeth, and it’s where revolutionary directors and designers often came to do their most innovative work. For some artists, OOB is a stepping stone to higher-profile projects. Others are content to remain in this ever-changing, fertile environment, despite the low (or non-existent) salaries, the smaller audiences, the lack of media attention.
There is no single OOB esthetic, in part because companies emerge and disappear each season. Many OOB shows strive to be experimental, avant garde, or off the wall. Others just focus on doing good work. Together, they make a refreshingly eclectic menu of theatrical productions.
For many, OOB is a place of artistic freedom, innovation, and experimentation. It’s a world apart from the conventions and obligations of commercial and institutional theatre. In fact, some prefer the term “indie theatre,” which celebrates the independent spirit of downtown theatre-makers.
OOB theatre spaces generally seat 99 or fewer audience members, versus 110 to 499 for Off Broadway, and even more for Broadway; these figures correspond to the various tiers of Actors Equity Association contracts. Productions take place throughout New York City, though most are in Manhattan, with a good many concentrated in or near the East Village. Performances may take place in theatres, or in “found” spaces adapted from other use. Runs are generally brief, usually 2¬–3 weeks maximum, and ticket prices are low.
So if you if you want to try a walk on the wild side, head downtown—literally or metaphorically. You might not know what to expect. But hey, that’s part of the fun.
This video was made by HERE.
For 20 years, HERE has been one of New York’s most prolific producing organizations, and today stands at the forefront of the city’s presenters of daring new hybrid live performance. A multi-arts space with two theatres and a café/gallery, HERE has developed such acclaimed works as Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues; Basil Twist’s Symphonie Fantastique and with Joey Arias, Arias with a Twist; Taylor Mac’s The Lily’s Revenge; and original hybrid works created by Artistic Director and HERE Co-Founder Kristin Marting.