This week, I made my way to the Bridge Theater at Shetler Studios – one of this town’s many tiny rental theatre spaces – to see my Tuesdays at Nine co-host Arya Kashyap in a (quite good) new play called Paradise Lost and Found. It was a showcase production, in a house that can hold about thirty audience members at a time, put up by a company that’s devoted to putting up new works by new and emerging writers – the kind of activity that’s crucial to the overall health of the theater. It’s in miniscule little black boxes like this that the experimentation needed to develop new writing takes place, companies like this where new actors build their resume and hone their skills. I was most delighted to be able to see all this in action this past Thursday.
Especially since the show closed this weekend. Because, like untold scores of shows like it, it had to. Thanksgiving, after all, is only three days away.
It’s always strange to consider the holiday season as a theatrical dead time. If you’re an audience member, of course, it doesn’t seem that way at all. New York is filled with tourists this time of year, after all, and Broadway shows and Christmas Spectaculars are invariably on their itinerary. But for the less commercial ventures, for all the hole-in-the-wall productions held together by prayers and duct tape, the audience simply isn’t there at this time of year.
You can try and produce at this time of year, of course. Friends of mine have tried, taking advantage of rental deals offered by theaters at this time of year; their well-mounted, well-promoted productions still only played to a handful of audience members at a time. Once, in my long-ago non-union days, I was cast in a show that had secured a space that would have otherwise remained dark “over the holidays;” it wasn’t until the first rehearsal that they said that this would include performances on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, for no pay. (I didn’t stick around for the second rehearsal, Gentle Reader.)
Actors who are working over the holidays, if not the fortunate souls with a long-running gig, are usually working in holiday-themed projects. Casual theater-goers are usually looking for holiday-themed events, and the sorts of casting directors and literary managers who can help an independent production move to a higher level usually take advantage of the season to leave the bustling city for a while. And so the kind of independent productions I like going to, and like working on, settle in for a long winter’s nap. Even something like Paradise Lost and Found, which is built on an extended riff on It’s a Wonderful Life, needs to close its run before Santa Claus shows up in front of Macy’s on Thanksgiving morning.
This same thing will happen again in six month’s time, when summer rolls around. If you’re a scrappy independent theater producer, you really only have two viable windows in which to produce your work; two months from mid September through mid November, and a three month stretch from February thru April. Outside of those brief windows, for more than half the year, the audience you’re trying to reach simply won’t be available.
Of course, you could always just sit back and rest during the coming weeks. It is a holiday, after all.