An Arts Foundation Gathers Statistics on Off-Off Broadway

Most residents living in the family-friendly New York of today are unlikely to miss the crime and grime that characterized the city during its previous decades, but a certain cultural sterilization is also stirring collective panic in its artistic community. Its famous indie theater scene, for example, has become challenging to maintain amidst rising rents and subsequently closing theater spaces.

In hopes of offering some concrete figures of today's indie theater--and hopefully attracting the attention of city officials-- The New York Innovative Theatre Foundation (NYIT) is conducting a series of four surveys evaluating Off-Off Broadway's impact on the city's economy. The first one, measuring budget trends among Off-Off Broadway theater productions, was published in April, and the remaining three will deal with demographics of the city's theater artists, audience demographics and, finally, Off-Off Broadway's overall economic footprint.

"Not having statistical information for Off-Off Broadway has really hindered them in being able to negotiate with city, state and federal officials, and landlords, sponsors and funders," said Shay Gines, NYIT Foundation's executive director, in a phone interview. "Providing this kind of information will really help to propel Off-Off Broadway further than they've previously been able to."

Of the 350 companies currently included in the foundation's database, 73 participated in the first survey, and the findings closely reflect what many following the scene had surely predicted: A majority of participating companies have been in existence for less than seven years, and more than half put on only one or two productions a year.

The average production budget is 18,000, over a third of which is spent on space rental. In fact, only five percent of respondents said they owned their own space ("it was one of the things I can say I was expecting," Gines said, "and it needs to change drastically").

One positive sign, she added, was that although Actor's Equity showcase rules don't require a company to pay its actors, more than 60 percent of participating companies said they paid their cast members a small stipend for their efforts.

The NYIT Foundation itself has lost two offices to the building of condos and office spaces. "Unfortunately right now the economics and the development of New York City is actually pushing some of these smaller theater organizations to the fringes," Gines said.

"The good news about this is that Off-off Broadway is really resilient. And as long as there are artists that need to perform, they are going to find spaces to perform in, and that's exciting," she added.

The foundation is currently conducting its second survey, at http://www.nyitawards.com/survey/oobdemographics.asp.

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