It's Tuesday night in a boisterous Tribeca bar packed with twenty- and thirtysomethings. All eyes are on the stage, where Derrick Wolf is playing the Vincent Vega character from Pulp Fiction. "They call it a Royale with Cheese," he deadpans, Travolta-like, to a video image of Samuel L. Jackson. The crowd eats it up. Wolf is going places. Anyway, he's going to the finals, where he'll duke it out in the climactic scene from The Notebook.
This is the ACTHRD: Thespian Royale, a production of the LVHRD (live hard) Foundation. As LVHRD describes it, "12 actors enter. One actor leaves." They perform spontaneously assigned bits of dialogue, with the winner determined by a panel of judges.
LVHRD, in its second year, is like an underground fight club for creatives. Once a month, more or less, members are summoned by a last-minute text message to a location somewhere in New York for an event that's part competition, part networking. In March, two teams of architects squared off before 700 fans to design and model a hypothetical building in real time. At FSHN DL (fashion duel), two designers had an hour to create dresses on live models.
The duels let professionals showcase their talent with nothing but applause on the line. "Every day, those people are beaten down," says Matt Spangler, partner at Thehappycorp global, the design-branding company that runs LVHRD. Architects get berated by clients, performers humiliated at auditions. "Where are the opportunities for them to show their craft?"
As much as that, LVHRD is also a modern salon, gathering people from diverse backgrounds who might someday work together. "It's like, You do this? I do this. Let's collaborate," says Oren Brimer, a 22-year-old writer-director. LVHRD started with 100 handpicked members in 2004, but ballooned to 2,000 within months. Officially, enrollment is now closed; unofficially, you can still join up via current members or application. "If you want in, you're in," says Doug Jaeger, Thehappycorp founder. "The image is, it's hard to get in."
A version of this article appeared in the July/August 2006 issue of Fast Company magazine.