16 years

16 years ago this week I moved to New York City. I met Jennifer Conley Darling at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. We had one of our first classes together – theatre history, the only “academic” class taught at the conservatory to lend legitimacy from New York State as an accredited school. Jen and I knew each other, but we didn’t really hang out. It wasn’t until the end of our second year at The Academy, when we were in a production of Feiffer’s People, that Jen and I bonded.

A little over a year later, post AADA, several of our fellow alums, including Jen and myself, banded together as thousands of other pie-eyed conservatory graduates do to create a new theatre company. We wanted to cultivate new work and change the face of American theatre. It was from that actors’ group terraNOVA Collective was born. terraNOVA produced new plays, discovered the business of show, and lost and gained many members along the way. The one constant was Jennifer. When Ray Yates, the original artistic director moved back to Dublin, Ireland, Jen took the company’s reigns, though she’d never held a position like this before, and steered several plays to production, including one tour.

After a few years of “down time.” I approached Jen about writing a play for her, she laughed, but I did it. We tried to get backers to support the play, but when it couldn’t find financial legs, it was Jen’s idea to use terraNOVA as a fundraising organization to produce the play. That’s just what we did, and in October 2003, terraNOVA Collective produced my play Baby Steps at The Lion in Theatre Row. The success of the play re-energized the company, and I came back on board as the associate director (I’d left years earlier to pursue other opportunities), eventually helping to create its main programs: soloNOVA Arts Festival, Groundbreakers and Subterranean.

All along the way, Jennifer has been a rock and center of this company. Last night, terraNOVA Collective, which is currently in residence in Union Square at the DR2 Theatre and D-Lounge, launched its 7th consecutive season of programming (and its 13th year in existence) with Subterranean, our monthly performance party. This past season found us nominated for 17 New York Innovative Theatre Awards, which was both exciting and humbling. There’s been many bumpy roads along the way, too. Fundraising continues to be our biggest struggle, and making it through this upcoming season seems daunting during this current climate. Still, I have faith. We’ve overcome struggles in the past, and I know we’ll meet whatever obstacles are ahead with strength, creativity and perseverance.

There’s a common bit of wisdom imparted to many a young actors starting off in this business: “If you can do anything else…anything…do it.” It supposedly speaks to the brutality this business of show brings to pie-eyed actors with dreams of fame and fortune. I’d suggest the only thing with more odds against it is starting and successfully running one’s own theatre company with any sort of longevity. Jennifer Conley Darling does that with grace under pressure and intense resilience. She idealistically continues to believe in making a mark on the face of the American theatre, and humbly, I believe we’ve made a tiny imprint thus far. The artists who’s careers launched to success and sustainability from terraNOVA programs is due to Jen’s commitment of nourishing live theatre in a time at which most people would rather veg-out on couches or play on computers.

It seems like a long time ago we blew off theater history class, goofing on the unqualified substitute teacher who rambled on about Uri Geller bending spoons and keys – anything besides the history of theatre. We’ve accomplished much together since then. I look forward to the stretch ahead.

We’ve come a long way, Baby.

long haul

soloNOVA’s coming to a close, and it’s been a looooong haul this year. It’s more than we’ve ever done (almost 5 full weeks of programming). We’ve produced more shows than ever before – 60, when all’s said and done (including the Breakthrough Performer week with Martin Dockery next week), as opposed to 32 shows last year. We’re in residence at one of the most wonderful places you could reside – the DR2 Theatre and D-Lounge. So many publications have given us great reviews. From The New York Times to NYTheatre.com, there has been great praise for the festival’s participants. And Mike Daisey opened the festival with a rousing speech on “Why Solo Performance Matters.”

The other day, someone was asking me how the festival is going, and I said to them, “You know some days you have 20 people in the house, and the next day you have 80. It’s like life – you can freak out and beat your chest on the bad days and cheer the good days, but in the end…all I want to be able to do is say, ‘I’m proud of what I did.’ That’s how I feel about the festival. We’ve had downs, but we’ve certainly had more ups.”

It means so much that so many people are excited about what terraNOVA does. I know there’s still those out there who aren’t on the solo band wagon. And that’s fine, for it’s not for everybody. However, when the craft of solo performance is done well – and I have to say how well I think it was done this year – there’s nothing like it.

Many blessings…and if anyone’s reading this before we close on Saturday, come through and check it out. Or, come and see Martin next weekend. They’re great shows, and I’m not just saying that because I’m producing them. I’m very proud.