BFG Collective Finds New Solution to the Space Problem
An indie theatre collaboration called BFG Collective is finding their own new solution to "the space problem".
Just over a year ago, Gideon Productions was looking for a space for playwright Mac Rogers' new "Honeycomb" trilogy, and working with Boomerang Theatre Company and Flux Theatre Ensemble, they embarked on an innovative approach to theatre rental.
Since the trilogy would use a common set, props, costumes and tech, Gideon essentially needed a long term rental. But they also needed about four weeks between shows in the series for rehearsal.
What followed is a perfect example of synergy among a few friendly Off-Off theater companies. Gideon's Sean Williams, began talking with Tim Errickson of Boomerang, who said he could potentially mount a three-show repertory series in between two of the Gideon shows. They then spoke with Gus Schulenburg to see if Flux could rent the remaining time. All three artistic directors began working on the idea of sharing the space together, and searching for a theatre that might work for the arrangement.
"Flux had actually been part of an attempt like this years ago when we were just starting out -- an initiative called COMET (Coalition Of Mighty Ensemble Theaters)," said Heather Cohn, Producing Director of Flux. "The vision of a shared theatre (and rehearsal) space was a dream we had early on, but which did not come to fruition." Until now.
"We looked at a bunch of different theatres that we thought could accommodate it," said Errickson. "But Richard [Mazda, Artistic Director of the Secret Theatre] in Queens reached out to Mac, and said they had always wanted to do a Mac Rogers show at The Secret.
"The Secret's relatively new, and in pristine shape. The dressing rooms and booth are in good shape there's lot of height and a ton of storage, and the performance space is very flexible. Plus, we're able to rehearse right downstairs."
With a theatre selected, the group got to work on the arrangement to collectively support the production of seven shows over six months under the umbrella structure of the BFG collective.
"Something like this is not possible without that face-to-face time," Cohn said. "You can never assume another theatre company operates the same way you do in terms of decision making," she said, "so maximizing communication is key."
"We were having BFG meetings all the time to make sure each group was getting what they wanted and needed, but we also needed accommodate the Secret to make way for their classes and maintenance days," Errickson explained.
They ended up negotiating the overall rental agreement collectively, but each company had their own individual contract with the space. The group would also collaborate to support each other's additional logistics, marketing and other needs, but in a very indie way, according to Mac Rogers:
"We've arranged it so that the three companies collaborate at the macro level of administration and sharing resources, but we still allow each company its own particular operational culture. This is vital," Rogers continued, "because Boomerang, Flux, and Gideon work in very different ways. So we collaborate where it is advantageous to do so, and stay out of each other's hair when that's the better way to go."
Errickson said the benefits range from discounted rental and storage to audiences development, increased donors, and ticketing, but the right partnership is necessary to make it work.
"You need a big buy in from an artistic standpoint and business standpoint," he said. "You need to have companies that want to work together, and of course the economics need to work. I'm sure could it be replicated, but for this instance things just came together at the right moment. And we have a landlord that's super-receptive to doing this, interested in raising their profile, and excited about the work we're doing."
"What makes this special, I think," Rogers said, "is that it comes at a time of such struggle for indie theater, with a lot of dear spaces closing and opportunities closing up. We believe we can turn at least a small part of that tide."
"I think someone on Facebook said they thought this would be the model for renting space going forward," said Errickson.
Rogers stopped short of calling this model the wave of the future. "We're only a little ways into the big experiment," he said. But he thinks it could be sustainable. "If we're all happy with how this goes, I'd love to continue this partnership next year.
"Finding the wonderful Secret Theater in Long Island City was a big incentive, as was the fact that two companies as accomplished as Flux and Boomerang wanted to be involved. Participating in the indie theater community has been an ongoing source of happiness for me; this just took it to the next level."Find out more about the group at bfgcollective.com.