Small Theater Survival Stories

Published October 18, 2004

A trade-off?

Finding a unique niche certainly can prove challenging, however, as the very thing that makes a theater unique may thwart future success. After all, a theater featuring Shakespearean or Pinter plays will quickly run out of new material. So, after scraping together startup capital and a noble bunch of actors, the struggle for the low-budget theater now becomes attracting the largest audience possible to a theater that is unique, but not limited by design.

"The challenge is to set yourself apart without limiting your options," Simon said. "It's a tricky one."

However, Simon admits that the Factory Theater, known primarily for its ensemble-generated original works, may feel less trapped by its production niche than a larger theater. "Larger theaters are pretty dependent on their reputation," he said. "Their patrons come to expect a certain product from them. It's not that smaller theaters are immune to pigeon-holding, but I think it's easier for us to recover when we throw our patrons an artistic curve ball."

Likewise, Hall was passionate that, although the possibility exists to cater to societal whims for the sake of a bigger bottom-line, WNEP doesn't play that game. "Don't misinterpret. We're not artistes, pretentious assholes who look down upon the uncultured massed and expect them to see shows strictly for the sake of art," he explained. "But we would rather go broke with integrity than suck cock for money. WNEP is a creative ensemble, as opposed to an acting or writing ensemble. Our jones is only satisfied by stretching our imaginations and creating the never-before-seen."

However, from the more practically-driven marketing and economic perspectives, pleasing an audience with a specific performance genre is ultimately important. "It is the constant struggle that we fight with every show we do," Hall said. "We want a 'brand name' but we won't allow ourselves to be pigeonholed by that brand name. It's very dada, in a way."