Theatre is one of the toughest industries to break into, for playwrights, actors, and even audiences. Not everyone takes the time to enjoy it, even here in New York City, one of the theatre capitals of the world. While we don’t feel this way, we’re aware that some people consider it to be too expensive, esoteric, and tedious. Especially if they’re under the age of 50.
So when we heard about The Serious Theatre Collective, their inaugural show, One Allotted Hour of Entertainment and its inventive concept, we were intrigued. The group writes plays collaboratively by passing scenes among each member to contribute to, one after the other, until the scene and dialogue are completed. The last performance of the show is tonight at the Knitting Factory. Hear from the company’s Artistic Director, Terry Selucky, after the jump.
Flavorwire: Lizz Leiser, Producing Director of your company, describes its mission as “creating theatre for an audience that doesn’t usually consider theatre an entertainment option.” Will you speak to this statement?
Terry Selucky: We’re not completely dissatisfied with theatre; we’ve all seen a ton of great shows lately. We stress the idea of entertainment for a wide audience because the number of people who attend theatre is small relative to those who go out to see a movie or even live music. Most people aren’t brought up to consider that theatre is something that you regularly see for enjoyment, so instead it becomes this high-culture activity — something people feel they have to mentally prepare for, like “I’m going to see theatre tonight, I better put a few hard candies in my pocket so I have something to do while I’m sitting there.”
FW: Tell us a bit about the experience of the emerging playwright today. Were there disparities between your experiences here and your experiences in Chicago’s theatre community?
TS: In Chicago you have more than 250 theatre companies producing any number of shows year-round, many of which are new; here, you have amazing companies like the Public and LAB. In either city, you have to work your ass off to be good and to get your voice heard. Yet it’s a lot easier for a fledgling company to produce in Chicago because it’s cheaper and there are a lot of working theatre artists there, that make time to do what they love even if they have a day job. There’s only so long you can live in New York, get paid nothing for theatre and still stick with it.
FW: What is the role of comedy in the show?
TS: We like to have fun with each other and with the audience, and we like twisting our brains and pushing ourselves conceptually and structurally. Plus, we all love a good dick or poop joke. So I guess that’s where the comedy comes in.
FW: Tell us about the conceptual background of the show.
TS: Lizz and I started writing together at DePaul’s Theatre School in Chicago, and our teacher, playwright Dean Corrin would have us write simple six-line scenes. Since we’re big nerds we would get together and instead of partying we’d meet and write scenes collaboratively, with each person starting a scene, then passing it on and continuing the next person’s scene. Okay, sometimes there was partying involved, and many, many bad scenes came out of a drunken writing session. But then Lizz moved to Portland and continued writing and producing with people in this way, and I returned to Chicago and co-founded a theater company called Sansculottes that still writes collaboratively and produces shows in Chicago.
FW: You say about the process: “we all own the piece, but the ego is taken out of the equation. The process becomes about making the scene as good and complete as possible and generating fresh original ideas.” What effect does this have?
TS: When you’re writing with a bunch of people and the scenes are revised and then you all put the thing up on its feet together, you eventually forget which part of it is yours — you just know that you spent months of your life putting the thing together, and that it becomes a show. So, because no one really owns one part, we are all owners of the whole thing. It’s totally Pinko. We should have been called the Pinko Theatre Company. Or McCarthy’s Nightmare. Karl Marx is having wet dreams about us, in the grave.
One Allotted Hour of Entertainment plays the Knitting Factory tonight at 7:30 p.m. There is a closing night party following the performance with sets from Special Victims Unit and Macaque. Entry is $10.