“I brought that genuine shit in ’96
Before you knew the underground or independent exist”
@ my mans Dave Dower, @ 2am, @Tony, Travis and the cats living it, @ Slaybaugh, @ my wife, @ Dano, Moses, Dawkins and the rest, @ that kid in his basement acting out True West by himself (all parts) desperate as fuck…
Now, I love El-P. Producer, Rapper, Label head (until recently). El Producto. Jaime Meline from the Bronx. (A simple back ground- the producer El Producto is basically a fat white kid who grew into a hip hop producing dynamo in the 90′s. He is from Brooklyn, and basically in the 90′s he had a vison for non radio Hip Hop and he did something about it).
“Had everybody sprung wondering where I came from
Screaming out “Independent as fuck” with an insane tongue
With an indelible squad of design monsters
Innovating the styles that made biters look like imposters”
I’ve been having a great duo-logue with Dave Dower at Arena.And today I was thinking about our talks, about what it is to work in the theater right now… And for me I always go back to Hip Hop. Now, for the kid who reads this thinking of grad school: I went to one. I know lots that went to others. Now, there is no business talk at grad school. NONE. ZERO. No career (in that way they aren’t lying to you). What grad is- is a 3 year reprieve to create as much work as possible. To SIMPLY write.
It doesn’t give you shit. No guarantees. Nothing handed. But it can give you an opportunity to pass a script here and there. Which can then bring you attention from people you can’t access- and full disclosure- as a kid from SUNY Binghamton, ex wrestler, son of a carpenter, wanting to do this… I needed that.
My access to the National New Play Network came through Iowa (my grad school. Another public U, the private sector was never feeling me.)
I did a residency in Philly through them. I was in the institution of it all.
“So we scripted an album and signed to Rawkus
Selling a hundred thousand without a radio chart hit”
And then I left. Now first off Interact Theatre and Seth Rozin were amazing to me then and amazing to me now. Same with the NNPN. And in truth I look at NNPN as the Rawkus of new plays (Rawkus was an independent hip hop label in the 90′s who exploded careers of people that the majors ignored).
I knew while I was there that I wanted my career to mirror what NNPN was as an organization. I wanted to be independent, because I wanted to grow.
See, you only get better from getting your work up. No one in their right mind would suggest to an aspiring actor “Oh you want to be the next Gielgud? Well, homey you need to get in more readings. Just do readings.”
I needed productions. I needed to fail. I needed to sit in a room with an audience like I was still an actor on stage feeling that communion- and knowing when the agreement broke. So when i graduated from Iowa- a few developmental conferences and productions under my belt, a few agents showing (to be honest, varied if not bored) interest. I said it’s time to make my own shit…
“Back when the independent scene remained faceless
We were the only crew who promised your ass we’d take it
Mold it, shape it, living outside the matrix”
I found my tribe- Matt Slaybaugh and Available Light threw (and continue to throw) everything behind whatever I wanted to do. I mean that guy built this website?? Ain’t that sick- an AD believed in my work enough to say- “you need a website, here.” Who does that?
Riverside Theatre in Iowa, Interact in Philly, ATF in Glens Falls, Cleveland Public, Halcyon in the Chi… over years I’ve found more like minded artists. Who didn’t do things to succeed. To launch…
But who let me dive in.
Some who just straight up let me fail. The independent theater scene put me on like an MC working his way around a mic.
Plays succeeded. Plays bombed. As a solo artist things crept up, the work got better, got more attention- the trajectory started to rise.
That’s why I always get respect from true soldiers
While half of the critics claim it every year: “Hip hop’s over.”
FUCK YOU, hip hop just started
It’s funny how the most nostalgic cats are the ones who were never part of it
Now, I’m in an interesting place. My last solo has done more than I can ever have expected in a definitively independent way. No agent. Touring to who will take it: colleges, theaters, community centers- a Community affair- talk backs after each show, grass roots booking. I’m in Iowa still doing my thing and still wanting more- still wanting to reach as many people as possible. Still wanting those Arenas, those Goodman’s…
And so when we talk about why certain theaters are targeted or the expectations of playwrights for production I feel a bit like Aesop Rock in this song when he says- “the revolution will not be apologized for.” Because we’re in the same game- we both want the same thing- institutional theater or independent- we want to blow our audiences fucking minds. We want them to look at a subscription series and not know that Slot A is where the American classic goes and Slot D is where we put our romance.
We want to embrace that audience and say you were brave enough to come out and see human beings just talk in the middle of the night, human beings like you in a dark room- you were brave enough to come… so we’ve been brave enough to do THIS.
Something bold, something un-vetted, something we didn’t get from second or third parties… but something screaming.
“You don’t innovate because you can’t innovate
It’s not a choice despite what you might tell your boys…”
Theater is ripe for this independent movement… for innovation… for folks breaking outside the norm… without feeling like the institutions are a separate beast. in this hip hop analogy: El-P created his own label and did his own thing- but he still produced for the largest MC’s, the largest labels…
And when write this I often think when I who it’s for and to be honest, no matter what, it’s for that kid I mention at the beginning who acts out TRUE WEST alone in his basement. I was that kid. I did that- in my parent’s basement- dreaming of being invited to the post undergrad in ALbany, living with my parents. Playing Lee and Austin- scene study for one. And now as things start to happen I wonder how many of me are there?
I want that kids voice heard. I don’t want it to be about who got the last reading, who got that award or fellowship- that’s my naivete thinking it’l change, but what do you do? Sit back? Be quiet?
So when i get asked about why does everyone want the bigger places to do their work- there’s obvious reasons I’ve gone over… but maybe there’s a part of me that’s just saying: we’re coming.
In a fun way- a gang of the non elite, writing the world… spitting fire. We’re coming. And to the “we” in that. If things aren’t changing… well, then it’s up to us to change them. Otherwise…
El-Producto lasts laugh
Yo, haven’t you heard yet?”