The LIT Fund: A Good Idea That’s Working

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I’m kind of an idea guy, right?

Lots of ideas and I can just natter away at you if you let me.

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But sometimes an idea can catch fire in other people’s minds and if the time is right and the wind is blowing a particular direction and a few people put some serious time in, an idea becomes an actual thing in the world.

This is what happened with the LIT Fund.

JMTC tithing
“In LIT We Trust!”

The Fund represents a coalition of companies, venues and artists who contribute 5 cents of every ticket they sell to a pool of money that supports independent theater. We call this the “Nickel Campaign,” and it’s the LIT Fund’s core notion. We also solicit contributions from patrons of the arts. The money then goes to three areas of need identified by our community: unrestricted project funding, an urgency/opportunity fund, and an endowment. This year, our first giving, the community decided to pool the money into one Community Resource Grant; a project or idea that would benefit everyone working in independent theater.

Honestly, this idea of the Fund wasn’t even mine. Brad Burgess had been talking about it for a while and one day I finally listened. I pitched it to The League of Independent Theater board, they said go for it; Randi Berry, who sits on the board, volunteered to head up the thing and now she’s the Executive Director of the Fund. It’s a separate, stand-alone, sister organization to the League; I’m the Board Chair and on Monday, October 7th we’re going to cut a check.

LIT-FUND-LOGOThe two guiding principles behind the Fund are that theater in New York City is a circle, not a ladder, and funding processes should be radically transparent.

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The first principle is an idea that’s been alive for awhile; it’s the reason we started calling ourselves “independent” theater as opposed to “Off-Off”. I love the legacy and loopiness of the title “Off-Off”, but when I realized it defines me and my work as being on the third rung of a ladder I’m not climbing, I embraced “independent”. In New York, you have actors and directors and designers and stage managers working on Broadway and then doing a show at FringeNYC and then working Off-Broadway and then maybe back uptown. It’s a circle and if you’re lucky it just goes round and round. This is why people like Norbert Leo Butz and Leigh Silverman and David Lindsay-Abaire and Greg Kotis support the Fund. Independent theater is not only the training ground and starting gate for a lot of people, it’s the place you can go to and do what you want to do, you can chase your passion, you can experiment and if the thing blows up in your face, not as many people get hurt.

The principle of radical transparency comes from all of those times when we’ve all found out we didn’t get a grant or a residency by reading in the paper who did. The decision-making process for the Fund this year was two steps: We put out a RFP explaining what we meant by “community resource”, got a bunch back and then posted videos explaining each project. There were some amazing ideas and over twelve hundred people cast their votes. The first round of voting was open to every living person on, below or above the planet. Everyone. The top three vote-getters are now in the final round, where only participants of the Fund get to vote. Here are the final three:

Live Source and New York Theatre Review
Live Source and New York Theatre Review propose a unique open resource: a comprehensive video series that takes the temperature of the independent theater community in order to seek innovation, new strategies and change. Community resource: Via Live Source’s access to video equipment and NYTR’s access to a proven readership, the videos will serve as a field study from which indie theater artists and organizations can identify ways to radically re-shape and re-think how we share resources, for everything from performance space to babysitting.

NY Story Village
terraNOVA Collective proposes New York Story Village, a city-wide collaborative project in which multiple independent theatre companies and artists will create temporary “villages” in city parks throughout all five boroughs, building structures in each village to house various art forms and performance spaces where communities can participate in art making. Community resource: Making New York Story Village happen will require building relationships with government and Parks Department officials. Putting these relationships in place will lay groundwork for future opportunities for the independent theater community to pursue city funding and use parks as performance space.

S.H.I.T. List
Gideon Productions, Flux Theatre Ensemble and Shaun Bennet Fauntleroy propose The S.H.I.T. List, a web-based database that independent theater companies in and around NYC can use to sell, rent, lend or swap basic set pieces, furniture, props and costumes. Community resource: Most small theater companies in New York City lack storage space, so set pieces and props hit the dumpster after a show closes. The S.H.I.T. List is a low-cost solution for reducing waste, lowering design costs, and moving small theater companies toward a greener process.

Pretty cool, right?

We’re going to fund one of those on Monday, October 7th around 10 PM. We’re announcing the recipient at the Parkside Lounge, corner of Attorney and Houston, that night. And October 7th happens to be my 50th birthday, so come early and I’ll buy you a Budweiser.

I’m not kidding. I grew up in St. Louis, so I drink Budweiser. And you only turn 50 once. And when my birthday coincides with the first give of what is going to grow to be the most vital funding source in New York City for independent theater…?

Come on.

Let me buy you a beer.