Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Ice Factory Cometh (to a new home) - Talking to the New Ohio Theatre's Managing Director, Marc Weitz

For those that don't know, how did the Ice Factory come about?

Ice Factory started in 1994. Back then there was far less going on in NYC in the summer in terms of theatre. It was pretty quiet, and Soho Think Tank, the theatre company behind the Ohio Theatre, thought it would be good idea to produce a festival of new work downtown.

The name “Ice Factory” was ironic – it was very hot in the theatre, so they picked the coolest name they could think of. And that’s the story. The festival has kept going ever since. 2012 is our nineteenth season. And now, of course, the summer is packed with theatre shows and festivals. It may be the busiest time for theatre in the city! (And, I hasten to add, we now have air conditioning, too.)

What is exciting you about this year's Ice Factory?
Well, every year is exciting, because the work is so different from year to year, but this is the festival’s first year in our new home, the New Ohio Theatre, so it’s been fun to see it growing and adjusting to its new environment.

One brand new thing this year is something we’re calling Fridays on Ice. Every week the theatre company in the space will produce something extra after the show on Friday, and the public can come by and hang out. It’s a chance to develop a festival community. We’re very excited about it.

 In the New Ohio Theatre's mission statement it says that the New Ohio "believes the best of this community operates at the core of the contemporary aesthetic conversation (in terms of both content and form)..." Can you expand a little upon the nature of this conversation and perhaps where you see it going or developing?

One ongoing topic surrounding content and form in the theatre is the question of what makes theatre unique and/or relevant in an age of movies and television. Many theatre artists are not comfortable putting a kind of realism on stage that could just as easily be turned into a movie, so they’re continually experimenting with new ways to tell a live story.

As far as trends go, we’re seeing a lot more ensemble created work, I think. There may be one playwright helping to shape the final product, but the material is being generated by the group.

Where or how do you see the work "expanding the boundaries of the public imagination"?
I think the work inspires audiences with what can be done in terms of new or different ways of storytelling. Surprising people with new answers as to how we can have a shared experience as a group. I haven’t seen Peter and the Starcatcher yet, but one of its co-directors, Alex Timbers, directed some work at the old Ohio, and I’m told that Starcatcher uses downtown storytelling techniques that are rarely seen on Broadway. It’s not the goal of most artists to make it to Broadway, I don’t think, but it is nice to see imagination trickling up, so to speak!

What is your background?
My background is pretty boring! I have an MFA in Acting from the American Conservatory Theatre. I moved back to New York City in the 90’s after grad school and have been involved in the New York theatre scene since then in many capacities as an actor, director, or producer.

How did you come to the New Ohio?
I came to the New Ohio in the winter of 2011. I had been an independent producer and director in the city for many years and decided I didn’t want to be independent anymore. Soho Think Tank was in flux because it had just vacated the only home it had ever known after 20+ years. I knew their work pretty well, of course – the Ohio was a vital part of the theatre community – but I had never met Robert. We were introduced by mutual friends, and the timing was right. It was really a pretty happy accident.
What is it like being in a new neighborhood? Are new relationships developing?
Oh, absolutely. We’ve worked with many wonderful artists and companies in this first year who were never at the old Ohio. And the community leaders and businesses in the West Village have been incredibly supportive of our work, as has our landlord, Rockrose Properties.

There’s an exciting theatre district developing in the West Village. Much of it has been there for a while, but it’s starting to come together more as a community. On the flip side, we weren’t sure if the audiences and the artists and the press would follow us during this journey, but they have. So the old relationships are still strong, too.

What are the challenges facing downtown theater today?

Money and marketing. It sounds cliché, but it’s true. The funding situation seems much worse since the 2009 recession. Corporate, foundation, and government funding is all down. And it’s so hard to get people’s attention! There’s so much competition for people’s leisure time. You’d think in a metropolitan area with a population of something like 12 million people that it wouldn’t be hard to get 80 people to see a show on any given night. But it’s incredibly difficult.

What are your hopes?
I hope we sell out every show in the festival!

Ice Factory 2012 begins June 27th - August 4th at its new West Village space, the New Ohio Theatre, located at 154 Christopher Street between Greenwich and Washington Streets. 

Performances are Wednesdays - Saturdays at 7pm. Tickets are $18 for adults and $12 for students/seniors and can be purchased online at  or by calling SmartTix at 212-868-4444.

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