Nick Awde speaks to NDT’s artistic director David Byrne about a British theatre curating Brits Off Broadway festival for the first time
Heralding the first time Brits Off Broadway festival is being curated by a British theatre, London’s New Diorama Theatre will take eight Off-West End shows to New York’s 59E59 Theaters for a 10-week season this spring.
Founded in 2004, the annual festival runs from April 14 to June 28 across 59E59’s three spaces. Shows for the 2020 season include New Diorama Theatre’s The Incident Room, Silent Uproar’s A Super Happy Story, FullRogue Theatre’s Wild Swimming, Breach Theatre’s It’s True It’s True It’s True, The Thelmas’ Ladykiller, the Original Theatre Company’s The Habit of Art, Kandinsky’s Dinomania, and BoonDog Theatre’s Orlando.
59E59 Theaters gives emerging and established not-for-profit theatre companies subsidised rental space as well as production, marketing and press support. The venue also runs East to Edinburgh, an annual Edinburgh Fringe Preview Festival that takes place in July.
New Diorama artistic director David Byrne says: “The collaboration came about when 59E59’s artistic director Val Day programmed our in-house show Secret Life of Humans as part of Brits Off Broadway 2018.”
“Val and the team, as it turned out, were big fans of what we’ve been doing at NDT and much of the work we’ve commissioned. So it felt like a great idea to look at co-curating a season together, to bring a cohort of New Diorama-supported work to audiences in New York.”
True to its vision, 59E59 offers one of the best deals in New York for British companies wanting to present their work Off-Broadway. It handles and pays for all press and marketing, while it splits the box office with artists until the low venue hire is met, and the artists retain the rest.
For this season, New Diorama is taking some of the risk, making it possible for more ambitious artistic shows to be part of the line-up. There’s a mixture of grant support, cash-flow loans for upfront costs – being paid back out of the box office at the end of the festival – and sharing resources. Arts Council England is also supporting some of the costs.
“We wanted this to feel like a true cross-section of work happening in the UK today,” says Byrne. “In my experience, New York audiences don’t get to see the sort of work we’re so great at making in the UK. Thanks to our dual focus on formal innovation and attracting audiences, we make some insanely great, experimental theatre that has broad appeal. In America, there’s often a big gulf between the live art scene and the ‘well made’ Broadway play.”
‘In America, there’s often a big gulf between the live art scene and the ‘well made’ Broadway play’ – New Diorama artistic director David Byrne
During the season, NDT will work with the British Council and 59E59 to ensure each artist gets their work seen by programmers and commissioners in the US, with an interest in building longer-term relationships.
Byrne is mindful of the significant cost and visa challenges of taking shows over to the US. “There’s no way around it. It’s always expensive and risky to undertake big projects like this, but increasingly we’re looking internationally to fix hurdles that we’re experiencing at home. Our best artists have the talent, theatre and ambition to take their work to truly global audiences. They just need NDT’s help to get there. And we’re already working on making it happen.
“The way I look at it, this is an unmissable opportunity for our artists. Is it a big risk? Absolutely. Are our artists worth that risk? You bet they are.”
Brits Off Broadway festival is at 59E59 Theaters in New York from April 14 to June. Details: 59e59.org