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NY Acting Markets: Unusual Venues

Opportunity is where you find it, and many New York performers create their own work—literally outside the black box—when they find the conventional acting markets too crowded. The city is uniquely suited for performances in unconventional spaces—including libraries, parks, restaurants, cafés, even alleys and subway stations.

"I'm a big believer in street theater, and getting work seen," says Brooke Volkert, an actor whose body of work includes benefit performances in conjunction with aWe Creative Group. "I've gotten great crowds at Grand Central Station and am working on a show I fully intend to perform in alleys around Astor Place. Visibility is key, and if you're working on something you're passionate about, don't let lack of theater space stop you."

Some artists prefer "found" or unusual spaces for certain projects, because the unconventional nature of the space helps to inform and heighten the work in a way that a traditional venue wouldn't. "A play of mine, 'The Little Secrets,' was done a couple of years ago in an underground bank vault in Lower Manhattan," says playwright Rob Grace, who produced the work with director Shana Gozansky. "The space came to us from the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council in the form of a space grant. The underground, abandoned bank vault space helped bring to life the fantastical and intimate elements that Shana and I had ingrained in the text. Shana and the rest of the creative team played with ways to fuse the action with the space: A vault in the corner became the bedroom; a large steel safe toward the back wall became the kitchen cabinet…. In the end, most audience members were left with the impression that the piece had been created specifically for the space."

For projects that require audience interaction, finding the perfect unconventional venue may be more of a challenge. "We look for interesting, out-of-the-way spots that you may not be aware of in the first place," says Tom Salamon, artistic director of AccompliceNY, Accomplice: The Village, and Accomplice: Hollywood, interactive theater events that send the audience on a journey through the streets of the city. Armed with a few initial bits of information, they go on a mission, aided by clues and mysterious cast members placed at locations such as street corners, bars, shops, and seedy alleys. Due to the nature of the show, owners of the various stops along the way have to be willing to participate and develop a kind of symbiotic relationship with the project.

"After we find our dream places, we go in there and talk to them about whether or not they want to participate in this kind of thing," Salamon says. "All these places have their own business, their own agendas; they have to be willing to play along. We just try to work it out so it's a mutually beneficial arrangement. And we're bringing a lot of exposure to those places, and at the same time they're letting us do our thing. Once we have a relationship with these guys, they're super-accommodating to us, because they feel like it's a good thing for them too."

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