Martin Denton: A Conversation

mddbwJust in case you haven’t heard the news,  Martin Denton is closing up shop. He announced on August 31st that he and Rochelle are retiring from the business of theatre. Our community was in shock and sad but grateful and supportive. The Dentons have been an integral part of the independent theatre community for the last 20 years giving us the voice we so desperately needed and now definitely need.

Thank you for all you have done for our indie community for 20 years which is how long I have known of you! You and Rochelle have always been kind when we saw each other at shows. I also thank you for taking the time to chat with me.

I love everything about this statement: 1996 October – Martin Denton takes an Internet class and builds his first website, dedicated to his number one passion, the theatre. What was going on in the indie scene that sparked an interest in writing about the community?

Discovering the indie community actually came later for me. When I started nytheatre.com I was very much focused, like most people, on Broadway and off-Broadway. But I started getting invitations from smaller indie companies to review their work, and I learned that this was the work I preferred, because of the passion and risk-taking that seemed to always be inherent in it. So I made the indie community my niche, which I think was a great decision!

Where did the ideas of creating a small press and a media outlet come from?

In 1999 we saw a play called “Are We There Yet?” by Garth Wingfield at Synchronicity Space in SoHo. After the play I said to Rochelle, “That was a great play—it’s too bad that after it ends its 16-performance showcase that it will probably be forgotten. Someone ought to publish it.” And then, a few months later, we decided that WE would publish it, along with other excellent new plays from the indie theater world. We did it because it needed to be done, like so much of what we did along the way.

When and how did you connect with Elena and The NY International Fringe Festival? And how did you and your team manage to review every show?

I went to the very first FringeNYC in 1997 and loved it. The following year we reviewed it pretty extensively. In 1999, we decided to bring our first volunteer reviewers on staff and made an effort to review as much as we could (perhaps 40 or 50 shows all told). I don’t remember how we made the connection with the FringeNYC folks, but I do remember that I met John Clancy for the first time a few days before the ’99 festival, when we sat down for a few hours at the Present Company Theatorium and he went through the Program Guide with me. We just clicked with the FringeNYC folks; they became our theatrical home base. We got involved in many aspects of the festival over the years: did you know that I was the master of ceremonies of the Opening Ceremonies more times than anyone else?

As for doing the reviews of every show in the festival, as we did every year from 2002 through 2014: we did it because we had dozens of dedicated volunteers to make it happen. Each of them saw and wrote about a few shows and together we got the whole festival covered. I think they all did it because they believed in the underlying idea, that all of the shows deserved some feedback.

“Martin Denton, Martin Denton” written by Chris Harcum is a wonderful tribute to you and Rochelle. How did this charming story make it to the page then to the stage especially at the Kraine with Horse Trade?

We had dinner with Chris and his wife Aimee (who directed the play) about a year ago. At some point Chris remarked that the various anecdotes I was relating about earlier days of indie theater might make a good play, and he asked if he could create one. By about January he had a first draft, and then we were involved in fact-checking and so forth. The whole effort was entirely Chris and Aimee’s. They booked it at the Kraine, which I thought was a splendid and appropriate choice.

So what was the moment that made you say to yourself, “it’s time”.

It was when I realized there was something I wanted to do more than what I had been doing. For nearly 20 years, the NYC theater scene was the focus of almost all my energy and resources and love. But people change, and now I have discovered that I want to spend my days exercising parts of my brain that I didn’t engage with as much in the past. I am becoming a maker, particularly of Lego creations. I am writing about what I am discovering on my new blog, Second Childhood. And we’re starting a little online Lego business as well.

What are your thoughts on the future of the indie scene in New York City?

I think that there are always going to be amazing, ambitious, talented artists coming onto the scene, who will morph and evolve it as their needs and desires see fit. It’s a much tougher place to work in than it used to be, mostly because, as someone famously said, the rent is too damn high. But that won’t stop these folks from making art, and I wish them well. Oscar Hammerstein II wrote in Cinderella: “Because these daft and dewy-eyed dopes keep building up impossible hopes, impossible things are happening every day.” He was right.

Do you know how much you will be missed?

That’s a sweet question. The people we worked with over the years have actually done a pretty wonderful job of making that kind of clear, in emails and Facebook posts.

Any words of wisdom?

Do what you care about. Do what matters to you. Don’t wish that things were different, just make each moment be as close to how you want the world to be as you can. And, quoting Yoda: Either do or do not; there is no try.

One more question! I am sure you observed the ebbs and flows of the scene. What were some high points and low points in your observation?

A low point: that too many wonderful artists spend their time on social media posting about what they’re feeling rather than creating art (for example, a play) about what they’re feeling.

Too many high points to name, but a couple come to mind. One was how the community came together in a meaningful, tangible way to help each other after 9/11. Another was how the community organically evolved in the early 2000s to embrace diversity (in terms of gender identity, sexual identity, race, religion, ethnicity, etc.). There is more to do, but I loved how it just seemed to spring forth without any organizing or lobbying right after 9/11.

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