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Tony Awards 2010 Special Interview: Ginny Louloudes

Today, we continue our series of Special Interviews with the recipients of the 2010 Tony Hnors for Excellence in Theatre with arts advocate Ginny Louloudes and the National Alliance of Resident Theatres/New York (ART/NY)

Arts advocate and head of ART/NY, Ginny Louloudes is receiving a special Tony Award on behalf of ART/NY to honor their twenty-year career fighting for the rights many feel should be inalienable to artists, yet their plight continues to this day. In this interview she explains to us what she does and how she has accomplished so much over the years in her truly amazing career of arts advocacy and service to the theater community at large.

Children & ART/NY

PC: Could you tell me what ART/NY does?

GL: Sure. We were founded originally primarily to raise the visibility of off-off-Broadway and to make sure off-off-Broadway was getting enough government funding. That certainly branched out tremendously. The theatres have grown from off-off-Broadway category. Some are even on Broadway. Some of the original members were Manhattan Theatre Club, Classic Stage Company, Studio En Espanol, and some have remained small. We have a really diverse constituency. We have the only revolving real-estate loan fund. We've made four million dollars in loans for capital projects. We were given a grant from a foundation for a million dollars that we had to match. We have a revolving cash-flow loan fund that our members borrow from us when they are in pre-production because oftentimes you spend money before you make it. So, we're sort of an amalgam in that we are many things to many members.

PC: Definitely.

GL: We also own a building in Brooklyn and have a twenty-year lease on a space in the fashion district and those are shared offices and rehearsal studios

PC: Oh, like an 890 Broadway type place ala Michael Bennett.

GL: Yes, exactly, except we have twenty-five offices....

PC: Wow, that's a lot of offices!

GL: We have twenty-five offices in the Manhattan space plus four anchor tenants. A.R.T. New York, Anne Bogart's Company, The Drama League, Arts Connection, National Alliance of Musical Theaters, National Guild of Community Schools For The Arts. Then we have smaller tenants - one-, two- or three-people offices - as well. Then we have five studios we run and Anne has a studio she sometimes rent out and there's another studio someone else rents out.

PC: There must be some wild stuff going on in Anne Bogart's studio!

GL: A lot of stomping.

PC: She's so creative and unique. She's sort of the David Lynch of theatre.

GL: She also has the Suzuki method of involved stomping... It's a certain kind of stomping. I'm not quite sure. I've seen them do it. I think it involves focus. It's an amazing studio. That's our Manhattan building, it's called Spaces at 520 because it's at 520 5th Avenue.

PC: What a prime location.

GL: In Brooklyn, our South-Oxford space, we bought for 1.25 million in 2000. It's this beautiful 1929 federal-style building, five stories, it was the original headquarters of the Visiting Nurses Association of Brooklyn. They built it so the top-floor was an apartment so the executive director and it had a bedroom, a bathroom, a nice-sized living room, a kitchen...

PC: You should have that office!

GL: Yeah, really! Well, two theaters have those offices! One theater's office is the kitchen, and the other theater's office is the bedroom and the living room and they both share the private bathroom. So, we have twenty-two theaters there plus two rehearsal studios and two meeting rooms.

PC: Twenty two theaters?!

GL: Yeah, it's a huge office building.

PC: It's like a multiplex of studio theaters!

GL: We kept the original architecture in the offices, too. The new art was commissioned by Brooklyn artists in the center hallways on Level 3.

PC: So what exactly is your job in all of this?

GL: For like fifty of my members I'm their landlord. For a number of our members we're their banker. For a number of our members, we're their funder because we have a program where we give grants away.

PC: For people out there, how do you apply for a grant?

GL: Well, you have to be a member first. One thing I'm especially proud of is for groups who have just started their theatres and we educate them on how to do a budget, how to write a grant proposal, how to write an annual fund letter, how to do your own publicity, how to get an audience, when you need to hire an accountant and what you need to look for. Our offices are like a learning annex here, especially at nights an on weekends. For example, this afternoon we have a Part Two on Growing Audiences taking place. So, a lot of theaters come here for workshops. Then, we have technical assistantship programs. We also provide really wonderful consultants for theaters who are dealing with the challenges that come with growth - or, in the case of the current economy - the challenges that come with traction.

PC: Or depletion.

GL: Right. We just got a one hundred and fifty thousands dollars from the Rockefeller Foundation/NYC Culture Stabilization Fund and we're trying to develop new models to help theaters deal with this new economic reality. How can theaters produce given that there's probably going to be less expendable income, that there's going to be less available from contributions, so how do we deal with it? So, it's a two-year project that we started. We got the money in November. We have one track called Theaters Leading Change where we have a group of theaters who are sort of our test and we're seeing how they adjust. We set up a website for them, and they're going to be blogging and they're going to be working with one of two consultants on issues and challenges. I also work with my development office on raising money and I also have a lot of grant proposals I'm working on now. One is to get some NYU Graduate students to work with us in establishing financial models as we look toward the future.

PC: And what do you see audiences asking for from theaters in the future?

GL: People are going to look for value. What we're seeing in the theatre is that people want an experience.

PC: If they pay $140 they want to remember it forever.

GL: Most of our member tickets are significantly less than that, but, yes, on Broadway that's true.

PC: Hopefully there's a new generation breaking through, but it seems like people in positions of power don't want to let change happen.

GL: The audience goes where they want to go. You can't make someone buy a ticket to a show. People are going to have to change. I mean, I just saw THE ELABORATE ENTRANCE OF CHAD DIETY. It's so good. Unbelievable. And talk about experiential! You know, you feel like you're at this place watching these guys in a boxing ring. You feel like you're at the WWF! And I brought my thirteen-year-old son and his friend, and the usher said to me "We want to put them in the front, we want young people in the front." And my son was all excited because the guy who plays Chad Diety grabbed the girl sitting next to him and started dancing with her. Then, in the second act, Chad Diety comes and throws Chad Diety dollars in the air so we grabbed some and later on Chad Diety grabbed a dollar from my son's hand and ripped it in half. They got so into the show. That's what I mean by experiential. It broke the fourth wall. They really made you feel like you were in the ring.

PC: It sounds like the revival of THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW with the bag of tricks. The boa and newspaper and confetti...

GL: Right, right. People like that and it's fun! It doesn't cost much. People want it to feel like an event.

PC: People want to connect. Look at 3D and how it's caught on in movies so fast. We want our entertainment to reach out and touch us. How can theatre compete with that? 3D sets like WOMAN IN WHITE and soon, supposedly, SPIDERMAN?

GL: Off-Broadway is where innovation starts. I've seen some unbelievably imaginative stuff off-off Broadway.

PC: What is your proudest accomplishment working with ART/NY?

GL: I first learned about ART/NY in 1983 when I started working at the Manhattan Theatre Club as their marketing director. They used to have these roundtable discussions where the developing marketing directors of theaters would get together to discuss issues. Finally, Barry said to me, "You really should go to these meetings. They're really worthwhile." And he was right. I was meeting colleagues, finding people I could go to for advice. So, I continued to be very active in ART/NY... And then the executive director left and I thought, "That job would be perfect for me!" I thought if I wrote one more subscription brochure I'd shoot myself.

PC: (Laughs.) Right?

GL: It's not that I don't believe in subscriptions or brochures it's just that there's only so many ways you can make it different. I wanted a challenge. So, this job has really been perfect for me because I get to use my marketing knowledge, but it stretches me because I've always had an interest in politics and this organization really wanted to be at the table. It's a benefit of my having been here for nineteen years that I've made so many connections. Like Tom Duane, I've known him for twenty years. It's about activism and helping theaters get their voices heard. How do you get people's intention? How do you get the result you want? How do you get them to choose your cause? That caused a lot of strategic building, relationship building and forming trust. I think it helps that I came from a working class background. My father was an entrepreneur. He bought a Grand Union and converted it into a catering hall. He cut out the middleman as much as possible. You know, he did his own linens, he'd get his own produce... So, my idea about shared spaces came from his thinking: cutting out the middleman.

PC: Oh, really?

GL: Instead of having fifty groups looking for small office spaces - where no broker is going to pay attention to you if you want ninety-nine square feet - have one person take on twenty-five thousand in one building and buy another building and create the offices for them. Give them one kitchen they can all use, a fax machine, a Xerox machine, Wi-fi. Share the resources.

PC: A community of artists, like Michael Bennett always wanted.

GL: Yeah, I can see it with my own eyes on my way to the ladies' room everyday!

PC: Lastly, what does winning a Tony mean to you?

GL: It's validation.

PC: And because of you, artists are validated. Thank you.

GL: Thank you so much, it's been wonderful.


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