NEW YORK — Theater history is about to repeat itself.
The League of American Theaters and Producers and the Theater Communications Group is planning a follow-up to the legendary First American Congress of Theater (FACT) held in June 1974.
Ben Cameron, executive director of TCG, commented on that earlier conference and why the time is right for a second one in 2000: “It was the sole attempt on a national basis to bring together the not-for-profit and profit worlds (of theater) to talk in the same room at the same time,” Cameron said of FACT. “Both (league president) Jed Bernstein and I realized when we came into our respective jobs that, with the change in the world, it is now time to have that conversation again. This is an attempt to bring those two sectors together in a way that hasn’t been attempted in 25 years.”
To be called Act Two, the 2000 conference is scheduled for mid-June in Cambridge, Mass. Cameron and a spokesman for the league said that the two orgs were in the “formative stage” with the project, which doesn’t yet have a final agenda or list of delegates and panelists. Even the Act Two logo is still being designed. Will it emerge as Act Two, 2 or possibly even II?
The earlier FACT conference was spearheaded by producer Alexander H. Cohen, currently bringing Noel Coward’s “Waiting in the Wings” to Broadway. Held in Princeton, N.J., over a four-day period, FACT called together 224 American theater practitioners, ranging from David Merrick and Bernard Jacobs to Judith Malina and Julian Beck.
“At the time, there appeared to be an impending marriage between the Broadway commercial institutions and the not-for-profit institutions throughout the country, which I thought would be a benefit to the theater generally,” Cohen recalled. “Up until that time, they were merely just enemies. Nobody ever tried out a Broadway play in a regional theater. That was beneath us all.”
However, the trend of transferring productions from not-for-profit institutional theaters to commercial venues had already begun. In the early 1970s, such Broadway productions as “Indians,” “Sticks and Bones” and “The River Niger” began at the Arena Stage, the Public Theater and the Negro Ensemble Company, respectively.
Today, commercial producers routinely bring projects and enhancement money to not-for-profit theaters, where plays and musicals often receive their world premieres prior to a possible for-profit run elsewhere.
FACT has taken its place in the history books for several reasons. For instance, a young journalist attended all four days of the conference, covering its speakers and panels in detail for the New York Times. His name: Rocco Landesman, now president of Jujamcyn Theaters.