John Chatterton, created the Midtown International Theatre Festival (MITF) in 2000, a Midtown alternative to other theatre festivals, as a way to present the finest Off-Off Broadway talent in convenience, comfort, and safety. This year's festival will once again take place at 312 West 36th Street (The Abingdon Arts Complex/Workshop Theaters) from July 15-August 4. For shows and tickets be sure to visit http://www.midtownfestival.org.
1. Who or what made you want to start the Midtown International Theatre Festival? I was publishing OOBR ("the off-off-broadway review") when FringeNYC was founded. One of my writers said, "Someone should start a Midtown Fringe festival." Of course, no one did, so a couple years later I did it. I'm an irrepressible theatrical entrepreneur and can't resist an opportunity.
2. What has it been like to watch the festival grow to what it is today? Stressful? Exhilarating? Satisfying? I knew 14 years ago I was onto something, so I've mainly had to see that I followed my strategic vision without making any fatal mistakes.
3. What has been the most rewarding aspect of running the Midtown International Theatre Festival? What challenges have you faced over the years? People start businesses with strategic visions that usually prove to be an illusion. I started the MITF knowing that theatre-rental costs were going up faster than inflation, so if I offered producers a chance to mount plays for considerably less than it would cost on their own, I'd be successful. I've been wrong about a lot of things but not this. A successful business plan is intellectually (and financially) satisfying.
The challenges have been to get the capital together every year, manage cash flow, and keep reinventing the company with new people (though our turnover has been a lot less than some festivals).
4. How do you decide which productions you accept to the festival? What is your favorite part of this process? I have 3 artistic directors who curate the shows. We don't have committees, so I let them choose whatever stirs their passions. I also curate all the one-acts, keeping me in touch with the process. I think this is my favorite part of it. Curating the one-acts is a year-round process, linked to the Short Play Lab (every month in season) and the Midwinter Madness Short Play Festival.
5. What is your future vision for the festival? I want to be bigger than NYMF and at least half the size of FringeNYC.
6. If you could have any playwright, director, producer, or performer be in the Midtown International Theatre Festival, who would you choose? We've had famous people in the Festival. They've been known to ride roughshod over the rest of us. Next year I want to have a commercial division (a separate venue devoted to 5-6 shows with commercial ambitions), so we'll see. As for any particular person, nah, I'm not going there. A new Stoppard play, maybe. Any of a dozen or so Broadway producers who return my phone calls.
7. In addition to being the executive director of the Midtown International Theatre Festival, you are also a playwright, have produced several Off-Broadway shows, and run a rehearsal/theatre complex. What do you get from these other endeavors that you do not get from being the executive director? All this stuff shares my drive as a theatrical entrepreneur. I was also going to start an entertainment-insurance company, but issues of health intervened. Maybe I'll start a play-publishing company specializing in short plays that have appeared in my festivals.
As for being executive producer of the MITF, what I like about it is I force myself to delegate as much stuff as possible, though I haven't given up curating the one-acts and I'm back as editor of the Festabill and brochure. I like the idea that my only duty after the Festival starts is to see all the plays. It's a blast!
8. What's the best advice you've ever received? "Don't go into the humanities -- stick with Chemistry!" Unfortunately, I didn't follow it. Seriously, Dale Carnegie's "How to Win Friends And Influence People." Followed very closely by Robert J. Ringer's "Winning Through Intimidation."
9. What have you learned about yourself from your various careers? I'm observant, clever, patient, flexible, fair, and I can take a punch. Also impulsive, over-confident, too trusting, not the most organized, and incautious.
10. If you could have any super power, which one would you choose? X-ray vision. I could be the greatest poker player in the world. But that would be cheating.
More on John:
In 2003, the MITF moved its activities to their current location, the Theatre Building on W. 36th St., where it has been successfully ensconced since. In 2008 the Festival expanded from two theatres in that building to four, at the WorkShop Theater Company and Abingdon Theatre Company spaces. The MITF’s artistic emphasis is on the script itself, and therefore the Festival focuses on effective but minimal production values.
In addition to MITF, John started OOBR ("the off-off-broadway review") in 1993. John has also run a rehearsal studio/theatre complex, Where Eagles Dare; produced Off-Broadway; and is a playwright. He also runs the Short Play Lab and the Midwinter Madness Short Play Festival.