Because of its small size, low-budget atmosphere and ability to configure the stage and seating differently for each show, a black box theater represents a certain kind of freedom and risk taking. This proved irresistible to actor and former Pilobolus dancer Joshua Perl and in 2010, he set about building a black box space in Bridgehampton to house his theater company, Naked Stage, more recently renamed the Hamptons Independent Theater Festival, or HITFest.
Perl has run Naked Stage since the early aughts, developing the company out of play readings held at Stony Brook University’s Southampton campus (where he received his MFA in creative writing). The readings soon moved to East Hampton’s Guild Hall, but when that became too pricey he knew it was time for HITFest to have a home of its own.
Since then, the company has been offering an annual outdoor Shakespeare festival in Bridgehampton High School’s backyard—and, in its Bridge @BHCH black box home, full stagings of Tennessee Williams’ little-known In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel and William Mastrosimone’s rape/revenge drama, Extremities. “My goal is to produce and promote thoughtful, provocative work. I’m not interested in doing, say, Private Lives. I don’t want to say we’re cutting edge, because that’s a trite phrase, but I like work that pushes forward the idea of what can be done in a play,” Perl says.
As such, Perl’s next project, running May 9-26, is the brilliant comedy, In the Next Room (or the vibrator play), about a doctor who accidentally discovers that his machine for curing women’s pain ends up creating a certain kind of pleasure. “We did a reading about two years ago,” says Perl. “And we read two other Sarah Ruhl plays. Her language is just so gorgeous, and there’s not a wasted moment. A beautiful writer.”
Still, doing a play with “vibrator” in the title has its economic realities. “We have one major sponsor, a vineyard, who have been incredibly supportive, especially when we do our outdoor Shakespeares. But since we’re funded show-by-show, they’re not involved with this one,” Perl admits. Although their participation will be missed, Perl and HITFest executive director Peter Zablotsky expect the production to break even from ticket sales, ad revenue, private donors and other funding streams. “We’re a non-profit with a lot of sweat equity,” Perl says. “It’s a model that’s worked out for us.”
Black box theater started in 1960s college towns, based on the austere look of a theater company practice space.