John Chatterton: Retired but Not Resting
John Chatterton has always been a pioneer, paving his way. He recently retired as the executive producer of the Midtown International Theatre Festival (MITF), which he created in 2000. John continued in that position until his retirement at the end of the 2017 season. John was inspired to start the festival while working on the Off-Off- Broadway Review, or OOBR, which he created in 1993. The publication covered Off- Off-Broadway shows and became more visible and important in 1995, the year John moved from New Jersey to Greenwich Village because of his hankering to do theatre. Although he was a computer programmer at the time, theatre has always been his passion. He says, “When I was in grade school, I was in a play, some kind of a comedy, and I tripped over my shoelace, and everyone laughed. So, I did it again. That’s when I discovered that I really love theater.”
When John got to experience the New York Fringe Festival, and one of his writers on OOBR said that someone should start a Midtown Fringe Festival, John was inspired. He also knew that no one else would do it, so he took it upon himself. He said of the start of the festival, “I thought it would be a great way to promote me and OOBR, and there was an obvious need for it.” John says that he tried to see as many plays at MITF as he could. He saw many incredible shows and says that usually, the simpler the sets were, the better the show was. One fond memory he has of a show was an all-female production of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. There were very few props used, and John vividly remembers the scene that took place on a boat. He says, “they created a weird, eerie impression that they were on a boat.” “This was done with no fancy costumes, no nothing. The setup was 15 minutes; the striking was 15 minutes; I think they had one drum. I don’t know how they did it; it was magical. And magic is what it’s about in the theatre. There were many, many other moments where they did something magical with scenery. The general level of acting and directing was pretty high.” He says that he got a lot of feedback from people who were grateful for the opportunity that the Festival gave them to showcase their work.
John experienced many setbacks over the years while finding theaters to host MITFs, such as theaters backing out last minute, the theaters being in bad condition, having a long-term assistant quit, and losing money. But nothing could stop his passion and determination for the Festival for all the 18 years of its existence. The final straw was when his Technical Director had an accident on the job and took John to Workers’ Compensation Court. The expenses caused him too much grief, as he had been financing the festival out of his own pocket, and no longer had the money to support it. John sold his house to pay the bills, bought a car, and drove to Florida, where he is now spending his retirement. He received a plaque from Theater Resources Unlimited to acknowledge his hard work over the years, which he thinks of fondly.
It is John’s exhaustive experience that makes his advice for aspiring theater professionals so invaluable. He says, “It’s a tough world out there, you better start early. If you start as soon as you get out of college and have a theatre degree, then you have the physical energy needed to do all that work. Training is a good idea, and you gotta keep training. You got to find a teacher, and good teachers are not easy to find. All that auditioning, being in showcases, working to raise money to live, and taking classes is a lot, and not many people make it… it’s just the way it is.”
John said in his retirement announcement, “I have lots of energy and ideas left. Also, an increasing urge to travel the world, starting with a farewell tour down the East Coast to Florida.” Although he has no set plans for the future at this time, he is still full of ideas and passion. He says that he would like to move from Winter Haven to Fort Lauderdale or Miami because “they’ve been through tough times with the virus, and I’m sure there’s room for somebody to start a small theatre festival there.” He is currently working on publishing a musical that he wrote called, “Frankenstein the Musical Drama.” He feels obligated to get the score cleaned up and get it out there because his late friend of over 50 years had wanted him to. John had promised him that he would get it done, and after he passed, he felt obligated to finish it, as a tribute to his dear friend.
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