Tired of getting rejected by theaters? How about you just produce your own play? If you have about three grand, you can mount a mostly black-box show featuring 4 actors in eight weeks. You can even splurge for a director and stage manager. I highly recommend hiring them since you’ll be the producer, accountant, marketing manager, caterer, etc. You can produce your own staged production for less than money, but I always recommend paying artists. Here are 8 tips for mounting a play in 8 weeks.
Hey Onicia is a series where I tap into my type-A side and answer questions from my friends about this starving artist life. If you find this helpful, share with your twitter homies or thank me with ice cream. Want to chat or collaborate? Holla at me!
SHIT AND GET OFF THE POT
I am guilty of agonizing over scene actions and set descriptions. When I get tunnel vision, I shout “Onicia, just finish it. FINISH SHIT!” The theater is a collaborative art. The script will evolve during rehearsals and the actual performances! So finish writing your shit and MOVE ON. Strive to write a quality play, but don’t let dreams of awards or perfection cripple you from actually writing. Getting a ‘hit’ is partly a numbers game. So, release some of the pressure by setting the bar low and complete a draft.
SPELL CHECK AND DOUBLE CHECK
While your script can be workshopped to death, what can’t be ‘done to death’ is spell checking. First impressions are a one-shot deal. Early in my career, I was asked to write a script. I busted out a hot 30-page pilot and they were ready to go straight to shooting. They did not want to spend any time developing my script even when I asked for feedback. My friend advised not to go forward with this opportunity. This was the best advice.
Your story may be in a ‘rough draft,’ your document shouldn’t be. Anyone – actor, director, theater – willing to sign-on to a project where the basic proposal is sloppy will give you sloppy work.
DO THE ADMIN: MAKE A BUDGET
“Vague goals deliver vague results.” Projects go over budget and schedule because there are too many unknown unknowns. You need to be aware of -- or at minimum prepare for -- the unknowns. If you have $10K, allocate 10-20% to miscellaneous expenses. For props and marketing materials, estimate spending 10-15% more than the price listed online. It will feel better to be able to splurge on catering opening night versus going without props.
DO THE ADMIN: WATCH THE CLOCK AND ADJUST
Seriously, do the admin. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. With eight weeks to put on a show, you want to spend as much of that time in rehearsals.
Problem: actors can’t commit to your project if you don’t have performance dates and you can’t have dates without a location. The graphic shows the order in which things happened to me.
This ordering is not a hard rule. In fact, you will have to take leaps of faith. Keep adjusting your expectations for time, money, and quality until you find workable solutions.
HIRE THE DIAMONDS IN THE ROUGH
You probably don’t have the funds to produce both a fully-staged show and hire top-quality cast and crew. Still, artists should be compensated and paying audiences should get good bang for their buck. Compromise: hire talent that is less experienced, but ‘got dat fire’. If you can’t afford the inexperienced, supplement low pay with real things (e.g., audition them first for future paid projects, recommend them to other industry contacts, or support their future work and side hustles.)
HAVE A BACKUP
Most of my accomplishments are digitally archived. I am religious about backing my work up. I save and organize current files on my computer. I have a special folder for emails I could delete, but choose to keep for at least one year.
I also have two external hard drives. One I use for monthly archiving the other I backup every 3-6 months.
You’ll also need back up plans and people. You have to adapt and think creatively. Learn to do some of the technical aspects of your show in case a crew member is sick. Have the crew double as understudies.
USE YOUR IMAGINATION
You are a playwright. Your creative writing degree gives you license to operate big dreams and lofty imaginations. Be creative with your budget. Double casting. Craigslist. Thrift stores. Return bought items.
Laughter is infectious. Audiences can’t get infected if they’re sitting 3 seats away from the next person. Bad: reserve a 500-seat theater and have to go light on the props. Good: fill a 50-seat theater and risk having to turn away patrons. If all the theater spaces are booked, do like the Living Room Playmakers and find alternative locations.
“Hiatus” is the fourth phase of my creative cycle. This is the sad and rough time between the highs of seeing the final product and lows of searching for inspiration – and courage – to start a new project. In this hiatus period, all my accomplishments seem small. I worry that I won't top myself or have another half-decent idea. Depression. Jealousy. All around, not good times.
The fix: I read old diary entries and press releases, look at photos, read screenshots of Facebook comments and text messages. Set a timer, revel in your past glory and respect past accomplishments, and then MOVE ON.
Also, having documentation of your work quantifies your resume. Showing always trumps telling.
What do you think? Tweet me questions using #HeyOnicia
I'm a creative with type-A tendencies who tried working in a call center but realized I'd rather help creatives get organized. I'm pimping out all my marketable skills to fund my art and ice cream habit.