Skip to main content

How to Mount a Play in 8 Weeks - Hey Onicia

How to mount a play in 8 weeks - Hey Onicia



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.

8 Tips for Mounting a Play in 8 Weeks


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.

DOCUMENT IT

“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.





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.
Want more tips for being a creative professional? SubscribeFREE RESOURCESBuy me ice cream. Share.

Popular posts from this blog

'The Haven' using Web Series to Launch Chicago TV Pilot - Women in Film

What do you do when you have an original TV pilot that explores a world and characters different from traditional Hollywood scripts? You do like Mia McCullough and Elizabeth Laidlaw and create a web series!
THE HAVEN is a web series covering an extensive period in the lives of the clients and staff of a domestic violence center. The staff forms the main cast. The clients are secondary characters. 

Web series is a great storytelling tool for exploring characters and worlds. Compared to a TV show, these short format made-for-the-web productions often require fewer resources to produce. These scripts, which are usually under 30 minutes/pages, allow screenwriters to tell stories by and about underrepresented communities. Best of all, the finished content is immediately available to that community — #RepresentationMatters. 

Mia and co-producer Elizabeth Laidlaw knew that if developed and produced in the traditional Hollywood/LA-focused system, the project would likely evolve into something t…

Winnifred Jong’s “Tokens on Call” is a Masterclass in Woke Storytelling - Women in Film

You know a series is great when you feel the same or more excitement when watching it a second time around. I had to wait about two years, but Tokens was worth the wait. Winnifred Jong’s Tokens is a masterclass in woke storytelling.

As a viewer, Tokens was a fun ride with lots of surprises and instantly lovable characters. Jong’s storytelling is educational without feeling like an afterschool special.

As a screenwriter, I was confronted with all the tired tropes that I’d picked up and unintentionally repeating in my work. Rewatching the series was a great study in how to flip the script on race and gender issues without being heavy-handed or preachy.

In the eight 5-minute episodes were featured multiple storylines that came together for a fresh and fun viewing experience. I wish there were more Bettys (Shelley Thompson) in the casting world.

After watching the series, I daydreamed about how much more exciting the storytelling world would be if there were more diversity in gender, rac…

Stories About Stories - Onicia Update - April 2019

I'm alive and writing. Since my last letter, I've been diligently collecting stories about stories. Confused? Let me explain.
Writing is more than the time spent actively stringing words together. Ideas are planted and explored during seemingly mundane activities within our daily lives; waiting at the bus stop, washing dishes, or even while zoning out during a sermon.
I started drafting a "Hey Onicia" about my story journey, the process of taking a project from idea to writing the first sentences of the first draft. I abandoned finishing that article because I don't want to block my creative flow by pausing to analyze the process when I'm knee deep in it. I would, but I've been dealing with tendonitis in both hands and therefore have to be intentional about how I use my hands. 
Shoveling mounds of ice cream? YES! Writing a newsletter? NAH! Shouting into the Twitter void? NAH! Writing letters to friends? YES!
So yeah,  tendonitis and other life changes ar…