#3 The Play’s the Thing – Selecting the Work
by Guest Blogger Anna Nicholas
In the wild, lions rule and don’t care if others like the way they take down big game. But in the small, equity-waiver theatre world most of us frequent, once you decide to self-produce, you need other people. It’s one of the best things about doing it—the collaboration. But putting on a play is expensive so at the onset the artist part of you needs to have a conversation with the practical side (yes, you have one). The play really is “the thing.” If you are not in a theatre company that has a built in support network, you need to choose a show that will attract a good director, actors, co-producers, and designers, which will also ideally find an enthusiastic audience. I’m not in the school of artists who say the work is enough. We write/act/create to connect with others and if we can’t get people to see our art, then we’ve failed in that little piece of why we make it. The main reason we make art—because we are compelled to—in this, we’ll never fail.
Whether you’re an actor, director or playwright with a couple of scripts to choose from—you need to select the play that is most likely to achieve your desired end. Is it to get an agent? Is it to get good reviews or to develop a Google presence? Actress/Producer/Director Deidra Edwards was smart when she decided to self-produce, casting herself in Neil LaBute’s Fat Pig. She was right for the role and she selected a play/playwright with a big following.
My goal was to restart my career after early success, which I’d abandoned to raise my son. I also wanted to have fun. In retrospect, these goals were not enough and were motivated too much by emotion rather than any sort of business sense.
Of the two plays I thought were ready, one was a four-character dramedy about an Apollo astronaut with Alzheimer’s and the other, a ten-character murder mystery farce called Villa Thrilla—very different shows that would speak to very different audiences. To help me decide, I consulted friends, fellow playwrights and others in the industry and it was generally agreed that without a known actor starring as the astronaut, the astronaut play would be the harder sell. It would be difficult to put an uplifting positive spin on the story so that people would come see an unknown, in a play by an unknown. So I went with the farce, which was beset with its own set of hurdles: a cast of ten and more expensive set, which would require a larger theatre. Looking back, with the issues we faced, I might as well have tossed a coin. And speaking of coin, the next post will be about getting the money together.