Although I’m a playwright, I’ve been focusing a lot on producing this week in the hopes that what I’ve learned as a producer can be helpful to playwrights who are tired of sitting around waiting for someone to make the production magic happen for them. I’m going to continue on that thread today as I talk about the unfortunate brain melt that so often happens when we talk about space.
When I’m talking to a playwright about the hurdles of producing, unless they have an ‘in’ at a theatre company, the conversation inevitably begins to circle the panic-drain of “BUT I DON’T HAVE A SPACE!”, because when you consider the fact that most theaters/art galleries charge pretty hefty fees to rent their spaces, a lot of aspiring new producers get cut off at the knees before they’ve even started, and head back desk or day job, defeated.
But when the dollar signs start flashing red and you feel the panic rising, just remind yourself of this simple truth: you don’t need a theater space to make theatre happen!
I’m not sure exactly when it occurs, but somewhere along the route to professionalism, many of us begin to adopt this weird attitude that theatre needs to happen in a theatrically appointed space, and anything else is just… unprofessional, and… ewwwww!
When did we turn into such catty teenagers?
I agree, production-wise, a dedicated theater is a much easier place to work: the lights, the sound equipment, the dressing rooms and fixed seats… all of those things make life easier when you’re producing a show. But they’re not the end all be all to making theatre happen. I’ve seen vivid and exciting theatre happen in living rooms, in parks, at restaurants, in civic auditoriums, and in old abandoned warehouses – and each time it’s been a unique and awesome experience!
The trick is in knowing your space ahead of time, so that you can match your production goals to your resources and select a play (or collection of short plays) that will work in the space you’re using. For instance: living room plays are great fun, but they only work if you select small cast pieces that can be put up around a coffee table, TV stand, book shelves, and whatever else homey obstacles your hosts may have present. It’s also important that they can be performed comfortably for a handful of people sitting within inches of the actors – I saw a very sexually charged piece done this way once and I just couldn’t get over the fact that two strangers were dry humping six-inches away from my face! And sure, you can’t do a piece with a million different locations/light cues because there’s no light board to play with and you can’t load in flats… but each of those Don’ts is an opportunity to seek out what can and will work. So you pick something small, something intimate, something that is transportable, engaging, and good in the close-up, and you make it happen.
So what does this have to do with what we do over here at Little Black Dress INK? Well, for those of you who don’t know, we rely completely on Partner Producers to present readings of our semi-finalists – I wish I could afford to put our female playwrights on tour, but I just can’t (my superstitious side is telling me to include the waiver “yet”). So instead I rely on these awesome Partner Producers—who are actors, writers, and directors themselves— to bring our festival to their cities in the best way possible for them, which means that each reading is unique and personal to them.
This year our semi-finalist readings took place at an art gallery, a teaching studio, and a university, as well as a few very cool theatre spaces, and our final two readings will happen in “unconventional” locations as well; a public park and at Samuel French’s Los Angeles Bookshop. I love these unique spaces – they add a flavor all their own to the readings and add to the conversational atmosphere after the readings are over.
And yes, when we get to production in Prescott, we’ll be putting the shows up in an actual theatre – but if we didn’t have one, I’d have still made the fest happen somehow.
The point I’m going for is this: Playwrights are traditionally rich in imagination, but poor in actual cash-money. Unless you get a theatre to back your production (or find a patron of the arts to fund you), production expenses can add up fast. Space doesn’t have to be the huge obstacle it so often is! You can make just about any space work if you put your creative juices to work making the most of the resources you have available to you. And if all you have is the back room at your local bookstore and some gumption, then why not recruit some like-minded folks and create a reading series? You never know where it could lead, or how good it will feel just to be making something happen.