Persons of Interest Blog


Thanks for checking out the LA FPI “tag team” blog, handed off each week from one interesting female playwright to another.

Who are they?  Click Here


15 True Lines of Dialogue.

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  1. I love you.
  2. I don’t know what to say.
  3. You don’t mean that.
  4. I don’t want to know.
  5. I love you, too.
  6. I had a really great day.
  7. You suck.
  8. I love huevos rancheros.
  9. I miss her.
  10. You’re a slob.
  11. My thighs are fat.
  12. I had big dreams.
  13. The Earth is round.
  14. I love you to the Moon and back.
  15. To infinity.

 

Doing the Work

For the last six months, I’ve written in short bursts of inspiration, followed by long spells of enervation. Yet, while I have been fortunate to hear my fruits read on stage, but I am not satisfied.

Three words written to me by a Facebook friend I’ve never met resonate with me, “Do the work.”

For the last several months I’ve been suffering from another long descent into pneumonia and in digging my way back out I’ve done a lot of thinking.

For whom and what am I writing? In the writing, am I fulfilling my vision? Is that even possible in a play format? Why am I not satisfied with the outcome? If not, should I be writing in another format?

Am I writing to get attention? Am I writing because I am addicted to instant gratification? Am I writing from ambition? Am I writing to win an award? Meet a deadline?

Am I telling the story of people? Am I writing for me?

My mentor wrote me, “A play is about action. A novel describes life.”

Can a play describe action? Is action in a play always verbalized? Can a play include movement? Can a playwright write:

“DUCKY pads silently across the plank floor to him, waits. But, the old man sleeps.”

Or, is that directorial? Have I designed the set? And, is any of that allowed?

What I realized this month is that like most people, the characters I write come from some place… Acting 101: Where are you coming from?

If doing the work takes me into another or a combination of formats and down a longer road, who is it I am writing for anyway? Me. Today, I give myself permission to do the work like Erica Bennett.

The Self Production Series with Anna Nicholas: #13 Ticketing…

#13. – Butts in Seats and Selling the Tickets to Put Them There

by Guest Blogger Anna Nicholas

A playwright friend told me a story about how her first play was a week from opening when she realized they hadn’t accounted for how tickets were going to be sold. That’s TOO LATE! Once you’re in rehearsals (and regardless of how they’re going) you should already be selling them, or at least figuring out how to.

There are lots of ways to sell tickets; too many, really. So, if your budget allows, this is where you might be best served by hiring a box office manager or combo box office manager/ticketing person/”front of house” manager. This person should know how theatre tickets get sold in your town and have the experience to help you choose the best, easiest way to do it. And when I say best and easiest, I mean best and easiest for your potential customers, i.e., your audience; not you. Because believe me, they’re different.

Have you ever showed up to something, expected to buy a ticket and been told they only take cash? Or you’re online and whatever site you’re on doesn’t take a certain credit card? If you don’t want to lose a prospective customer, you want to make it easy for him or her to buy a ticket. If you don’t care about selling tickets or have such a small house, short run and built in audience that it’s not worth setting up multiple ways for people to buy tickets, then forget all this. But that’s not most plays and certainly not most plays that are self-produced.

I recommend some combination of making tickets available online, by phone and at the door. Sounds simple but stay with me. Figuring out what will work for you isn’t hard, it’s just one of those time consuming jobs that needs to be done.

Starting with the online ticketing sites, there are several to consider. Brown Paper Tickets is what we used http://www.brownpapertickets.com/createevent.html. You decide your ticket price and how many tickets will be available through this outlet. It allows your ticket purchasers to enter discount codes (that you disseminate via any number of ways) and keeps track of it all. At any time before online sales close before a given performance, you can see how many tickets have been sold and who bought them using which codes. Then there’s Eventbrite https://www.eventbrite.com which is similar in functionality but seems to be used for more “one off” types of events. And there are others popping up all the time. Each of these sites takes a percentage of ticket sales and will deposit net proceeds into a bank account or via other means such as a PayPal account that you choose at the set-up stage.

In LA, we have a more full-service site called Plays-411 https://www.plays411.net/newsite/ticketagency/ticketagency.asp It offers ticketing as well as other services to producers, including email blasts about your show that go out to their lists and “hosting’ your show’s informational page, which can serve as your website if you choose not to get a dedicated URL for your show as we did with villathrilla.com. On that page you can provide reviews, cast member info, pictures and the like. Publicists like it because they can go into the site and directly book Press tickets. We didn’t use Plays-411 though a lot of producers do. But I recommend due diligence. Not only do they take an up front fee plus a percentage of sales, several producers I talked to say Plays-411 can take longer to pay producers for tickets sold. Brown Paper Tickets paid within a few days of a performance. The amount of lag time can be critical if you are hoping to use ticket sales to pay actors and other expenses in the later weeks of your show.

You’ll also want to register with Goldstar http://www.goldstar.com/company/suppliers, which has become the go-to place to search for discount tickets. If your graphics and logline grab people here, you can even pull in people to your show that might never have learned about it otherwise.

Something else a producer must consider in Los Angeles apropos ticketing is the Ovation Awards, managed by the LA Stage Alliance. http://lastagealliance.com/tix/) To be considered for an Ovation, you need to be a member (or affiliated with a member theatre as we were) and your show needs to run for at least 6 weeks. You also need to make it available to Ovation voters for free. They will then use this outlet to reserve their tickets. Additional discounted tickets can be made available here too, though we didn’t pull in anyone other than voters from this site.

All of these outlets will get your show in front of prospective ticket buyers and give them an opportunity to buy. But I’m sure you can see the downside to having multiple outlets: Checking in with each of them to determine how many tickets have been sold for a given performance. This can be a headache and even a nightmare if you have a hit show, though granted a good nightmare to have. You have to decide how many tickets you will give each outlet to sell at what price, sometimes changing that number if one site is running low. Invariably mistakes get made and you and your various outlets have created a situation where more tickets have been sold than you have seats. The whole thing requires monitoring and that takes time.

Then there are phone and “at the door” sales, and believe me, there is a large, generally older segment of the population that still prefers one of these two means. They just feel better talking to a real person. We didn’t want to pay for a new phone number or use our own. So we got a free phone number through Google, which allowed us to both set up an informational outgoing message and allowed callers an opportunity to leave a message. We’d then pick up the messages and call people back to take a credit card number for their ticket purchase.

As for sales at the door, we accepted cash, check and credit cards through our Square account. There are a lot of different mobile credit card applications now so again, choose the one best for you and your customers. Percentages vary but I don’t think you don’t need to sign up for more than one of these.

We had a master list for each performance compiled that afternoon from all the different outlets we were using so we knew who to expect. As people arrived, we gave them programs for entry. This is what most theatres in LA do these days. With most people buying tickets online and having the ability to print a receipt, there’s really no need to print up tickets. But if you want to, there are plenty of services that will take your money.

In closing, whatever means you choose to offer tickets to the public, may you sell out your houses and make your nut back!

Theatre Ticket

 

 

 

 

Next up: We are winding down but there are still lots of topics to cover. Is there any aspect of Self-Production you’d particularly like to hear about?

Wrapping Up ONSTAGE and (nearly) on to 2016!

By Tiffany Antone

I’m going to let you in on a little secret: I used to hate 10-minute plays.

I don’t know why exactly… perhaps it’s because—as a playwright—I found it a real challenge to create a satisfying story in just 10 pages.  My first 10-minute play attempts always seemed to bleed into more pages, and felt unsatisfying in their rapid resolutions.  But as I’ve gone on to do more and more with short plays, I realize that the thing that used to bother me about 10 minute plays was that I just wasn’t very good at them yet.

I’d like to think I’ve gotten better writing short pieces—of conserving space and creating tighter, more exciting worlds—and that by becoming more aware of the real-estate value a blank page actually represents, my longer pieces have become tighter, more exciting, and richer as well.

And as a result, I’ve become a huge fan of these tasty little 10-minute morsels of playwright excellence.  So much so, that I dedicate a sizable portion of my year to supporting and producing other short pieces… and yesterday I saw 15 truly awesome short plays brought to life here in Waco and can’t believe that I have to winnow this list down to just 11 or 12 pieces for production.

I’ve written a lot about producing from a playwright’s perspective this week, and I hope it was helpful to those of you who—like myself—have felt stuck, frustrated, or fed up with the stasis of waiting.  But I also hope that, even if you have no intention of ever donning a producer’s cap, that you feel like you’ve gotten a little insight how/why some of these festivals work the way they do.  We’re all in theatre because we love something about it’s incredible contradictions and magic, but the true power of theatre is the unity of intention it requires on all who come together in order to make it happen.

With that, I’m wrapping up my blogging week in love of writing, writers, and all who take joy from the realization of imagination!  If you want to stay in touch, you can follow me @LadyPlaywright or you can follow Little Black Dress INK @LBlackDressINK – we’ll be posting more updates on this year’s fest as it heads to LA for a reading of our winning plays at Samuel French Book Shop on July 11th, and then production in Prescott, AZ August 6-9.

And then we’ll get started on the 2016 Fest, and do it all over again!

 

On the Fallacy of Space

By Tiffany Antone

Don't Panic

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.

Creating an Awesome Festival Line-up

By Tiffany Antone

Female-Playwrights-ONSTAGE-cropI got started in theatre as an actress.  I loved being on stage, but I hated auditioning because that very necessary internal confidence that keeps a persom from being a neurotic mess was rarely in full bloom for me.  Instead, I’d pretend I felt confident at auditions and then quietly go home where I could pick apart every choice I’d made and obsess in peace.

Then I directed my first show, which meant I was casting a show for the first time, and in so doing, I had a revelation: for the first time, I understood just how much time I had wasted locked in actor anxiety about things I had very little control over.  After that experience, I auditioned with a lot more boldness, confidence, and less personal worth on the line.  It was freeing.

I woke up this morning reflecting on this, because we at Little Black Dress INK recently announced our ONSTAGE Finalists and I thought it might be interesting to know how I came to narrow down what was a very awesome list of 36 plays to just 15.

First, it’s important to know that we use a peer review process to select our initial semi-finalists, so all of our participating playwrights are responsible for determining the first cut. After that, I consider peer-review scores and Partner Producer nominations along with the points I’m outlining below to create what I hope will be an awesome and successful line-up.

So, in the interest of helping alleviate some writerly anxieties, I’d like to talk today about what I’ve learned—as a playwright—in the five years I’ve been producing new plays:

  1. First, proofing your work is important, but a typo here or there won’t sink the ship!  I can’t believe how many playwrights send in work that just looks like a hot mess.  If you don’t take my time as a reader seriously, why should I take your play seriously?  Make your plays easy to read – format it in a way that is friendly to the eye and go over it for typos and grammar!  BUT, that said, if a play is truly unusual, gripping, or awesome, I’m much more likely to excuse a few formatting hiccups.  That’s just the way it is.  I would never not-produce a piece that I loved just because there were a few misspelled words.  On the other hand, most of the time, the work that is the most compelling is usually also in top readable shape.
  2. Contrary to popular belief, we don’t just select the “very best” pieces.  If I’m creating a festival line-up, I’ve got to build a satisfying one – and that means a mix of genres and topics and tones… I may have nine FABULOUS dramas, but if I produce an entire evening of dramas, my audience is going to be exhausted.  The same holds true if I have multiple pieces that tackle the same subject: even if they’re fantastic, I’m only going to put one of those in the line-up because including too many similar pieces in one night can feel redundant.
  3. I like to use monologues in my fest, so I do.  Monologues have been a really nice addition to our festivals – they are perfect curtain pieces that keep the audience engaged while we set the stage for the next piece.  So, when I select my final line-up, monologues are something I put a lot of energy into.  The other  fabulous discovery I’ve made as a producer is how incorporating short scenelets (a 10-minute play comprised of several mini-scenes) into our fest between plays can provide a delightful through line in what is usually a fractured event. This is just my own preference – and other producers will have theirs.  The reason I mention it is that if I’m selecting 5 monologues to help cover set changes, I might not be able to include that 9th totally awesome play in the line-up.
  4. “Best” is relative.  This one is a no-brainer, but I still mention it because I think even though we all know it, it helps to be reminded once in a while.  Personally, I like plays that feel like they can only live on the stage.  I like plays that challenge or delight me, plays that feel fresh and unique and unlike anything I’ve seen or read before… But what’s the common thread in all that?  Me, myself, and I.   What’s “fresh” to me isn’t guaranteed to feel fresh to she/he/you – so it’s an unpredictable factor that a playwright can’t control and shouldn’t fret over.  What I like about our peer-review process is that it identifies a broad spectrum of work that is outstanding – not just from my own personal perspective, but from a variety of eyes – but as I winnow that list down to the final selection, my perspective comes back to fore.  You could take our same group of 2015 semi-finalists and create a multitude of awesome festival line-ups, each uniquely reflective of what different producers were looking for… and there’s just nothing a writer can do to change that.  Which is why the best thing a writer can do is write work they believe in, send that work out in the best shape they can get it into, and repeat.  Meanwhile, we’ll be here sifting through the incredible amount of awesome work, trying our best to create a line-up that we feel best matches our mission, our audience, and—sometimes—our own personal aesthetic.

And there it is – my ten cents on festival selection.  I hope it’s of interest and of help to you, my fellow writers!

 

Self-Producing and Investing in Others

By Tiffany Antone

TEAM

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard someone respond to a playwright bemoaning a lack of productions with a tired “Why don’t you just self-produce?”

As though self-producing is the end-all, be-all to theatrical frustration.

Have a drawer full of unseen scripts? Self Produce!

Tired of slogging along agent-less?  Self Produce!

Wish people were more familiar with your “brand”? Self (you got it) Produce!

But producing takes money.

Sometimes, depending on the types of plays you write, it takes a great deal of money.

And if you do manage to gather the space, creative team, marketing materials, and all-necessary-else to get your production up and running, unless you’re in a major theatrical city, the chances that the production will lead to anyone of consequence seeing it are pretty slim.

Which is why I think we need to stop telling playwrights to simply produce their own work as if it will satisfy the burning desire to speak to the world that compels them to spend countless hours crafting works that can only be realized through the efforts of many.  Instead, let’s look for ways to create a stronger network that leads to continued creative evolution and more production opportunities.

And sure, that sounds lovely, but of course the question will be “But HOW?!”

I think we go back to that initial producing instinct and look at what we can do on the micro level as playwrights that satisfies, strengthens, and propels us forward.

Four years ago I was a relatively new playwright who’d been gaining accolades, but not productions. In engaging my critical self, I came to a few conclusions:

  1. I was a new, unheard of playwright who wrote fantastical plays with big casts
  2. “Fantastical” and “Big Cast” aren’t small-company friendly
  3. Being a new playwright, I needed to write something that would be doable on a smaller budget, in a smaller venue, so that I could build some theatrical street cred and graduate from the Staged Reading Vortex.

So I sat down and began Ana and the Closet – a small cast, abstract (re: no huge set needed!) play that needed projections, and needed a puppet, and needed to rain ash and end on a precipice with a black river… Yeah, my “simple” piece wound up being one of the most visually demanding in my catalog.

(sigh)

I just don’t write “simple” plays.  At their core, my work may be about simple things, but I’m too heavy into visual metaphor and this “crazy” notion that theatre should show me something I can’t see on TV or at the movies…

Ana and the Closet went on to land a number of exciting reading opps and got me within a hair’s breadth of the Jerome Fellowship (damn that hair!) but ultimately I was left feeling unsatisfied because the play, while garnering attention, still wasn’t getting produced.

The lesson, of course, was that you need to write the work you believe in – and I do that, which keeps me sane.  But the challenge still remains, how do I satisfy the burning drive to create if the things I’m creating aren’t being seen through to completion?  A play isn’t a play until it’s breathing on stage!

Being an impatient young artist who was terrified of the long haul, I wanted to get MORE done FASTER!  But I didn’t have any money with which to produce my own work…

So I decided I would wrest control by creating a short play festival and make other playwrights happy by producing their work.  Because short play fests are a lot easier and more affordable to produce.  And because I wanted to know more of my peers, to learn about their work, and to satisfy my own need to see something through to completion while I wait for someone else to bring my work to fruition.

And as a result, the Female Playwrights ONSTAGE Project I began 4 years ago is blooming!  We had readings in six cities this year, with two more to come before the fest culminates with a production in AZ.  We’re continuing to grow, and I couldn’t be happier to see our playwrights connecting with one another on social media, cheering one another on, and supporting each other along the way!

I’m still writing my own plays, but I’m also forging ahead on this other exciting project that has legs, has a beating heart, and is creating opportunities for other writers.

So, sure, you can self-produce, but you can also invest in other writers who challenge and inspire you, who cheer you on and whom you applaud and root for.  It’s lonely out here in the writing world, but it doesn’t have to be!  And there are a multitude of ways in which we can be more proactive on our writer’s journey that help satisfy our urge to see things through in a business where it isn’t always possible to do so for ourselves.

Just a few thoughts as I begin this week’s LAFPI blog duty…  I’m sure there will be more!

The Female Science Fiction Writers of Tomorrow

by Korama Danquah

It’s not a secret to anyone that science fiction writing has, in the past, been a boys’ club. I can’t really tell you why. Perhaps it’s a carryover from the gender gap in science education or maybe it’s just that women feel it’s more productive to construct a real-world society of equality before creating elaborate fictional future worlds. Whatever the reason, there are 20 H. P. Lovecrafts for every Ursula Le Guin.

This weekend, however, marks a momentous step forward for women in science fiction writing. Five young women will have staged readings of their science fiction short stories at Sci-Fest LA’s Tomorrow Prize. These LA high school students will have their stories (1500 words or less) read by prominent sci-fi actors and all five finalists are women.

Screen Shot 2015-05-15 at 4.58.39 PM

Finalists from Left to Right: Ashley Anderson, Erica Goodwin, Janeane Kim, Ruby Park, and Athena Thomassian

The five finalists are a beacon of hope for female sci-fi fans. For decades women in science fiction have been seductive aliens and, more recently, captains and starship officers, but we have not often been the authors of these fantastical stories. These finalists and others like them are saying no to the boys’ club of the past and carving a place for themselves in the annals of sci-fi history. It is often said that “you can’t be what you can’t see,” and these young women are making themselves visible for female science fiction writers of today and of tomorrow.

The Tomorrow Prize readings take place on Saturday, May 16th at 4:00 at Acme Comedy Theatre (135 N. La Brea Ave, Hollywood). Tickets are available for $10 online and $15 at the door. All box office proceeds and any additional donations received that day go to the winner’s high school science department. 

Karen Black Acting On Film

      by Diane Grant

My husband, Kerry Feltham, is a filmmaker who specializes in documentary films. I’m blogging about one of his films today because it is about the late Karen Black, who died on August the 8th, 2013. Called Karen Black Acting On Film, the film is up on Amazon Instant Video – $1.99 to rent and $7.99 to buy – and is really worth watching.

He and I followed Karen around as she made films and friends, talked about life in show business and shared her insights into acting technique. She had a prodigious natural talent but was also so disciplined and skilled, she made it look easy.

And it isn’t.

What is so good in the film is her understanding not only of acting, particularly on film, but about the courage and energy and strength it takes to keep going in show business, pushing through on the rough days, having fun on the good ones. The latter is pertinent to all of us, whether we are acting, writing, or producing in either film or theater.

Even when she was no longer at the top – and she had been for a long time in such films as Trilogy of Terror, The Day Of The Locust, Nashville, The Great Gatsby, Five Easy Pieces – she continued to work. Character work was her forte and she created wonderfully full characters, some odd, some funny, some sad, but always full.

Lately, I’ve thought quite often about packing it in. How many plays can you have in the drawer? How many staged readings of plays you long to see on their feet can you sit through? How many submissions can you make in a month? And to whom? Didn’t you submit that one to that contest in 2011? Or was it that one in 2012? Should you keep all those email rejections?

And we all tell ourselves the same thing over and over. It’s the work, the doing of it, the joy of doing it.

Karen was a vivid example of that joy.

Karen Black

KAREN BLACK Acting on Film

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Self Production Series with Anna Nicholas: #12 Rehearsal…

#12. Rehearsals – Or… Making it to Opening Night

by Guest Blogger Anna Nicholas

In the theater, things don’t always happen in a nice, sequential and unstressful order. And in Equity-waiver theatre—read low-budget—things not going as planned is the order of the day. Meaning a playwright doesn’t often have the luxury of a wonderful theatre to work in, fabulous designers to bring her vision to life, a positive casting period during which actors ideal for the roles you’ve written show up to audition and a smooth but exciting rehearsal period where each rehearsal builds upon the last; until finally your show peaks on opening night in front of an appreciative audience with top critics in attendance loving your play. Oh, would that it were so easy! In fact, getting a play up is more a case of overcoming obstacles—whether those obstacles be physical or mental. And with Villa Thrilla, we had our share of both.

Once we had our cast—a challenge in itself—rehearsal began with just four weeks until opening night. (For more on the challenges of casting, see this post in the series: http://lafpi.com/2015/03/the-self-production-series-with-anna-nicholas-9-finding-your-actors/) Four weeks is not much time when you’re mounting a new play with a cast of ten; particularly when it seemed impossible to get all the actors to the same rehearsals, even though the play required that their characters be on stage at the same time.

You do your best to get peoples’ schedules ahead of time in order to plan rehearsals but a few people in our cast apparently hadn’t heard about looking at a calendar to verify their availability before committing to doing a play. Did they not know about Yom Kippur or their Mother’s birthday when they signed on? Add losing a cast member one week into rehearsals, losing another cast member for 10 days when a parent became sick out of town and a third cast member who was so difficult to work with we wanted to lose him but replacing him would have meant losing another cast member we liked and there just wasn’t time to get new people up to speed.

The only advantage I can see to 99-seat theatre going away—and I truly hope it does not—is an advantage only to Producers. I guess they should get something for having to pay actors more. The advantage I see is that actors will need to make a greater commitment to the play they have agreed to do, adhering to rehearsal schedules for the privilege of earning minimum wage. Currently actors can pretty much not show up if they feel a little sick, have an audition the next day or realize there were important events they forgot—including their dog’s graduation from obedience school.

The fact that we didn’t have all the actors to rehearse when we needed them made a lot more work for Gary Lee Reed (Director), Josephine Austin (Stage Manager) and me. At the time, if felt as if it took years off our lives. Gary couldn’t tell what he was looking at with the stage missing up to 5 people at any given rehearsal, which resulted in having to block scenes multiple times; Josie was constantly changing blocking in her master script and having to phone errant actors who were late or hadn’t shown up; And I was not able to watch and rewrite during rehearsals, something I’d been counting on, because I had to stand-in for missing cast members—often two or three of them in the same scene. I was dashing around the stage speaking with multiple dialects and vocal timbres providing a real person for the actors who had actually shown up to rehearse. Some nights, we wanted to strangle someone—usually someone who was missing—and yet, we had to try to remain upbeat for the actors who bothered to come to rehearsal. What would be gained by screaming? I don’t know; we didn’t try it. But I doubt it would have improved the rehearsal experience, which I’d hoped would be a gloriously fruitful period when my play would change and grow in leaps and bounds. But alas, I didn’t get to have that on this one.

Being an AEA actor as well as a playwright, I like to think I understand actors but when I put my producer hat on for Villa Thrilla, I was shocked by the behavior of some of my fellow thespians. Emergencies are one thing but it would never occur to me to commit to doing a show, commence rehearsals and then spring a few “unavailable” dates on the producers.

In retrospect, I would have helped myself by choosing a play with a smaller cast but I’ve already explained why I chose this play in the post on Selecting the Work: http://lafpi.com/2014/12/the-self-production-series-with-anna-nicholas-3-selecting-the-work/

Shockingly, we did not have our entire cast onstage at the same time until 5 days before opening. And the only thing I can say by way of comfort if you’re considering producing your play, is that once we got to tech, the actors were mostly great. They showed up for the remainder of rehearsals, then performances and, for the most part, knew their lines. So you may get a few more gray hairs, but if you hire professionals, they will be there.

Next up: Ticketing, pre-sales and making some money back

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