The City Garage Theatre is a lovely space.
Each reading was fantastic. The talent in the room was magnetic -even the micro-reads which are done with minimal if any read-throughs prior to reading them in front of the audience were exciting! Such FUN.
Thank you to everyone who made this event a success – you rock!
# 9. Finding Your Actors… or Do you Need a Casting Director?
by Guest Blogger Anna Nicholas
When you’re preparing the perfect meal, you need quality ingredients to make it turn out the way you want, right? A play is not much different. Without actors who can bring your words to life, you’re going to get a soufflé that won’t rise or gnocchi that won’t gnock anyone’s socks off.
So, in a word, yes, you need a casting director; although there are several exceptions: If you’ve written a one-woman show for your best friend who says she’ll do it no matter where or when, you’re set; if you must use the member actors of the theatre company you’re partnering with, ditto; if you are intimately familiar with the theatre scene where you live and know all the actors by their work, and (often more importantly) their work ethic, you may also not need one. But a casting director can open up the range of choices in so many ways; especially if you have to find specific types of actors (e.g., little people with perfect French accents and the ability to juggle fire) whom you have limited knowledge of. A good casting director will organize your open call (should you have one), post a breakdown, as well as organize auditions, call-backs, deal with agents—should there be any—determine an actor’s availability AND he or she will often know whether a given actor is a team player or a diva who could make getting your play up and running—a process that should be fun—an ordeal.
Initially, I had hoped to partner with a theatre company. Our deal was to be that five of the ten actors required for Villa Thrilla would be company members, which seemed a fair trade-off for what the company would be bringing to the production—reputation and cash. We agreed we’d network among our contacts to find the other five. But as mentioned in an earlier post, “artistic differences” put a kibosh on the co-production and so when we parted, I was in a time crunch and needed help.
Even though I knew a lot of actors and considered myself knowledgeable about the casting process—I’d auditioned and been hired (and rejected) enough to pick up a few things—it was not so simple. I figured I’d just call my friends, Facebook friends and acquaintances, ask them to do it and adhere to the 99-Seat plan!(which could be going away. See #8 in this series). But three things soon became apparent: (1) I knew far fewer people who were right for the play than I thought, (2) most of the people I thought could do it were unavailable and (3) casting the play was a big job that I was ill-equipped to do alone. So I took a look at several playbills I’d saved and there were a few casting directors whose names appeared over and over. One of them was Raul Staggs. Raul had cast me in a new play a couple of years earlier and I liked him. He was personable, professional and I knew he knew the Equity Waiver scene in Los Angeles as well as anyone. So I called him up, we talked, settled on a fee (CDs can charge anywhere from a few hundred to $3000 for an Equity Waiver show, depending…) and that was that.
Raul was wonderful to work with, well organized and he did all the heavy lifting. The director and I only had to show up for auditions and make choices, which was hard enough. He provided a buffer between us—Producer and Director—and the many actors we saw, keeping things moving and on schedule. Having Raul on board also increased our credibility factor. Actors and agents know him and his reputation. Having his name on the project made it appear more legitimate, which made actors and agents more open to submitting. This was vital, especially with respect to those actors who were hard-to-find. We needed to cast a wide net beyond our circles, to find them.
One pretty cool thing happened during casting, which requires a little backstory: Early in my TV career (or late given what didn’t occur after), I worked with Doris Roberts in the waning days of Remington Steele. On that show, we had a fight over an urn. “Back off Blondie,” she told me. “That’s MY urn!” Doris got her urn and I went to jail. But when I first began writing Villa Thrilla and created the role of Camilla, the toilet bowl heiress, whose voice is heard in the play, it was Doris’ voice I heard in my head. Other actresses had read the role but I couldn’t move forward with casting anyone else until Doris had said “No.” Through our publicist, Lucy Pollak, I contacted Doris’ managers. Then I wrote Doris a letter and was floored when she said she would be the voice of Camilla. She’s a fan of small theatre and wanted to help. Raul was the one who encouraged me to ask her, proving you never know.
And this has some bearing on celebrities generally and trying to get at least one of them in your show. We’ve all heard about how TV networks, web series, video game producers are all vying for “eyeballs.” Theatre in LA is no different, though we use “butts in seats” as our goal. There is a lot happening and it’s tough to put BIS and pull the eyeballs away from all the other options. On Villa Thrilla’s opening weekend, as many as 10 other shows opened, which means we struggled to get one of the more influential critics to see the show and hopefully give it a good review so we could use it for promotion. Well, we never got that influential critic, not over the entire run. Having a known entitiy—read celebrity—in your show elevates your chances of getting not only critics to see your show, but paying audience members in those seats. So, note to self: Next time, should there be a next time, get someone in the cast who people will come out for. As Tim Wright, Artistic Director of Circle X Theatre and Producer of the current hit, Trevor told me, “Get Laurie Metcalfe and everything else pretty much falls into place.”
Next Post: Choosing Your Design TeamTweet
Presented by Free Association Theatre with Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative, hosted by City Garage Theatre.
Come on out and celebrate with us!
Bring some pages and sign up for the micro-reads.
Calling all LA female playwrights
(and screenwriters): Let’s read your work!
Bring 1 page for our Micro-Reads.
View Action Fest Line Up Here.Tweet
Action Fest line up:
BOX by Robin Byrd, directed by Julianne Homokay
Synopsis: Elpis and Pandora are sisters. There has been a death in the family. What if they could have one last chance before they have to seal the box?
THE PROPOSAL by Carolina Rojas Moretti, directed by Laura Steinroeder
Synopsis: Benny was lost before finding his True North, but can he stop himself from destroying the compass?
THE MIXING BOWL by Leslie Hardy, directed by Gloria Iseli
Synopsis: Stephanie thinks her partner Alicia’s parents are simply coming for a visit. She’s in for a surprise. Sometimes the ingredients of our lives do not make for a great recipe.
MANKIND by Beverly Andrews, directed by Alexandra Meda
Synopsis: New parents have a serious discussion by the river’s edge and reaffirm the people they really are.
THE MISSING STAIRCASE by Morna Murphy Martell, directed by Lane Allison
Synopsis: The Staten Island Ferry passes Ellis Island. A strange man tells about a staircase there that changed his life. One woman knows the secret of the missing staircase.
ILL INFORMED by Raegan Payne, directed by Courtney Anne Buchan
Synopsis: Owen is bad at stalking. Olivia is bad at living. It’s fortunate they are meeting.
Micro-Reads Actors: Dylan Quercia, Pauline Schantzer, Anna Simone Scott, Tippi Thomas, Harriet Fisher and Tinks Lovelace
Come join us this Saturday, 28 March 2015 from 12 – 6 pm at City Garage Theatre located in the Bergamot Station Arts Center
2525 Michigan Ave., Building T1, Santa Monica, CA 90404
For more info: http://lafpi.com/events
FB Event here: https://www.facebook.com/events/898010020244015/
If you tweet we’re @TheLAFPI; we’re also on Instagram @thelafpi. #SWANDay #LAFPI.
Also connect with our hosts, @CityGarage (Neil LaBute’s Break of Noon opens April 3 http://www.citygarage.org/).
Bergamot Station Arts Center
2525 Michigan Ave., Building T1, Santa Monica, CA 90404
( off of Cloverfield Blvd., between Olympic Blvd. & 10 Freeway)
Free Parking in Bergamot Station Arts Center. The complex opens at 11 a.m. on Saturdays. SWAN Day Action Fest audiences are encouraged to arrive early, and come and go throughout the day to visit the many art galleries.
Hope to see you there!
- The Process: The same instinct that makes us good writers – the ability to self-edit, to sift, to weed out the bad ideas from the good, in short, to critique – is what can also make writing so painful. Because as we write, our inner editor is chomping on the bit to tell us how this draft is terrible, how this idea is pointless, how no one will ever want to do this, how it’s a waste of our time and (let’s take this to the logical end) how we’re a fraud and will never write anything good ever again. We all hear this nasty voice in our head from time to time – the trick of course, is to rein it in, to allow just the right amount of self-critique into our process, perfectly calibrated to the needs of that particular draft.But wow, that’s a really hard thing to ask of ourselves, isn’t it? And in addition, the madness inside our heads isn’t caused by anything we could call “real”. We’re miserable because we can’t figure out the solutions to problems that we made up for characters and situations that don’t exist. It’s hella weird.
- The Production: So as playwrights, we deeply care about our audiences. We write a play as a gift to be shared – not just with our collaborators, but with living, breathing human beings who gather in a room together, who’ve plonked down money and found babysitters and driven out and given up their evening to spend with our stories. So we really care about them.In speaking just for myself, the audience is always top of my mind, from the first draft through to opening night. Yes, it’s important that I’m happy, that my artistic team is happy, but by god, I really want the audience to be happy. I want them to have such a good time in the theatre. The fact that I care so much is one of my strengths, and it shows in my writing.
But once the production is up and running, I can’t turn this off. So when the reviews are out, I’m setting myself up to be a complete emotional mess. Sarah Ruhl recently said, so easily, that she doesn’t read anything written about herself. Lauren Gunderson has said she only reads the good reviews. I wish I could pick either lane. But no – I can’t turn off that instinct to care about what people think, even at the stage where I have no power to change anything, even if I wanted to. That’s not healthy.
- The more I learn about playwriting, the more plays I write and see, the harsher my inner-critic gets, because now I know better, and I know what I’m up against.
- Commissions are the best, but they bring out my inner-critic in full force, because now there’s that additional, awful fear of letting someone down.
- The more production opportunities I get, the more reviews I’ll get, and the more people will have things to say about my work. Google will be my nemesis forever.
They were gorgeous and exhilarating at first blush, at conception. Gave me pains and pissy-ness shortly afterward. They took a long time to grow, yet often blossomed overnight. They were my engine fuel, my mood enhancers, and a physical testament to my ability to persevere. My plays were my babies. Before I birthed a human.
Now I split my nurturing, my guidance, my anxiety, my mania, and of course my time. And, necessarily, not evenly. And, indeed, my old, occasionally elusive though fundamentally trusty comrade Productivity has often taken a shocking dip in the pool of not-quite, as a result.
Although it’s quite obvious and quite wonderful where the priority lies (and I’d have it no other way), I often wish it were easier to take optimal care of both, babe and play. Simpler – and I know this is just me – I wish there was more time. But, shock, there isn’t. Which leaves me with, only really, the promise of reconfiguration.
Reflecting recently on the rhythms of labor and my son’s journey into this sphere, I recalled successive waves of intense — no, cataclysmic stabbing, shuffling, and churning, punctuated by small periods of what I’ll call alternative otherworldly activity. This has led me to consider that, perhaps, these need be the new rhythms of my life now, of my writing: Bursts of activity, productivity, intense, chaotic, but consistent, controlled—and short, spread out over the day. The rhythms of birth over and over again, every day. Really feeling the work, in order to deliver it.
Although it’s a little more touchy-feely a thing for me, this way of working, more or less, has often been credited to Francesco Cirillo, and this recent post from a blog called “The Write Life” does a nice job of outlining his Pomodoro technique, which I’ve tried (casually) before, in my pre-maternity days. But I’ll be bringing so much more to those bursts today.
To anyone having difficulty finding the time to write, whether parenting in the conventional sense or not, you might give it a go.Tweet
# 8. AEA and the Future of Self-Production in LA
by Guest Blogger Anna Nicholas
This week’s post was supposed to be about casting directors but if a proposal made by Actors Equity Association (AEA) goes through at the end of this month, LA’s Theatre landscape will likely be irrevocably altered. The 99-seat plan, which has been around for about 30 years, will cease to exist. As an ever-emerging playwright with a law degree (don’t ask) and a predisposition toward full disclosure, you should know at the onset, I’m opposed to the proposal. And while there’s still time to influence voters, I’m postponing the casting installment in favor of outlining how proposed changes might affect you, the self-producing playwright, and what you can do about it. Get your latte, medical MJ, kombucha or what-have-you and read on.
Under the existing 99-seat plan, if you want to self-produce your play you can rent a theatre, hire a director, designers, cast willing, AEA actors (for very little money–$11/performance to start) and put on a show for about $30,000 (see Post #5 in this series http://lafpi.com/2015/02/the-self-production-series-with-anna-nicholas-5-budgeting/).
If the proposal passes, AEA actors will need to be paid minimum–but still not a living–wage (See below for exceptions) from the first day of rehearsals through closing night. Doesn’t sound bad, and in fact most people–actors and producers alike–working in 99-seat theatre would like actors to be paid more. But AEA is pushing these changes through despite the following facts: (1) Over 7000 paid up AEA members in LA are fighting the proposed changes, with little to no acknowledgment from the union, and (2) Passage will make production budgets swell to the point where there could be a chilling effect on the creation of new work by reducing the number of plays produced in LA. It’s therefore likely some theatres will close, resulting in fewer opportunities for actors, directors and playwrights, as well as adversely affecting the economic vitality of some businesses and neighborhoods.
AEA seems to believe that passing the proposals will create more lucrative union “contracts” (99-seat is not a contract, only a plan allowing members to appear without one) but there’s no evidentiary support for this notion. It’s just a hope. And given that very few producers of 99-seat theatre make their money back producing under the current plan, it’s extremely unlikely they’ll be inclined to increase their budgets (and thereby their losses) if the proposal were to pass. The money just isn’t there.
In addition to being a playwright with a law degree, I have a masters degree in Mediation (again, don’t ask) so I’ve learned first hand that there are always at least three sides to any story. This one’s no different. There has been a lot of speculation on both sides about what might happen if the proposals pass but no one knows for sure what will. One might think, however, that because member pushback against the proposals has been so strong, that the union leadership would go slower and listen. I suggested to AEA’s council, which theoretically works for us, the membership, that before we go to vote, we mediate the dispute, with representatives from both sides, to develop language in a new proposal, which both sides can live with. To their credit, a couple of AEA councilors did get back to me, saying it was a good idea, but sadly, nothing came of it.
It’s seems as though they have decided this thing is going to pass no matter what and are using some rather suspect tactics to make it happen. I offer two bits of evidence in support of this claim: AEA leadership is having, “volunteers” cold-call AEA members, presenting only the “Yes” side of the issue. They’re also prohibiting the “No” side from submitting an information sheet, which might have satisfied the need for “equal time,” to go out in voting materials. In other words, Equity is stacking the deck and using member dues to present a one-sided argument, which most of the LA membership, familiar with what’s going on, is opposed to.
The “No” folks are calling for a special meeting with AEA, demonstrating their willingness to come to the table to talk. But so far, AEA hasn’t budged. That speaks volumes and volumes. Volumes of what, I don’t want to know but make no mistake, whether the proposals pass or fail, LA Theatre—particularly small-venue, intimate theatre, which many playwrights are writing for—will change. That’s because even the “No” people realize that alterations to the 30-year plan are needed. We just don’t want the changes as currently proposed. AEA, on the other hand, is saying, “Vote ‘Yes’ to the proposal and we’ll agree to modifications later.” This is a little like your child’s kidnappers saying, “Give us the money but you’re going to have to trust us your kid’s okay.” Really? Trust you because you’ve been so upfront about everything so far? (Metaphor chosen for dramatic effect).
As to those exceptions: In the proposed plan, Equity has carved out two scenarios, which might spare playwright-producers from having to pay minimum wage from the onset of rehearsals. The first applies to existing membership companies, which could produce your play with their company members of record as of April 1, 2015. The other is a self-production exception where you can put together a group of people to put on your play, just as we have now. BUT you cannot be involved (partnered with, take money from) any 501.C 3 organization; nor can you accept tax- deductible donations. So yeah, you can still self-produce but you’ll need to come up with more money from your trust fund (ha!) or from friends who don’t need the tax deductions. Of course, you always have the option of hiring non-Equity actors. There are some very good ones but in general, the majority of the polished, professional and trained actors out there are members of AEA. Not being able to have them—provided you want them and they want to do your play—does neither side any good.
If you see the value in keeping the major elements of the current plan in place (with negotiated changes still to be worked out), seek out your LA based, paid-up Equity friends and encourage them to vote “No.” People you may know who have come out opposed to the proposed changes include: Actors Tim Robbins, Ed Harris, John Rubinstein, Frances Fisher, Jason Alexander; playwrights Neil LaBute, Jane Anderson, Justin Tanner, Murray Mednick and others who’ve seen their plays produced under the current plan, are also opposed. City council member Mitch O’Farrell is against it. Curiously, Charlayne Woodard, a lovely performer, is a “Yes” voter, as is Samuel L. Jackson who could afford to pay actors far more than minimum wage were he to decide to produce a play.
The fact remains, no producer of 99-seat theatre is getting rich producing theatre under the current plan. They’re barely breaking even. But you don’t need to believe me. Theatre companies have released their budgets to prove it and I urge you to do your own due diligence on the issue. See the AEA website: http://actorsequity.org or call a Western Regional council member for their side. The pro-99 (anti-AEA proposal) site is at: http://ilove99.org Read up.
As Steve Apostalina, an AEA member as well as playwright and producer, noted in his post on the issue (https://www.facebook.com/groups/1507815836104686/permalink/1613642405522028/), when Athol Fugard’s The Blood Knot first opened, it was to an audience of one. What Equity house would have risked that? And yet, Mr. Fugard became one of the most important and influential writers in the world – EVER! “Imagine”, says Apostalina, “if we have an Athol Fugard in LA just waiting to be heard. Killing small theatre will likely eliminate the possibility.”
Next time: About that Casting Director…