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:
- I was a new, unheard of playwright who wrote fantastical plays with big casts
- “Fantastical” and “Big Cast” aren’t small-company friendly
- 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.
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!