The Hollywood Fringe Festival is a fringe-purist’s dream where content is queen and storytellers work their spreadsheets to self-produce their show.
The first play I produced for Green Light Productions was for the 2003 Philadelphia Fringe Festival. It was a two-person show about the tumultuous and creative relationship between Zelda Sayre and F. Scott Fitzgerald called Boats Against the Current. From rehearsals in living rooms, costumes from Goodwill and one-hour techs to packed houses and standing ovations, I learned how to create magic on a shoestring budget by putting the story first.
This year there are over 20 one-woman shows in the Hollywood Fringe Festival.
At the last LAFPI meeting at Samuel French I was treated to a preview ofSnack by Megan Dolan. In the hysterically funny world of Snack, Dolan traces the roots of her smoothie addiction back to her childhood, posing the question “How do you parent yourself and your kids at the same time?” Snack runs until 6/27 at Theatre Asylum.
This weekend I saw Jennifer Bobiwash’s Indians in a Box: There’s No “I” in NDNwhere Bobiwash sets out on a journey to discover what it truly means to be a modern American Indian. Through the laughs of Bobiwash’s story, we begin to understand the many complexities of her identity and how it’s shaped her life. NDN runs until 6/17 at Lounge Theatre.
There is an electric energy during the fringe, as artists become Olympians and audiences become active participants in the creation of these raw, intimate, now-or-never productions. Check out the “one woman show” tab on the HFF site where you’ll find an amazing group of storytellers who are the true heart and soul of this year’s fringe.
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!
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.
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!
I started Green Light Productions in 2003 to create new opportunities for women in theatre. As of 2008, Green Light has exclusively produced plays written and directed by women.
This year, Green Light completed The Shubert Report to examine the 349 theatres that received $16.4 million in grants last year from the nation’s largest private funder of the performing arts. We found that only 26% of the plays being produced were written by women and that 125 of those 349 theatres weren’t producing ANY plays written by women. Foundations, especially those as large as The Shubert Foundation, play a huge role in sustaining American Theatre – most of which is classified as nonprofit. Imagine the impact it’d have if they required applicants to produce seasons that had 50% female writers and directors? Imagine the impact if just one major theatre a year decided to do a season of plays by women. Just that one step…
In 2005, I took that step. Heather Jones sent me her one-act play “Last Rites” about a life-long friendship between two women. It’s a beautiful play and I walked around with Heather’s script in my bag for month thinking about how it could be produced. I had the idea to create a festival of one-act plays all written and directed by women: GLO, Green Light One-Acts. And since the first GLO in, we’ve given world premieres to 15 one-act plays with productions in Philadelphia, New York and now Los Angeles.
In GLO 2014 we introduce to the world 4 new plays written by female playwrights based in Los Angeles – Allie Costa, Jennie Webb, Julianne Homokay and myself – with directors Liz Hinlein, Jen Bloom, Ricka Fisher and Katherine James. I have met the most incredible women just working on this first Green Light show here and I am so excited to plan our next steps here in LA.
Getting here wasn’t easy. While I’ve had the absolute pleasure to work with hundreds of women who support our mission, over the years I heard a surprising amount of negative feedback – much of it from women who felt that the theatre didn’t need companies like Green Light. A female journalist actually responded to one of my press releases with “Do we really need this?”
Yes, we do. And we need YOU!
I hope that by forming new collaborations, asking lots questions, challenging those who need to be challenged and producing work by women, Green Light will continue to have a valuable impact on artists and audiences. And I hope you’ll be part of it.
Mark Your Calendars: November 6-9, GLO 2014, 4 plays written and directed by LA women artists at Miles Memorial Playhouse in Santa Monica. www.greenlightproductions.org.
Be part of Green Light Productions first foray into the LA theater scene (after mixing it up in NY and Philly). Join the FB Invite here (LA FPI tix for only $10!). This femme-fest is Green Light Production’s annual event, but the company is looking for more women artists moving forward. If you’re interested in getting involved, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
I have a secret – I’ve become a producer over here in Arizona – I’ve actually produced more shows/events this past year than I’ve written and I don’t know if I’ll be able to stop… because it’s hard out here for a Playwright.
It’s damn hard.
So I created Little Black Dress INK, an organization dedicated to promoting/creating production opportunities for female playwrights. I invited some talented ladies to put pen to paper (or fingertips to keys) and draft up some plays for a festival last summer and it was a great success! We didn’t know it would be a great success, we just went for it and crossed our fingers – because it’s better to do that than waste time hemming and hawing over a thing for so long that you forget what it is you’re even considering.
Which is why, when I decided to do it again, I decided to go reach even further… to get the fest to travel. One hell of a lofty undertaking, to be sure… but so worth the work… isn’t it?
I ask, because I’m finding that while I may be tired of sitting around waiting for someone to produce my work, not everyone else has my same verve for making-it-happen-ness.
(which may actually be more of a testament to their common sense than my tenacity)
In any regard – I am trying to get the plays some sort of reading in LA… it’s just a reading… no big expense, no set, no props… just a reading… And it’s been a hell of a lot more work than getting the thing fully produced here in AZ.
Which draws images to mind of the Los Angeles battleground I abandoned two years ago – so many theatres, so many artists, so many denizens of the “Industry” running their scrawny-underpaid butts off to get produced, be on stage, be seen, and knock some socks off…
I don’t miss the rat race of LA, but I am definitely feeling out of her frenetic loop.
But what else can I do than keep on keeping on? I’m a playwright who’s fallen into producing as a means of feeling less impotent against the theatrical unknowables… no one ever said any of it would be easy, did they? Nope. Not even for a second.
I drove home from rehearsal last night, my brain firing off lists like nobody’s business – Program, DVD, Certificates, Monk’s, Forks, Fruit, Sound, Tech (!), Blog, Blog, Blog…
So I got home and stuffed my mouth with a ChocoTaco and set down to tidy up a few things on that list before my lids revolted and permanently shut down for the night, in the hopes that I could get a handle on it all somehow…
What is it that drives me to continually engineer means to be busy? I look around at my “Civilian” friends who have their evenings free to eat at the table, watch t.v. and help the kids with their homework and I think “Am I just crazy?”
Or is it part of the artist’s path that s/he may not be satisfied until her/his work is out there… in the world… making some kind of imprint…
I woke up this morning after dreams about tornados and long, treacherous hallways (thank you subconscious) with that list-making brain already back in full gear, and noticed -forming at the bottom of that list – were fresh thoughts about the next big “What if…” project.
Umm, I might be obsessed.
Which may be why I’m so tired.
See, I started LittleBlackDressINK out of my frustration with waiting… it felt like, as a playwright, I was always waiting for a reading, or a production – and (to be honest) although readings are fun, I’ve had about all of them I can cheer about and now just experience them as the observational meet and greets they mostly are – for very rarely does it seem the reading is being held to weigh in on possible production. (If you haven’t read Outrageous Fortune yet, they talk extensively about the realities of what many of us call “Development Hell” and it’s seriously fascinating to hear from both other playwrights AND theatre companies on this subject)
Which isn’t to say that I don’t enjoy readings – I do, I do. I just attend them with my writing ears on and little expectation beyond some new business cards in my pocket and rewrites on my mind.
Meanwhile, I’m hungry for stage time.
So it seemed the obvious step to carve some out for myself.
Yet… the hat-juggling of working a “real” job, plus producing/directing a show, plus the numerous other projects I have running simultaneously (I’m in the midst of managing some theatrical marketing for an upcoming event and I edit two other blogs) does make me wonder when I’ll tire of this circus life and…
Doesn’t it manifest a “Throw in the Towel” type vibe when you read that?
But will I ever be able to truly support myself on my writing alone?
Will I ever be able to truly be satisfied with a teaching gig and some writing time in the summer?
Will things change when I finally tie my wagon to another’s and start popping out tots of my own?
Or am I too hard wired for motion? Too geared for hurdle-jumping, to ever truly slow down to a snails pace, and get back to just “Waiting”?
It’s probabaly all a little too much to be thinking about at the moment- I’ve got a mountain of things to check off that list today and scant time for little else – but still, it lingers…
It lingers along with loud dreams of the next “What if?”
So, I’m a pretty active person, playwright, and dreamer… I like to keep busy and I like to feel productive. I think it’s one of the reasons I was SO excited about the LAFPI starting up… I mean, a group of kick-ass playwrights all working towards gender parity in theater? AND we get to have fun mixers and support each other and address important issues in theater?
Count me IN!
And over the past year (+) I’ve been super happy to see all the strides we’ve made – the very important LAFPI study helmed by the amazing Miss Ella Martin, the Women on the Fringe work that honored theatres who produce female playwrights, and the all encouraging and inspiring support that this site has offered for countless other female playwrights who want to get involved and join the revolution.
It’s been amazing.
But I’ve been watching a lot of it from AZ – where I’m now stationed – and I’ve been ants-in-my-pants-to-the-extreme for more ground-work than I can actually do from afar…
Until I realized that my new stomping grounds include an amazing community theatre and quite a few talented and accomplished female playwrights of its own…
And then I realized that I could support female playwrights by actually producing them.
So I started up Little Black Dress INK (www.LittleBlackDressINK.org), sent out invitations to some awesomely talented women, had a thrilling meeting with the head of the theatre here who said “YES!” to my crazy scheme, and got the ball rolling…
Now, a few months later, I find myself in the home stretch of a most passionate project: Dirty Laundry, a ten minute play fest benefitting the Prescott Area Women’s Shelter and including plays from 9 awesome female playwrights! There are also 7 female directors helming each of the plays, and a WAY talented team of actors bringing these plays to life.
So that ants in the pants feeling I was complaining about? It’s settled down a little bit, appeased that I’m making something happen instead of waiting for it to come to me…
And isn’t that what the LAFPI is all about?
Becoming an “Instigator” is a call to arms! All it takes is some daring, some passion, some wild-eyed-scheming, and a shared vision.
I might be one tired puppy at the end of this week, but I will be sleeping happy 🙂
Self-Production Primer: Team Building – Roland Tec
Roland’s rules about producing:
The biggest challenge: writing is solitary. In order to become an effective producer, fight against natural tendency to hide in the corner. Producing is about gathering people together, getting a team of people to work at their peak. Producing is a creative act.
Get a notebook. Takes notes. The minute you start producing, every conversation moves it forward – or back. Take notes on every email, meeting, etc. Time is in short supply. Follow up quickly and effectively.
The “all in” rule: when you’re sending someone an email or leaving a phone message, include all the necessary information. Otherwise you slow down what needs to get done.
Clarify your goals: what’s your objective for this production? Is your goal to break even? Have a commercial success? If you don’t know before you begin, hard to access your success at the end.
Find a producing partner. You can’t write and produce at the same time.
We often think: who can help? Ask another question: how can every person in my life help? Everyone can offer something to the production. Find the right thing they can do. Some it may be money. Others may introduce you to other people. Others will be your greatest cheerleader. Or a great actor. Or teaches at a university and can get you student interns. Start thinking about finding ways in which the people in your world can become involved in your dream.
Scheduling: can’t start without your director. You want to make sure you have the right director, one who understands your show. If you have any reservations, keep looking.
Pre-production tasks: (2-6 months) Book the venue, raise the funds, hire the cast and publicist and crew (when hiring crew, delegate whenever possible – let your lighting designer hire everybody else in lighting, etc.), sign and file all union and legal paperwork, obtain the insurance.
Production tasks: rehearsing to performance level, build set and costumes, loading in, hanging and focusing the lights, rolling out the PR in all its forms (press release must drop at least six weeks prior to first performance), box office (never too early to start taking people’s money) and house management
Post: pay bills, strike set, return borrowed materials, assemble a clippings book (good press agent will do this for you, but they may miss something) – every mention in the press is there; assess financials; gather the team to say goodbye and thank you. Followup: what were your goals? Start assessing the success or failure or in between during the run of the show. If you want to move the show, you need to know early. Decide who’s on your decisionmaking team who’ll sit down with you to decide about moving the show.
Have a production office (your living room?) where people can meet, leave packages, etc. One central place.
Casting: in conjunction with director. A good director should have a way that he/she likes to cast. If using Equity actors, must notify Equity before casting the show. There are rules about casting Equity actors. When you start casting the show, that’s the beginning of your PR campaign. Actors are great marketers – talking up your show after reading the sides. The way you run your auditions is having an impact on how folks perceive the production. If they’re sitting around for seven hours to be seen for five minutes, forget it. Schedule appointments in 15 minute intervals. Your auditions are the first time you’re engaging with the public. Be organized. Don’t run long. Make people feel taken care of. Never give out roles. People value the things they have to work for.
Here’s a few thoughts about paying for your self-production: hold a fundraiser party. Roland Tec’s formula is that you invite a certain number of people (A) and ask for a set amount, say $50 (B), but only ten percent (.1) of those people show up. A x B x .1 = projected revenue. So if you invited 235 people and asked for 50 bucks, you’d make $1,175. Throw a good party. Do excerpts, but NOT the entire play.
Ticket sales: here’s the formula for estimating how much you’ll make from ticket sales. A = number of seats in house; B = total number of scheduled performances; C = average ticket price