I found myself in a parallel universe. I was a playwright with money, a script, but no show. I had 8 weeks to mount my play before my grant expired! Here are 8 tips that got me from casting to curtains.
SHIT AND GET OFF THE POT
I am guilty of agonizing over scene actions and set descriptions. When I get tunnel vision, I shout “Onicia, just finish it. FINISH SHIT!” Theater is a collaborative art. The script will evolve during rehearsals and during the actual performances! So just finish writing your shit and MOVE ON. Strive to write a quality play, but don’t let dreams of awards or perfection cripple you from actually writing. Getting a ‘hit’ is partly a numbers game. So, release some of the pressure by setting the bar low and complete a draft.
SPELL CHECK AND DOUBLE CHECK
While your script can be workshopped to death, what can’t be ‘done to death’ is spell check. First impressions is a one-shot deal. Early in my career, I was asked to write a script. I busted out a hot 30-page pilot and they were ready to go straight to shooting. They did not want to spend any time developing my script even when I asked for feedback. My friend Robin advised not to go forward with this opportunity. This was the best advice.
Your story may be in a ‘rough draft’, your document shouldn’t be. Anyone – actor, director, theater – willing to sign-on to a project where the basic proposal is sloppy will give you sloppy work.
DO THE ADMIN: MAKE A BUDGET
“Vague goals deliver vague results”. Projects go over budget and schedule because there are too many unknown unknowns. You need to be aware of -- or at minimum prepare for -- the unknowns. If you have $10K, allocate 10-20% to miscellaneous expenses. For props and marketing materials, estimate spending 10-15% more than price listed online. It will feel better to be able to splurge on catering opening night versus going without props.
DO THE ADMIN: WATCH THE CLOCK AND ADJUST
Seriously, do the admin. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. With 8 weeks to put on a show, you want to spend as much of that time in rehearsals.
HIRE THE DIAMONDS IN THE ROUGH
You probably don’t have the funds to produce both a fully-staged show and hire top-quality cast and crew. Still, artists should be compensated and paying audiences should get good bang for their buck. Compromise: hire talent that is less experienced, but ‘got dat fire’. If you can’t afford the inexperienced, supplement low pay with real things. E.g. audition them first for future paid projects, recommend them to other industry contacts, or support their future work and side hustles.
HAVE A BACKUP
Most of my accomplishments are digitally archived. I am religious about backing my work up. I save and organize current files on my computer. I have a special folder for emails I could delete, but choose to keep for at least one year.
USE YOUR IMAGINATION
You are a playwright. Your creative writing degree gives you license to operate big dreams and lofty imaginations. Be creative with your budget. Double casting. Craigslist. Thrift stores. Return bought items.
Laughter is infectious and you can’t be infected if you’re sitting 3 seats away from the next person. Bad: reserve a 500-seat theater and have to go light on the props. Good: fill 50-seat theater and risk having to turn away patrons. If all the theaters spaces are booked, do like the Living Room Playmakers and find alternative locations.
“Hiatus” is the fourth phase of my creative cycle. This is the sad and rough time between the highs of seeing the final product and lows of searching for inspiration – and courage – to start a new project. In this hiatus period, all my accomplishments seem small. I worry that I won't top myself or have another half-decent idea. Depression. Jealousy. All around, not good times.
The fix: I read old diary entries and press releases, look at photos, screenshot of Facebook comments and text messages. Set a timer, revel in your past glory and respect past accomplishments, and then MOVE ON.
Also, having documentation of your work quantifies your resume. Showing always trumps telling.
Created in St. Maarten. Based in Chicago. I write, say funny things, and enjoy hanging with creative minds.
Here you'll find writing samples, videos of past performances, and off notes about my life as a writer.
When I'm not writing and performing, I help artists get organized. You should hire me to help you produce live events, promote your art, or manage resources so you can make the most of every opportunity.
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