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Matthew Freeman is a Brooklyn based playwright with a BFA from Emerson College. His plays include THE DEATH OF KING ARTHUR, REASONS FOR MOVING, THE GREAT ESCAPE, THE AMERICANS, THE WHITE SWALLOW, AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR, THE MOST WONDERFUL LOVE, WHEN IS A CLOCK, GLEE CLUB, THAT OLD SOFT SHOE and BRANDYWINE DISTILLERY FIRE. He served as Assistant Producer and Senior Writer for the live webcast from Times Square on New Year's Eve 2010-2012. As a freelance writer, he has contributed to Gamespy, Premiere, Complex Magazine, Maxim Online, and MTV Magazine. His plays have been published by Playscripts, Inc., New York Theatre Experience, and Samuel French.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Self-Produce!

Here's an embarrassing admission: I've never self-produced. Not really. I've certainly been a part of the team that puts a production together, but for the last few years, my plays have been produced by others, and they put in the work to acquire a space, get insurance, rent rehearsal space, etc. etc. I basically know how it's done, but I'm not going to pretend to be an authority.

So here's the thing: I think if you're a playwright with access to a small budget, you really should know how to navigate "self-production." Even just a weekend of performances of your play on its feet.

So...I'd like to invite anyone who does self-produce in the city to either comment or send me an e-mail at mattfr - at - gmail.com and give us a how-to guide. Tell us what a playwright needs, where he or she should go, where the affordable spaces are in your experience, etc, etc. I'll post whatever is sent to me that's thorough, and of course, comment away.

Imagine you just showed up in NYC, you've got a play burning a hole in your pocket, and you're will and able to save for one weekend of performances. This is bare minimum. Get your feet wet stuff. What would you tell yourself.

What is the Idiot's Guide to Self-Production in New York City?

12 comments:

Deaf Indian Muslim Anarchist! said...

I'm looking forward to this post. I want to self produce one of my plays but don't know how to go about it...

travsd said...

First thing you must do is know -- from the bottom of your soul -- that producing your own work is not only legitimate, it is more than legitimate. A painter paints his own work on canvas; a musician plays his own instrument in the street. The theatre artist is entitled (even obligated) to commandeer a theatre and express himself.

Step one out of the way. step two: get some capital. get at least a couple of thousand for a publicist. whenever I've plowed ahead without the assistance of one (despite the fact that I AM one) I have majorly regretted it.
I venture to say in this town the publicist is the most important expense. at any rate, I am at your call to answer any questions you might have, Matt!

Freeman said...

I'd have to agree TravSD! A publicist is very much worthwhile. I will always love Karen Greco, and if she wanted one of my kidneys, I'd be on an operating table in moments.

Trav...what are some costs that people should be aware of?

joshcon80 said...

I wouldn't be able to self-produce as easily without my residency. Horse trade gives me free access to three theater spaces. I get two full runs per year, each with a certain amount of free rehearsal space, and the support of a publicist (Emily Owens who is a marvel, frankly.) This cuts the money I need to produce at least by half if not more. "MilkMilkLemonade" only cost about $2,500 dollars for EVERYTHING. A lot of spaces offer residencies, and it's a great way to stay grounded. My work has gotten so much better from not having to worry about getting my next production.

Jamespeak said...

Yeah, I'm hoping to write more about this subject after we close Entrenched.

I think the thing about self-producing is that it's actually a lot easier to do than you'd think. It is possible to do a decent run of a show for $2,500 (the budget of Nosedive's first show). If you have at least one more person helping out with paying for things, or if you have enough sympathetic friends and family members, you can get this money pretty easily.

Also remember that you don't have to get this figure of $2,500 all at once: it's the final dollar amount you end up having to pay over the course of three months (from pre-production to closing).

So that means if you do a show for $2,500, have a co-producing partner (often, if you're a writer, your director, or vice-versa), that means you're responsible for raising/spending $1,250 over three months; about $417 a month (or $104.25 per week). Most people spend more a month/week on going out drinking.

So I think the biggest apprehension people have for self-producing is financial, but in truth, if you're frugal and smart about your spending, it's not the daunting roadblock than most people would believe.

ukejackson said...

I think the first thing you have to do is get rid of the term "self-produce" (and I use it myself sometimes as shorthand for what we do). Here's why: Unless you're directing yourself in a monlogue that you've written, you're not "self-producing". You are producing, and there are all sorts of other personalities who come into the mix.

A publicist is certainly important. If you can afford a publicist, hire a general manger, too. This person will navigate all the union stuff, negotiate on your behalf with agents, theater owner, and so forth. Everything is negotiable. However, unless you're really business savvy, you can lose your shirt AND your good name.

I did a musical comedy with a cast of 10 in 2008 at a "not-for-profit" in Manhattan in 2008. I wish I'd had a general manager. Instead I got screwed out of every last penny I had, and then some. I never saw a dollar of the box office, got saddled with encumbrances that relieved the theater of certain obligations to unions (that I never should have been saddled with), and ended up with some great reviews. I also ended up with people going around town saying I screwed them because I kept to our original agreements and paid them what was agreed, which they tried to change to their advantages halfway through the process.

A lot of this angst might have been due to the general economic downturn taking place at the time. A lot of it is human nature.

I've never been in joshcon's position but it sounds enviable. Otherwise, watch out for theater owners/space controllers, particularly those who claim to be a "playwright's theater" and "not-for-profit". The late, great Jerry Schoenfeld once said to me, when I commented on a recently published article citing his salary as the head of the Shubert Foundation, "There's no profit like not for profit."

Think long and hard about "self-producing" and know that if you do it, you're the boss -- and people might start treating you like a boss.

ukejackson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ukejackson said...

I also would add that as playwrights, we are artists. In the 1980s I was impresario and dramaturg for an avant garde jazz opera company. My partner in this endeavor said to me at one point early in the process something I knew immediately to be true. He said it by way of appreciation to my approach generally, and as a warning about some minutiae of the moment: "A cheap impresario is an artist's worst asset."

Don't short change your art.

(corrected for a typo)

ukejackson said...

One final bit of advice, and perhaps the most important -- put everything in writing. If you have to hire an attorney, hire one -- though usually the GM should be able to take care of written agreements. When you look for your GM, you're looking for someone who will stick with that show. When you look for a showbiz attorney, you want to find one with whom you feel a real connection. S/he won't shop your scripts around but in other ways could be more valuable than an agent (especially with the attitudes of agents these days). So, try and think in terms of lifelong relations with your lawyer. All of this might sound expensive, but this is the way it's done. You are striving for some degree of professionalism, right?

RLewis said...

Buy lots of beer and throw a big party at your best friend's house. Charge everyone $10-20 to get drunk off their asses. And ask each of your next best friends to bring 4 of their friends to said party. That's how my company funded our first 3 plays. And even if you lose money on the party, these folks will be your opening night audience (another party), and that's called a Cultivation Event.

Then join a fiscal conduit (like Fractured Atlas), and write a letter to every family member, asking them for tax-deductible $Xs (opening night tickets go to all gifts over $100).

And don't do it alone - team up with a few others that you trust who want to direct, design, and act in your play. Rinse and repeat.

Then ask your local church or community center to give you some space. We don't use these places the way our predessors did, do we, even though some of these are now Off Bway theaters?

devilvet said...

I am not in the city (havent been for 8 years). I will say though that once one breaks thru and realizes that self production is legitmate, the next step for many is to leave NYC. That isnt a sort of Scott Walterish callback to middle America. All I'm saying is that no matter how much money you sink into a show in NY, you can take that same dollar amount and make 3 shows in Chicago. For instance... Travsd's talk about a couple thousand for a publicist... just not necessary here in Chicago, not for smaller companies that are trying work in smaller venues. Anyway, I'll stop before something thinks I'm poopooing NYC. Which i am not. I just wanted to say that I never regretted leaving NYC for C-town

RVCBard said...

So...I'd like to invite anyone who does self-produce in the city to either comment or send me an e-mail at mattfr - at - gmail.com and give us a how-to guide. Tell us what a playwright needs, where he or she should go, where the affordable spaces are in your experience, etc, etc. I'll post whatever is sent to me that's thorough, and of course, comment away.

Imagine you just showed up in NYC, you've got a play burning a hole in your pocket, and you're will and able to save for one weekend of performances. This is bare minimum. Get your feet wet stuff. What would you tell yourself.

What is the Idiot's Guide to Self-Production in New York City?


Yeah, CC that shit to me too!