How to Succeed in Theater

How to Succeed in Theater

Success is a Choice

I need a constant daily strategy to focus on what needs to be done to achieve my top priorities. Meditation and a daily practice of reviewing my top goals for my business (and life) are the only ways I’ve found to manage constant distraction, and to move forward with what I know is my main mission: to help develop and create new plays and musicals and then get them on stage.

If success is a choice, what does success look like? If you don’t know what it looks like, how do you know when you achieve it?

For me, the simple answer of ‘I’ll be successful when I get a Tony’ is too far off. I’ve come to know that my success means helping writers first get their scripts to “work” and then to guide their projects through development to a production on a stage somewhere.

Can you answer the question “I will be successful when …..?”

I’ve found my own success by doing the following:

  1. Defining what success means to me and relentlessly moving forward
  2. Constantly be selling myself, my ideas and my shows
  3. Addressing our big issues through theater in order to be a catalyst for change
  4. Constantly investing in myself as an artist and as a human being

Maybe these will help you as well.

Name It and Claim It

If I just held myself to a far-away measurement of success like receiving a Tony then I would be a mess for years thinking I was a no-good failure. But, as I teach my students and writers alike, if you’re not failing at something you’re not trying. 

In reaching for a goal you’re first defining what your BIG GOAL looks like and then figuring out how to consistently move toward it. There’s no such thing as failure if you learn from it.

What do you desire enough to keep you moving toward it daily, weekly, yearly? What keeps you motivated over the long haul? Find it.

Name it and claim it as yours, and don’t let anything (or anyone) stop you. Not family, not money, not even time. (Well, death will certainly stop me, but as long as I’m alive and kicking I’ll keep producing theater.)

Find your motivation.

Constantly Be Selling

I hate this one. I’m a theater artist, not a salesman! But I constantly have to sell myself, my writers and my projects (your projects) to get our shows on stage.

No man is an island, and we all need people (who need people) to move ahead. Theater is the most collaborative art, and it’s not just in the creation of a script. We need other people in the creation of our production, in the creation of our artistic business and in the creation of our lives as artists.

Constantly be selling yourself and your shows. Constantly be submitting and pitching. Memorize your pitches, and learn how to pitch better. Constantly network so you can do the first three more often. Develop those relationships until you can call them a friend.

No one said it would be easy, and if it were easy there’d be more people doing it. Uncomfortable but necessary.

Speak to our Problems

In business the way to success is to address people’s problems and then solve it with your products.

In the arts, people’s problems – are ALL our problems. Society’s problems. As a theatre artist I constantly try to present stories that make us better human beings. I would like to think that I have made the world a little better by my being in it and doing theatre.

Can you solve society’s problems with theater? The Exonerated was able to overturn the death penalty in Illinois. It saved many innocent people’s lives. The Laramie Project helped overcome prejudice and intolerance by telling and retelling Matthew Shepard’s story on stageMany of the most financially successful plays and musicals highlight serious contemporary social issues – and they always have, dating back to the Ancient Greeks.

The Ancient Greeks were pretty smart; they knew an explosive platform when they saw one.

One of the quickest ways to get noticed is to address a significant contemporary problem and then to dramatize it for us. (Please do this – we are sorely in need of inspirational storytellers.)

Be a significant storyteller for our times, and you will get on a stage. It’s impossible not to.

Invest in Yourself

Remember the meaning of “priming the pump”? You have to pump the well vigorously enough to get the water flowing “effortlessly.” I constantly invest in myself by learning new technology, trying out new ways of storytelling, and opening myself up to new ideas and perspectives.

Writers also need to “invest in yourself.”

You may need to self-produce to build your “product.”  You will definitely need to invest time and money to build “assets” like the following:

  • Your website
  • Readings (for photos and video clips)
  • Demo recordings
  • Showcase productions for promos, videos, reviews, audience testimonials
  • Sizzle reels and producer pitch decks and reels

Invest in yourself  first in order to get noticed, and then to allow someone else to invest in you. 

What are your dreams? Did this help you?

Please comment below!

Should You Produce Your Own Play?

Should You Produce Your Own Play?

Should you produce your own show?

That depends. Is your show ready for a full production? (Check out my latest blog posts to answer that question.)

If, after much careful thought and input from trusted professionals around you, you determine that your show is ready for a full production in front of paying audiences, then you must honestly assess your own capabilities as a potential producer. The basic question question to ask is, “Am I ready to raise money to put my show on stage?”

If the answer is a “not in this lifetime” no and you don’t have a rich uncle to help, then you must

  • a) play the submit game to submit your play everywhere,
  • b) promote the assets that you have online to create an email list of an engaged demographic,  and
  • c) network extensively to interest potential theaters and producers to produce it for you.

But guess what? B & C are the steps you must take to raise money as a self-producing playwright anyway, and A is a strategy I advise every writer to take even if they have the money to produce the show themselves. This is sometimes a very long game;  often writers get tired of waiting. To “jump start” the process many start to consider producing the show themselves. At least it’s an action that they can make happen; it beats the passivity of waiting [endlessly] for someone else to produce it.

So it seems that the journey ends the same way; only the timelines are different. Kuddos to you if you’ve written enough plays and have submitted often enough to have many plays being developed simultaneously in different places. You’re a rockstar writer, and everyone wants to be like you.

However, I say whenever you can to “choose yourself” and go for it – but educate yourself first to NOT fall into the common money traps that take advantage of novice playwrights and line others’ pockets with your good money. Be wary when others  want to “produce your show” without giving you the majority of the ticketing revenue or offering you a “theater space” without walking you step by step along the process to actually put on a full production. I’ve seen this happen to too many writers over the past many years. I’m tired of it, and angry that other ‘theater professionals’ are so ready to take advantage of those trying to get their plays onstage.

More on this later. First, a brief overview of the common ways most writers self-produce.

Showcases, Fringes and Festivals

Showcases were originally a term that meant a developmental production that independent writers or actors would stage to promote their work and get seen by agents, producers or directors – they would “showcase” themselves. The various Fringe Festivals and other theater festivals that now exist across the globe are producing entities where clusters of “showcases” can produce collaboratively and share expenses of venue rentals, marketing expenses and audience engagement.

Most Fringes and theater festivals can be a useful place to produce a new play or musical that’s in development; many things can only be learned when you put the work in front of an audience. Usually the expense is less than the cost of producing a showcase yourself; however, be aware that you probably will have to do everything yourself.

Reason to produce in a festival: to invite audiences into a performance to learn how they react, with the highest quality  production elements that you can afford.

The AEA Showcase Code

If you are thinking of producing a showcase, you will want to consider the highest level of production that you can afford, in terms of set, lights, sound and talent (designers, director and actors). To cast union (Actor’s Equity Association) actors, you will be asked to comply with the AEA Showcase Code.

Showcases are relatively “cheap” to produce. The Equity Showcase total budget is limited to $35,000, although that doesn’t include the cost of the venue and rehearsal space rentals. There is a limit of 12 performances over a period of four consecutive weeks, and there may not be more than one two-performance day per week. Rehearsals are not to exceed a total of 128 hours scheduled over a maximum of five consecutive weeks, limited to 32 hours a week, no more than six hours/day except during the final week of rehearsal when the director may schedule three eight-hour days. Musical productions may use 5 additional hours for learning music during the first or second week of rehearsal.

The most important point is that no person engaged in any creative capacity for any Code production receive more remuneration than any AEA member.

I like to produce Showcase productions with the goals I would use for a Workshop production – that is, to use production elements to further the storyline and to illuminate character. The good thing is that you will be learning AND receiving some income from ticket sales. Make sure that you include a link in the program for a survey or other way the audience can communicate with you about what they thought after the show.

If you can afford to pay extra to video a performance, do so. Check with Equity for up-to-date rules on this. If you have a non-union cast, think about livestreaming a production as well. A two- or three-camera shoot will allow you to keep an archival recording to send to interested theaters or producers, allow you footage to edit into a sizzle reel or producer pitch, and to re-purpose into content on your YouTube channel or website. What counts today are digital assets that can work to pitch your play or musical 24/7 online, and sharing your clips to interest people to follow you or sign up to your newsletter.

Fringes & Festivals are coordinated by other entities that help get your work onstage. The world’s biggest Fringe Festival is the Edinburgh Fringe in Scotland, followed by the Adelaide Fringe Festival in Australia. In the United States, Festival participants are always on a Showcase Code (if you want to cast union actors), so make sure you apply at least three weeks before you open (the earlier the better).

As a participant in a Fringe or any festival, always make sure you understand the production rules and values behind the festival before signing on. Read the fine print and make sure you understand every detail. Ask for clarification if you don’t.

Better yet, do your due diligence before signing up. Make sure the festival has a good reputation – good enough to bring in audiences. YOUR audiences.


Alternatives to a showcase production are available, The most common are the cabaret (or concert reading) for musicals, or virtual productions (that are honestly more like films) that are created for plays.

Cabarets are useful for musicals – especially when the music is great, but the book needs work. Cabaret performances may also be livestreamed (and ticketed) and recorded without charge, with the permissions of the actors. Like showcases, cabaret readings and performances can be saved as archival videos, or edited and uploaded to YouTube and shared on your website.

Get Help

There are a few online communities where you can find your “tribe” and learn and grow by joining in. The best way to learn is to watch others. There is an investment cost, of course. If you’re interested in joining CreateTheater’s Experts Theater Company (ETC), our resident theater company, we’re opening our doors for registration in September.

Email me at and we’ll get you off to a good start. Schedule a free 15 minute consultation here.


Are You Getting the Most from Your Readings?

Are You Getting the Most from Your Readings?

Now that you know to go virtual (check out my last blog post here) do you know the steps of development? Are you making the most out of your readings?

As a professional theater maker, you need to know what must happen at each step of your script’s developmental journey, and how to get the right audience into the [virtual] room.

What’s the Goal?

If you don’t know the goal, any step will take you there – but you’ll spend way too much money trying to figure it out if you don’t plan out a strategy at the very beginning.

Know your goals before taking the first step, but also know the NEXT step before planning this one.

Usually a table reading is a good first step. It is necessary to “hear” your play read by others, and listen to the feedback afterward. Does it “work”? What are some specific questions that you have – can your readers help you with them? At this stage you’re checking for resonance and engagement. Resist the temptation to listen to each piece of “advice” unless at least three people comment on the same thing, and do a quick “gut check” to see if you agree with them. Important: record the feedback to analyze later.

What would be the next step after this? Another table reading to see if the changes made the script better.

Staged Readings

Staged readings can take place online or in person. Zoom readings are more efficient (and cheaper) and have the added convenience of assembling a team from around the world. If you have a “star” actor or director, this is a good choice, and your online reading should be recorded and shared for archival purposes (more on that later). Check with your AEA representative first regarding union rules of recording readings, since they may have changed.

For musicals, edited staged readings that include prerecorded songs are best. Make sure that you have permission to add your video clips to your website, social media and YouTube accounts.

Sometimes it’s best to produce an in person staged reading. Online readings are tricky for scripts that require a lot of physical comedy and/or lots of physical action. An in person staged reading can make your musical come to life if you arrange your music stands in groups that accommodate “blocking” and can even convey a sense of movement that approximates choreography. Also, for musicals it’s often easier for audiences to feel for the protagonist when they’re “live” (physically in the same room) than when distanced over the internet. However, because of the much greater expense you should only plan an in person staged reading when you’re sure your script “works” by testing it over a few zoom readings.

Plan for this at least four months ahead, as planning is critical. Casting, reserving studio/theatre space, and cultivating the right audience to show up is critical! Don’t underestimate the amount of time, promotion and expense that this may entail. It’s best if you have an interested producing partner (theater, producer, relative) to share the burdens of planning and expenses.

Common goals for a staged reading are:

  • Find out something about the script, music, dance ( the performative elements)
  • Promote your show for a higher level of audience (producers, ADs, possible investors)
  • Use the reading to get a better sizzle reel to show off your work online (YouTube, website, social media)
  • Use the reading as a chance to “test out” a director or lead actor to see if you want to include them on your ongoing team or to see if they “get” your work,

Do NOT plan a staged reading if your show needs editing or if you know there are still “problems.” An in person reading should only be used if you think your show is “good to go” and want to get it in front on influential people. Otherwise, stick to table reads, where the real work can be done.

Don’t forget to engage a videographer to record your reading for archival purposes! It will help you move to the “next step.”

Final Developmental Readings

Do the best quality staged reading you can afford when you believe you are ready to be produced. After the “29-hour” staged readings above, AEA tiers are used for the development of new works (especially musicals) usually prior to an intended planned production. These tier agreements replace what used to be called the Staged Reading Contract, the Developmental Lab and the Workshop agreements. Although these readings are pricey, they allow for video recordings. Usually these Tier AEA readings would only be held if there is a production already in the works, with a commercial producer or regional theater taking the lead.

This is the top of the development chain, and it means your next step is a full production. Although plays may also use the tiers, I find that they are more useful in the development of new musicals.

New plays are new musicals that are not represented by a commercial producer or a regional theater may still move on to a full production, but these are usually developmental productions like those using an AEA Showcase Code and/or those shows in a Festival.

More on Showcases and Festivals next week!

Have questions? Comment below!


It’s Time to Go Virtual

It’s Time to Go Virtual

Is it necessary to add virtual to your development tasks? YES. Are you uncertain or even scared about this? YES. Should you continue to do it anyway? YES.

But only if you want to get your play in front of more people.


Why Virtual


I remember when cable tv was just beginning to be a force in the industry in the 80’s. At the time I was the new Programming Director for a new cable channel (I was young and came cheap), and my task was to find and develop programming for a voracious new 24-hour cable channel. The demands of providing content were enormous, as the beast was insatiable. We had to air everything we could license as often as possible, with multiple repeats of every episode to make sure that something was on the air 24 hours a day, every day. It was exhausting.

The need today is similar with social media. You should always be broadcasting something to create an awareness of yourself as a professional in the industry. This is not easy! I constantly try to do better, because I must. As theater professionals we must first do the work but then also promote and  disseminate it to as broad an audience as possible (hence the term broadcasting). It  is as exhausting today as it was back in the early days of cable.

Virtual readings and performances, promotional videos and “happenings” are all proven strategies to promote yourself as a successful playwright (even if you don’t consider yourself one yet). But you must first carve a space for yourself online.


How to Add Virtual Content


The ability to add virtual content to your website and promotional materials is well worth the effort. Plays and musicals that consistently promote themselves online brand themselves as ready for production. Is your show ready for production?

If the answer is yes, then concentrate regularly on broadcasting yourself and your play to the public by embracing virtual content.

  1. Promote your show online. It goes without saying that each of your shows should have a website, Facebook page and/or an Instagram site, and a NPX page. Musicals should add a YouTube channel. You must be “discoverable” when people look you up, and have a contact page if people want to make contact. Update these as often as possible with audience testimonials, “coming soon” notices, sizzle reels, etc.
  2. Plan a reading. Put it out to your email list and promote free tickets to attend. Build up to the reading with regular content to promote your actors, director, and yourself. If you can record the reading (for archival use only), do so in order to share later with interested prospects. Capture outstanding feedback from audience members for written (or video) content.
  3. Make demos of your music. Record excellent quality musical demos to put on your website and on YouTube with playlists.
  4. Plan “happenings.” Be creative and plan events at local spaces to promote an awareness of your work. Have a play about immigrants? Interview real life characters that speak to the themes in your play and livestream the discussion on Facebook live. Do you have a musical that speaks to young girls? Partner with an establishment that has that audience and then plan an event centered around your musical to promote it. Get your work in front of your target audience as often as possible, and record everything.
  5. Have a professional sizzle reel. A great sizzle reel makes your work stand out from the others online and makes it memorable. A sizzle reel becomes your online pitch that works even when you sleep – so make sure it is everywhere you have want to have a presence. Also, a good strategy is to link your sizzle reel to your email signature page so it’s available to everyone that you communicate with – if they know you they should know about your show.


Scared? Do It Anyway


I have a phrase that has helped me get through everything in life that has frightened me out of my wits, but the I knew I had to do anyway.

“If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing badly.”

That may seem counter-intuitive to you, and you may even be shocked that I’m recommending it. But the way I think of it is, this saying gives me permission not to be perfect. Sometimes just crossing the finish line, even in last place, is a success. And, if repeated often enough, you’ll just get better and better each time.

So give yourself permission to go virtual “imperfectly.” Just do it.

Rinse and repeat.


I’ll be taking my own advice this year and helping others do go virtual with me. Will you be one of them? Join ETC and get in on the action. We’re adding new members in September.

Get your Virtual Checklist here to use as a reminder.

Interested in learning more about The Experts Theater Company? Register for our free OPEN HOUSE on August 30th!