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!

How to Move Your Script Forward

How to Move Your Script Forward

Moving Forward

This summer has been a time for reading scripts. It’s my favorite thing to do in the summer. It’s so exciting to discover a new play or musical that’s ready to move forward into a developmental workshop or even into a complete production.

The problem is, right now that’s harder than ever to happen.

I don’t have to tell you how the shutdown has impacted our industry – we’re all painfully aware. The good news is that audiences are slowly returning, and with various incentives from grants and subsidies more shows are being produced. What’s different is that the cost of production has never been higher.

What does that mean for your show? And how does it impact moving your show forward?

How do you strategize as a playwright right now?

  1. You must continually write new work. Build up your portfolio of new work of all types.
  2. Develop your work online and in-person, and let the world know
  3. Submit your work everywhere possible and feasible
  4. Plan readings & record them

Nothing new here, right? Well, hold on. There’s a few more insider tips I’m sharing with my writers.

Write Like a Producer

Every writer must think like a producer right now when beginning a new script. What would make this new work attractive to producers? What experience, new thoughts or new ideas could it give an audience? What’s the journey you’re asking an audience to go on with you? How can you make your script more cost-effective to produce?

After reading easily four dozen new plays and musicals so far this summer, here are some things that now stand out to me as central as reader, and as a producer.

First, I’m looking to be immersed in an interesting world, preferably one I’ve never experienced before. There’s a million and one locations over time and space that are possible, so be creative. Have fun building this world! The more delight you take in the research and conception of it the more we’re going to enjoy it later. Make us laugh! Entertain and delight your audience.

Second, by the first 15 minutes make it clear on whose journey I’m on and what your main character is after. Don’t make me wonder what’s going on 30 minutes in.

Also, make sure your script is ready to be submitted. It’s not my job to edit out scenes that go nowhere or characters who sit and talk endlessly. Ditto for typos and other poor formatting. Not sure of the proper formatting? Look it up. Make sure you look like a pro.

Writing like a producer means to think about holding to a small cast size (2-8 max, even for musicals), a single set, and limit including any unnecessary projections, props or stunts in your script. Instead, craft fully-realized characters where each action and interaction flow from their intentions.

I love it when a script is based on a story in the public domain, or based on a known person or event. My recognition of what your show is about helps me understand it at the very beginning – and that can give your play a definite advantage later when a producer can capitalize on that audience awareness.

Write, Then Promote

After your play is written, the real work of promoting it beginsYou must write AND promote. Even if you have an agent, you must continue to promote yourself consistently. There’s no way of getting around it.

The best ways to do this are:

  • Submit your work constantly. Give yourself a goal of at least 3-5 submissions a week (or month) and hold to it. Check online resources like the Dramatists Guild or Play Submissions Helper for current opportunities.
  • Research regional theaters to see which ones have produced work similar to yours. When you find them, reach out to them to ask about their submission policy (if not stated clearly on the website). Initiate a conversation – poof, you’ve made a contact.
  • Hold a reading, either in person or online. Listen to the feedback.
  • Record it and send the link to your email list. Show your fans your progress. Password-protect it on Vimeo or YouTube and send it out when requested.
  • Have the reading edited into a short sizzle reel and put it on your website, on your email signature, on your YouTube page and New Play Exchange page. I’ve seen many dynamite sizzle reels in the past year – make sure yours is one of them. (Sometimes the sizzle reel is better than the script, but that’s a different blog post.)

Get to Work on Your Next Play

Then get to work on your next play. Remember you’re playing the long game here, and if you’re a writer, you write. Consistency pays off.

But don’t neglect your other darlings. Write daily, and then promote weekly. It’s a lifestyle – one that you say you want.

Persistence is the only way to get anything done in the theater. Or anywhere.

Are Zoom Readings Still Useful?

Are Zoom Readings Still Useful?

As someone who was one of the very first producers presenting Zoom readings in 2020 and who was able to raise hundreds of dollars for smaller theaters across the country, I’ll be the first one to tell you that Zoom readings can be a cost-efficient way to develop a script. But it’s not 2020 anymore. There are a few things to think about before setting one up.

 

Zoom Readings Are Live

 

A Zoom Reading is a great way to get your script heard. Until you get out of your head and hear your words interpreted by someone else, you won’t really know your next step. Should you rewrite the opening with a different point of attack? Does your climax feature a secondary character instead of your protagonist? Is it clear what your script is about?

By scheduling a live Zoom reading, you’ll get feedback immediately. Listen to your audience and your actors. Did the audience react and laugh when you expected them to laugh? Were they confused about whose journey they were on? Did they “get it”? 

I always like to weigh my options when developing a new script. Zoom readings can offer advantages to both playwrights and producers in the early days.

  • Cost-Efficient – With a “Pro” subscription of only 14.99/mo, the Zoom platform is hard to beat. You can easily cast friends to gather for a cold table reading (no need to cast to type) by sending them your latest draft, and then to stay afterward to discuss.
  • Convenient – Since your goal is to get the smartest people (or the most well-connected) into the room to give you feedback, you make it easy for them to participate – all you’re asking is for them to make time to listen, from the comfort of their own home.
  • Build an Audience – The convenience of Zoom gives you the ability to also invite potential investors, producers, artistic directors, and other members of the theater community to be on board with you as you develop the script. If people are interested in you or your show, they appreciate the opportunity to become part of the creative process.
  • Build a Fan Base – Similarly, online Zoom readings give you the ability to develop and then gather a group of “raving fans” to be part your audience. One of my writers did this, and now he can depend on this dedicated group of fans to regularly show up to see his show whenever he presents it. Followers count!
  • Raising Money – The knowledge of who your target audience is not only helps you to market and promote your shows, it will also help you successfully raise money – both directly and indirectly. Potential investors or donors can be sent a recording of your reading afterward.

 

Zoom Fatigue and Technical Limitations

 

After two years some Zoom fatigue has set in. “Oh please, not another Zoom reading,” some say. But try to invite producers to an in-person reading, and many still are reluctant to attend. It’s all about safety – and we need to keep each other safe.

I know, we’re all Zoomed out. We long for the way we did things in 2019, but until covid is a thing of the past (which it still isn’t in 2022) Zoom helps to keep theater alive and moving forward safely. I know some artistic directors who would prefer to listen to a Zoom reading in their car instead of having to take the time to read a script.

There are some times when you shouldn’t plan a Zoom reading.

Zoom can be decidedly NOT helpful if your script contains a lot of action. Stage directions are a poor representation of comic moments, for example. We once tried to produce a Zoom reading for a madcap comedy dependent on hilarious mishaps. It fell flat, dependent upon a reader reading stage directions instead of watching talented actors demonstrate comic timing and physical comedy. Also, the missing laughter from other audience members enjoying the moment did not give permission for others to laugh along. (Hint: always encourage the audience to react in the chat space, also some find that irritating.

Especially when developing a musical, Zoom technology doesn’t allow us to learn as much as  we need. It is famously not set up for the overlapping of voices and the underscoring of music, unless first recorded and then edited. (Note: I believe some other platforms now do this.) The musical experience is limited in a zoom reading. Even if you play a demo track, what does your audience see onscreen? It’s disconcerting not to see the characters sing – and lip syncing is even worse. The best choice may be to see slides with lyrics written out, but that can be distancing for the audience. Some cannot integrate the binary experience of dialogue and inserted songs enough to feel a powerful catharsis.

For a successful Zoom reading to advance development you may need to do some extensive editing. In this competitive environment, potential producers or producing partners may request to see your best work visually before they can “see” it on stage. Professionally edited Zoom readings have become an acceptable way for busy artistic directors, investors and producers to experience a show on their device without needing to read an entire script and listen to demos, and can be a definite asset.

 

Use the Technology to Your Advantage

 

At CreateTheater I find Zoom to be an indispensable tool for development, no matter what stage a script is in. Since the writing process is often more “re-writing,” a company of theater professionals experienced in new play development is indispensable. When we trust the feedback and those giving it, the opportunity to present a Zoom reading, re-write and present again inexpensively is tremendously helpful.

Zoom isn’t going away anytime soon. The key is to make it work to your advantage.

 

 

 

Finding New Paths

Finding New Paths

“The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and, if they can’t find them, make them.” GEORGE BERNARD SHAW

Developing and producing new work in a post-covid world is challenging – to say the least.

More than ever, theater companies and writers need to be savvy and intentional both in their work and in their business models. We need to find a new path.

As an academic and as a commercial producer developing new work, for years I saw the potential for universities to step into the void left behind when non-profit theaters began to feel the financial pinch. The spaces available to our students at SUNY Stony Brook made my commercial producer friends jealous – at least until the theater arts major itself was killed off.

But the lesson was learned – by providing universities with opportunities that benefit their students, new work could be given room to grow on a college campus, to the benefit of both students and creative teams.

A few years ago my college friend Kevin Halpin, now Chair of the Performing Arts Department at SUNY Cortland, asked me, as another SUNY professor, to review his new BFA in Musical Theatre. I was happy to come up and take a look. After sitting in on classes and talking to the faculty and students, I realized he had created an amazing department to develop new actors, singers and dancers. The training was thoroughly professional, and the facilities were breathtaking.

I also knew that as working actors, his students would need to learn how to develop new work and needed opportunities to do so.

 

The Professional College Musical Theatre Partnership

 

I am thrilled to announce that CREATETHEATER and SUNY CORTLAND PERFORMING ARTS have just formed the new Professional College Musical Theatre Partnership to develop new musicals in their B.F.A. in Musical Theatre program.

The new CreateTheater/SUNY Cortland partnership will begin accepting submissions of new musicals from now until July 17th, 2022.

This new program will produce one staged reading each year, with submissions managed by CreateTheater and the final project selected by the college faculty. The program is seeking new musicals in development with no previous production history, centered around young people’s voices and perspectives on current issues.

This is hopefully the first of many years of creative collaboration between the nonprofit professional training programs on campuses and the commercial theater world . With commitments such as this one, the professional theater and the academic world together are finding new ways to develop, promote and produce new work in the 21st century.

For more information and to submit, go to createtheater.com/college-theater-development-partnership.

To read the Broadway World article, click here. 

To learn more about SUNY Cortland’s Performing Arts BFA, go to their website here.