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.
CABARET, VIRTUAL AND MORE
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.
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 cate@CreateTheater.com and we’ll get you off to a good start. Schedule a free 15 minute consultation here.