Marketing Your Show: the Basics

Marketing Your Show: the Basics

Marketing is NOT a Choice

If you know me then you know that I’d much rather spend all day every day helping you write your show than marketing myself. Marketing is not my favorite thing.

However, I have to remind myself that marketing shows is how we get audiences into seats (butts in seats). Likewise, marketing myself helps me meet more talented writers.

If we are going to engage in commerce at any level, then marketing is not a choice. It’s the basis of business – how you put yourself out in the world and what you do.

Here’s Where to Start

Every show should have the following:

  • LOGO for the show
  • Tagline
  • Short Synopsis: Describe the journey of your show in 3-5 sentences (sometimes you will need a longer synopsis, but not often)
  • Website
  • Quality demos of your music (for musicals)

Who is your audience? Find a person that best represents your audience. Discover everything about that person. Build an “avatar” and speak to that person in every bit of copy you write about your show.

Ask yourself:

  • What does my audience member value? What do they want?
  • What type of job does my audience hold?
  • Where does my audience live (for the most part). Search any demographic Information online that will tell you more.
  • What challenges does my audience member have?
  • What types of products does my audience member buy? Where do they shop, Whole Foods or McDonalds?

Find Your Audience Online

Hopefully you’ve been building an email list of people that have contacted you about your show or about other shows. This is an important list to cultivate, nurture and grow.

How? Get on Social Media. Begin to talk to people that are interested in your show, or who like theater. Facebook groups and LinkedIn groups are also helpful.

Planning a reading? Write a Press Release and send it to Broadway World to be published. Push the press release on social media, and put it on your website.

You Need a Website. That’s not a choice either.

More on that next week! Have any questions? Post 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.

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.

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

 

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.

The 2022 New Works Festival Awards

The 2022 New Works Festival Awards

It is quite a feat to produce an Off-Broadway play or musical; it is quite another to produce an entire festival of Off-Broadway showcases – during covid.

Yet that is exactly what we did with the first 2022 CreateTheater New Works Festival, in association with Prism Stage Company.

From April 15th to May 15th at NYC’s prestigious Theater Row (410 West 42nd Street), we showcased seven productions – six new musicals and one new play – from writers across the country who had developed their work in-house through CreateTheater’s resident writer company, The Expert’s Theater Company (ETC). The productions in the festival were Finding Madame Curie by David KurkowskiThe Golden Cage by Deborah Henson-Conant; Fire Island: The Musical by Jarlath Jones; Sewing the Dream by Judith Estrine, music by David Kurkowski; Ocean in a Teacup by Joel Krantz, lyrics by Neil Selden; Rewind: An 80s Pop Musical by Geoffrey and Sam Rose; and the play Retraction by David Z. Gutierrez.

CreateTheater’s mission has from the beginning been to help develop and produce new plays and musicals. Writers trust me with their new scripts and librettos as a dramaturg-producer. That’s a sacred trust. It’s my job to help them craft work that delivers over their intention to the audience, what they need to say in this time, in this space, through this story. Once I feel the script or libretto “works,” then it must be tested out in front of an audience – which is what we just did.

As an Off-Broadway producer I am known for a certain level of quality, which it was important for me to retain even at the festival level. If you look at the photos on the newworksfest.org website, you can see that each of these shows reflected our high production values. Most sophisticated NY audiences were surprised at what they saw onstage, which went far beyond what they’ve come to expect in a “festival” format.

“The New Works Festival on Theater Row, produced by Cate Cammarata, was an exhilarating display of new work by playwrights with new voices,” said Ed Levy, one of the festival adjudicators.  “From the exuberant 80’s rock and roll of Geoffrey and Sam Rose’s Rewind to the deep philosophical reflection of Joel Krantz’s Ocean in a Teacup, from the Golden-Age melodious, lyrical and comic numbers in the period musicals, Finding Madame Curie by David Kurkowski and Sewing the Dream by Estrine and Kurkowski, to the delightfully fanciful and innovative Golden Cage by Deborah Henson-Conant and the lively and beautifully choreographed Fire Island by Jacobs and Solla, the musicals were dramatic and joyful.  The one straight play, Retraction, by David Gutierrez was charged with electricity, incisive and provocative.  Coming after the drought of the shutdown, this festival of wonderful new works is a welcome shower of delights.”

“Cate Cammarata has established a most needed and important organization in the form of ETC,” said Neal Rubenstein, a veteran Broadway producer. “It is here that those aspiring to be part of the theater community, under the auspices of Ms. Cammarata, have been instructed, guided, and in many instances seen their respective projects produced for viewing.”

Rubenstein also found much of the new work promising. “For me, Finding Madame Curie was especially exciting. It was an enlightening story which should be performed in elementary and/or high schools. Kerry Conte & Kyle Yampiro’s voices soared!  The casting brings this musical to vocal heights.  Kudos to David Kurkowski for amazing music & lyrics that carry Marie Curie’s story forward under the deft direction of Stas Kimiec and musical direction of Larry Daggett.”

We had four adjudicators for the 2022 New Works Festival, all experienced theatre-makers. Steve Marsh is a playwright/director, and a member of the nominating committee for the 2014-2015 Drama Desk Awards. Neal Rubenstein is a five-time TONY-nominated Broadway producer and also a producing member of The Experts Theater Company (ETC). Two other writer members of ETC served as adjudicators: Ed Levy, a librettist-lyricist, and Chris Sherman, a playwright.

“CreateTheater’s New Works Festival on Theatre Row in NYC is one of the most hopeful theatrical events in recent years,” says Marsh. “It has given great opportunities for playwrights, composers, and librettists to have their works produced professionally, Off Broadway, in front of a true NYC crowd. This year’s festival was truly inspiring! I can’t wait to see more.”

“CreateTheatre, under the skillful and loving eye of Cate Cammarata, has produced a new festival that showcases a wide variety of top-notch plays and musicals,” added adjudicator-playwright Chris Sherman. “Calling it a festival does not do it justice.  I’ve never seen such professional and polished production values in any other festival, complete with full sets, period costumes, and scenic projections.   Future productions are sure to be on every producer’s must-see list.  A true Off-Broadway experience!”

It is always my producing goal to give writers something tangible to take away from a production, something that  captures the ephemeral moment of theater once it’s over. Awards are important “proofs” of excellence, preserving the momentous work of so many theatremakers that collaborate to make a production unique. Although I cannot begin to recognize all of the amazing talents and hard work that went into this project, I am proud to present these  2022 CreateTheater NWF Awards.

The 2022 CreateTheater New Works Festival Award winners are:

 

Best Actor in a Play or Musical – (tie)

  • REWIND (Jason Denton)
  • GOLDEN CAGE (Chris Isolano)

 

Best Actress in a Play or Musical

  • SEWING THE DREAM (Aubrey Matalon)

 

Best Supporting Actor in a Play or Musical

  • REWIND (Nick Bernardi)

 

Best Supporting Actress in a Play or Musical

  • SEWING THE DREAM (Catherine Ariale)

 

Best Set Design & Projections

  • REWIND (Richard Oullette, David Forsee)

 

Best Lighting Design – (tie)

  • REWIND  (Zach Pizza)
  • FINDING MADAME CURIE (Michael Cole)

 

Best Costume Design

  • SEWING THE DREAM (Debbi Hobson)

 

Best Director in a Play or Musical

  • RETRACTION (Jen Wineman)

 

Best Book of a Musical

  • REWIND (Sam Rose & Geoffrey Rose)

 

Best Musical Score- (tie)

  • REWIND (Sam Rose & Geoffrey Rose)
  • GOLDEN CAGE (Deborah Henson-Conant)

 

Best Choreography

  • REWIND (Whitney G-Bowley)

 

Best Musical – (tie)

  • REWIND (Book, Music, Lyrics by Sam Rose & Geoffrey Rose)
  • SEWING THE DREAM (Book & Lyrics by Judith Estrine, Music by David Kurkowski)

 

Best Play

  • RETRACTION (David Gutierrez)

 

Most Innovative Production

  • GOLDEN CAGE (Deborah Henson-Conant)

 

To see photos of this work and for more information, go to the Festival’s homepage at www.newworksfest.org

Want to keep up with CreateTheater as we continue to develop and produce new work? Jump on our email list here.

The Place for Festivals in NPD

The Place for Festivals in NPD

Should I Submit to a Festival?

 

I’m coaching with a client this week, and we’re discussing the importance of submitting your work on a regular basis to theaters, festivals and other opportunities that are found on places such as playsubmissionshelper.com, the Dramatist’s Guild website, and on the createtheater.com newsletter.

When we sat down together to create a “best practice” routine, she balked at submitting her play to one of the festivals that I recommended.

“Oh, no,” she said. “One of my friends said to never submit to a festival until you’ve tried absolutely everything else first.”

Okay….

Well, I get it. Why should a writer self-produce a festival show when maybe someone else could produce it for you? The problem is that finding funding, especially at the beginning of your writing journey, is getting harder all the time.

Welcome to the 21st century American theater.

 

But I Don’t Want to Self-Produce!

 

“But I’m a writer, not a producer!” is the common refrain I hear. “It’s hard enough to write the play, much less learn how to produce it. I want to be the writer and let someone else be the producer.”

The reality is that unless you’re already a writer with a proven track record of produced work, no one is going to be lining up, checkbooks in hand, to help you get your work onstage. Sorry, sometimes it’s better to face the truth.

You’re going to have to be the one to jumpstart the process.

I always recommend a proactive approach first: submit, submit, submit. Build your regional portfolio of readings, workshops and residencies as much as possible, since many of these opportunities are funded by a nonprofit theater or theatre company. If your script is good and you submit the suggested 4-8 scripts each week, you’ll start to see some movement forward. But that being said, sometimes it is a long wait, and frustration sets in.

When that happens and I start to hear the frustration of, “but I’m not getting any younger,” then I believe it’s time to start considering self-producing your work in a festival.

With one caveat: to make a festival production count you need to be ready for it – otherwise, without preparation and planning, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment, more frustration, and a whole lot of money “wasted.”

 

The 3 Main Tasks of Self-Producing

 

Remember the 3 main tasks of self-producing all start with an “F”:

  1. Finding Your Audience
  2. Funding Your Project
  3. Filling the Seats

 

Finding Your Audience

 

Like any other producer, you have to know your show and who your audience is.

  • Who is your typical audience “avatar”? What is your audience demographic? Who will absolutely love your show?
  • Finish this statement: “People who love _____________ will love [name of your show”].
  • What is your show about, thematically and generally? Have a very brief prepared synopsis of 3-5 sentences and then identify its genre (epic musical, dark comedy, etc.). Talk briefly about the journey the audience will take and what they’ll learn at the end.
  • Do your research: what does your avatar do/believe in/desire? How will your show sync with that or reflect that?
  • Have your bio ready to send, as well as the bio for anyone on your creative team
  • Be prepared to share any production history thus far, with images (if available), 5 demo tracks (for a musical) and a formatted full script pdf.
  • Finally, talk about your WHY:
    • WHY did you write this script?
    • WHY does it need to be produced now?
    • WHY does an audience need to see it now?
  • Have a simple webpage available as your online business card for yourself as an author or for your show. You need it available to say, “Take a look at my website.” Don’t self-produce in the 21st century without it.
  • Make sure to have your “elevator pitch” committed to memory, documents saved on your phone and/or laptop, ready to talk about or present to someone at a moment’s notice.

A little reflection here goes a long way. Document your answers to the above in writing and images, ready to send out to anyone who’s interested.

Doing the work before you submit helps you feel like a professional, and creating professional-looking documents makes you look like a pro to the receivers as well.

 

Funding Your Project

 

This is where the rubber meets the road.

Know this: no one will believe in your show more than you do. You must “raise” your “child” as best you can until someone else will see what you see in your darling (your script). In order for others to see your work, you may just have to fund it yourself at the beginning, maybe with a little help from friends and family. Unfortunately, there are no guarantees in theater (or in child raising).

Once you’ve decided to go the festival route, it’s best to submit to every opportunity regardless of the expense. Even though if in the end you can’t raise the required “x” amount of money for a specific festival, it’s better to be able to say that a prestigious festival wanted your show than to have nothing to say at all. Any opportunity validates the fact that your script is well-written and sought out.

You will learn some very useful information about your show, the producing process, and yourself. You may also end up networking with other industry people who may be able to refer someone or something to you later on. Hey, you never know when fate will intervene on your behalf, so allow every path to unfold if given the opportunity.

Record every theater that had something good to say about your play, every person who said, “Sounds interesting, let me know when I can see it onstage.” These people will be your first audience and, hopefully, your first fans that will help you raise money.

 

Filling the Seats

 

This is why you’ve already done the first two tasks. You know who likes your script, and you’re prepared to invite people them to your festival show.

Failure to plan is planning to fail, especially at this point. Hopefully you have a following on social media, or a newsletter for your show. If you don’t you’ll want to establish one now.

Preparing for a festival show is exciting, so let everyone know what you’re up to and broadcast it everywhere: social media, personal emails, flyers, newsletters. You’re working to increase your audience, to allow them to buy tickets and to let industry theatre producers know that something so special is happening that they shouldn’t miss it.

Marketing is such a big part of the festival process (and all theater) it’s a shame to discuss it last. Once you decide to commit to a festival, realize that 75% of your time should be devoted to marketing and only 25% of your time to the production. Once you have a director on board your primary job will be as a producer, not a playwright. You must get people in to see your show.

This is where all of your previous preparation will show the most.

  • You’ll have a website to share on social media, etc., with a logo and synopsis already prepared.
  • Each day you’ll put out a new piece of content about your show,
  • You’ll ask your network to “share” on their social media, too.

Enlist the help of the actors and entire team now as well, and you should get more traction.

Write up a press release about your show and submit it to the local press. Make sure to capture any publicity on your social feed and on your website.

 

Use Each Step to Prepare for the Next

 

If you use this festival step as an experience to document your show’s first production, in essence you’re already preparing for the next step for a larger production to be produced by someone else. You’re creating a path for yourself instead of waiting passively by for someone else to notice how good your show is, and to step up to the plate to produce it.

Waiting sucks. It feels so empowering to make something happen yourself.

A festival production can be a valuable, empowering experience, or a depressing exercise that “proves” how difficult theater is. It’s all in the preparation and in your dedication to doing the work.

Don’t take this step until you’re ready. But if you’re frustrated where you are and need to take action, just make sure you’re prepared ahead of time in order to make the best use of your time, talent and resources possible.

It’s all up to you. Good luck!

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