New Play Development Goes Online

New Play Development Goes Online

Our New Online Reading Series is a Success

 

I launched CreateTheater.com a few years ago, dedicating it to the playwright and all aspects of new play/musical development. I always intended it to be a 100% online theater community. It’s now developing as a virtual space where the theater industry can go online to see readings coming up in the pipeline, network with other industry people across the globe, and lots more.

Our new online reading space, CreateTheater.com’s Monday Night Reading Series, launched this past Monday 3/23/2020 with Melissa Bell’s play ZOE COMES HOME.

Not only did we achieve a high of 47 online participants across the world, people were able to see that a Zoom reading can be almost as effective for NPD as an ‘in-person’ staged reading.

Jack Feldstein, a writer from NYC, found it to be “like a cross between theater and TV and YouTube. A new hybrid form to present new plays. And very helpful for the playwright in their development of their piece.”

 

The Power of Zoom for Readings

 

When an audience member attends a Zoom reading, they are instructed to use the “speaker view,” which utilizes the voice-activated camera technology. The effect becomes something like a multi-camera video shoot.

“The Zoom play reading technique works because we get to see the faces of the actors close up,” Feldstein said. “And actually, in a theater reading we might not able to see faces quite that clearly. Thus, a good actor who is in character and expressive is able to really add to the performance.”

Melissa Bell, the writer for ZOE COMES HOME, found the reading to be very helpful. “The reading gave me solid feedback that I was able to put to use in my writing the very next day. The format allowed me to garner many responses and feedback, from professional playwrights and dramaturgs to avid theatre-lovers.”

She added, “It felt intimate, and we could get a real sense of connection between the characters, even with the virtual format. People told me what was landing for them, and I was surprised by their “most memorable moments.” And I was truly moved by some of the comments I got from the audience – they really encouraged me to keep going! Working with CreateTheater was an opportunity I just had to jump into!”

 

 Desire to Keep New Work Moving Forward

 

Like everyone else, I asked myself what I could do to help my theater community get through this challenging time. As a creative producer and dramaturg specializing in new play and new musical development, I specifically wanted to keep writers’ work moving forward, and thus help them to stay focused, emotionally positive and productive.

What better way to do this than to create an online place for new work to develop? And to use the CreateTheater.com community for networking and meeting others?

 

If you’re interested in presenting an online reading, contact cate@createtheater.com.

 

Join the CreateTheater.com Community – it’s free!

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!

Like talking structure? Sign up for my weekly newsletter for more tips on writing, producing and dramaturgy.

Do I Need a Star?

Do I Need a Star?

The Need for Stars?

 

 “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” – Steve Martin

 

Writing a play and then staying the course to see it produced is a daunting task. It requires tremendous focus and 100% dedication to each step in the developmental process.

 Once you think your play “works,” the next step is to have a staged reading to introduce it to the public, either in NYC or elsewhere. A reading is the step before a workshop or a production.

 So if a staged reading is the step before a workshop or production, what is our goal for the staged reading? Getting people to see the reading. And not just ANY people – specifically, people who could help us get to that next step, a production or a workshop. (We also want to get smart, experienced people to the reading for them to give us feedback as well, but for the purpose of this blog post let’s stay with the people who can help us move the play forward.)

 So, who are these people? How can I get them into my reading?

 

 It’s All About Relationships

 

Since everything in this business is about relationships, you should be developing relationships and networking like crazy as soon as you realize that you want to be a playwright. Specifically, you want to cultivate relationships with Artistic Directors, directors, producers, and generally, almost anyone in the industry.

 Sooner or later you realize that everyone in the theater lives or dies by their network of friends and friends-of-friends. And it’s helpful to be friends with or in close association with someone who knows or has access to a “star.”

 

Getting a “Star” Interested in Your Play

 

 I can hear the plaintive cry from many of you: “I don’t have access to a star, and don’t know anyone who does!”

 Sigh. That’s where most of us start, but if you’re in this industry for any length of time and make an effort to network, you’ll inevitably meet someone (or hire someone) who knows someone to make a connection for you. And if your work is good enough (and your price is right), you’ll probably be able to hire someone that’s worked on Broadway before to be in your reading. Often it’s not as expensive as you think.

For a quick answer, you can contact your intended celebrity by signing up for the IMDbPro, which is what most people use. You can also try contactanycelebrity.com.

 BUT the real answer is that quality work shows up very early, in the writing and in the score (if we’re talking about musicals). Sometimes I start to read a script and quickly become riveted to the story. When it’s this good, I smile and say to myself that “the magic is starting to happen.”

Losing yourself in a theatrical world established by a talented writer is a completely magical experience. The “magic” is found on the page long before it makes its way to the stage, and if you’ve read a few hundred scripts or so like many of us have, you know it doesn’t happen all that often.

“Star” actors see the “magic” when they read your script; the same with “star” directors, music directors, and yes, theaters and producers. The cream always rises to the top. Eventually.

 Unfortunately it usually takes its damn sweet time getting there.

 

I Don’t Have a Star – Yet

 

Notice the operative word here – YET.

In order to find that “star” you think you need to attract the theaters and producers that you think you need to help move your script forward – the most important thing you need to remember is that the first star of your show is …. your script. 

Let me say it again.

Your writing should be so good that your SCRIPT is your very first “star.”

 So, while you continue to network and develop each of your plays, remember it’s the constant fine-tuning to your scripts that is the real work.

No amount of networking or self-producing expensive staged readings can substitute for the nitty-gritty down-and-dirty daily work of meeting with yourself every day to sit down and write.

  •  In order to make your writing the true star it needs to be, remember to acknowledge the daily discipline to write (or re-write) every day.
  • Remember to recognize the need for real craft in your work, and
  • Understand the need to constantly keep learning.

You must be a constant student of life and of the craft of writing to master the craft of writing.

 

As Steve Martin quipped, “Be so good they can’t ignore you.”

Want more ideas for writing your script? Sign up for our newsletter

 

 

 

Like talking structure? Sign up for my weekly newsletter for more tips on writing, producing and dramaturgy.

Top 5 Reasons to Put a Dramaturg on the Creative Team

Top 5 Reasons to Put a Dramaturg on the Creative Team

What if I told you there was a way to jumpstart your NPD process at a fraction of the cost of a staged reading?

There is a way – a standard protocol that’s used by almost every serious producer and significant regional theater out there, including NYMF, Disney Theatrical Group, Davenport Theatrical Productions and many others.

So what is that “secret sauce”?

They all put a dramaturg on their creative team. 

And so should you.

 

What is a Dramaturg?

 

I am a dramaturg. I am typically that smart person on the creative team whom no one is sure exactly what I do because I seem to be everywhere and do everything. This is not unusual for a dramaturg. Maybe that’s why there’s so much confusion around the term.

A dramaturg is a senior member of the creative team who works with the writer on the script and then functions as a “resident expert” on the play. They sometimes remain on the production team to help maintain focus on the message of the text and to advocate for the intentions of the playwright during the production process.

 

How I Work as a Dramaturg

 

I work in NYC as a freelance dramaturg, director and producer with a focus on developing new plays and musicals. As the Literary Manager for a non-profit producers’ organization called Theater Resources Unlimited (TRU), as the Associate Artistic Director of the Rhymes Over Beats Hip Hop Theater Collective, as the Dramaturg for MusicalWriters.com and as an independent commercial producer for my own company, I work with writers to develop their work through writers’ groups, by leading workshops, and by working one on one with writers to create new work.

This is what I do all day, every day: engage with writers on their creative process, work with them over a period of time to help them structure their script, craft their message, make it relevant for today’s audiences and then guide them through the submission and production process.

Including a dramaturg on your creative team can save you time and money and allow you access to a dramaturg’s resources and networks. Best yet, it will give you an experienced and trusted theatre consultant as you head toward the production of your script.

So in my best David Letterman imitation, here are my top five reasons to put a dramaturg on your creative team!

 

Top 5 Reasons to Put a Dramaturg on Your Creative Team:

 

Reason #1: A Dramaturg is Objective

 

As every producer knows, a writer is often the last person to understand what his play is really saying to an audience. They’re simply too close to the work. Every script can benefit from a new set of experienced eyes.

So many writers I’ve worked with walk away from our first conversation with new “a-ha” moments: new insights, new understandings, new messages, and sometimes new plot structures to better communicate their ideas in their script.

A dramaturg should be considered as a “first audience” of a draft, and their feedback as an expert theatremaker is invaluable, especially in the beginning stages.

Just ask Disney – their dramaturg and literary manager Ken Cerniglia was the freelance dramaturg for Hadestown, and the first-ever dramaturg to receive a shout-out at the Tony Awards.

 

Reason #2: A Dramaturg Saves Money

 

Quick survey: would you rather hire a dramaturg for a script evaluation or produce a staged reading to make sure your play “works”?

Well, that was a trick question.

You’ll end up doing both, of course. After your first initial table read, or “pizza” read, many writers believe the next step is to spend between $5000 or more on a staged reading to see how an audience reacts to their work.

Hold on, there.

Hiring a dramaturg for a script evaluation costs much less than a staged reading, and by getting feedback from a trusted source you may get that all-important first audience reaction at a tremendous savings.

Talk with the dramaturg first before the staged reading.

 

Reason #3: A Dramaturg is a Resource

 

Most practicing dramaturgs have either a M.F.A. in dramaturgy, a vast amount of dramaturgical experience under their belt, or both. Utilizing them opens you to their knowledge of structure, theatre history and theatre-making experience, and may add fresh ideas to your own.

Even if you have a M.F.A. in playwriting, you can still profit from a set of objective eyes on your work (see reason #1). Theatre is the ultimate collaborative art, and being open to talking about your work privately with a dramaturg is a first step.

You never know what new exciting ideas may develop until you have these creative conversations about your work. Welcome them. Invite the dramaturg into your process.

Also, with the dramaturg as a senior member of your creative team, they will invite others in their network (usually other theater people) to your staged reading.

Win-win.

 

Reason #4: Using a Dramaturg Opens a New Network to Development

 

And that is another key reason to include a dramaturg: they’ll help you gain access to their network. You’ll meet a whole new set of experienced theatre people who will want to hear about your show.

You don’t have to sit around and wait for your local theater to “discover” you. Why not hire their dramaturg as a freelance consultant? You can get their ideas and maybe gain an “inside advocate” at your local theater at the same time.

I always advise playwrights to be proactive in their quest to get their work produced. Don’t be passive; get out there and find new ways to access the gate-keepers. It’ll do wonders for your self-esteem and your work.

 

Reason #5: A Dramaturg Can Become a Trusted Production Asset

 

In a regional theater, dramaturgs and literary managers forge a critical link between artists and institutions, and institutions and their communities. Dramaturgs often work with various aspects of the production, such as crafting educational materials, creating marketing copy, facilitating conversations amongst the artistic team, and running a post-show discussion. If it needs to be done for a production, chances are a dramaturg can do it.

And they can do it for your production as well.

Often I’ll initially be hired as the dramaturg, but as my relationship with the writer grows I might then become a director, an executive producer, or a consultant on the team. I may help to create the show’s logo and website, to identify and develop an audience engagement plan, or sit in on some marketing conversations. I may even end up producing the show Off-Broadway.

I am always the advocate of the playwright and of the playwright’s intentions for the play, and will protect the show from any overly enthusiastic director, investor, or producer that may want to “rewrite” the work. (As Bob Ost, Director and Founder of Theater Resources Unlimited often says, there are three innate human needs: food, sex, and re-writing other people’s work.)

That’s the role of the dramaturg, and the basis of my relationship with the writer.

 

If you are thinking about contacting a dramaturg I have some open availability in the Fall. Contact me at cate@createtheater.com and we’ll get together to talk about your script.

 

 

How to Get to Broadway in 3 [Not So Easy] Steps

How to Get to Broadway in 3 [Not So Easy] Steps

Still Flying After the TONYs?

 

How many of you are still flying high after the 2019 TONY Awards ceremony? The encouragement to all performers to continue the work, to celebrate our diversity, and the overall pure celebration of this art form in general and our NY Theater community specifically was so clearly demonstrated and felt. I want to hold on to this positivity and feeling of limitless potential – especially when life clearly wants to show me the opposite.

Who here wants to feel that you too can get to Broadway? How do we – we, the little people sludging through the theater pipeline – escape the muck and murkiness and come out shining on the Great White Way?

How do WE get go Broadway?

I’ve given this a LOT of thought – after all, it’s what I do – and from where I stand, here are my observations from watching how many of my friends who were present (and on screen) at the TONYs got there.

Here are my three not-so-easy steps on how to make it to Broadway:

  1. Get an idea that’s highly relevant
  2. Be prepared to do the work – for a long time
  3. Don’t be afraid to self-produce your own work.

 

Get an Idea That’s Highly Relevant

 

What speaks to you? What story, mission or message is burning a hole in your heart to get out to the world?

THAT’s the story you need to tell.

Chances are, if it’s burning a hole in your heart it’s burning a hole in many other hearts as well. You’re just the message-bearer meant to bring it to everybody else. And remember, karma’s a bitch.

Now what do I mean by “highly relevant”? By that I mean a message that:

  • Speaks to a larger issue in our culture that is of great concern. By identifying and promoting a larger conversation you are participating in the current cultural conversation and sharing the right ideas at the right time.
  • Topical or Universal. If your story, mission or message cuts across the cultural and chronological divide, you have a timeless human story with a thread that resonates for human beings everywhere. Human beings love to watch inspiring stories about other human beings struggling to succeed with something that’s important to them.
  • Stories that engage both the audience’s head AND heart. As I tell all the writers I work with, write from your heart first and edit with your head afterward.

If the message is important to you and you can answer the question, “Why this story NOW?” then it’s a highly relevant story.

 

Be Prepared to Write and Re-Write

 

Getting to Broadway is a marathon, not a sprint. If you only hold the vision of seeing your work being celebrated on a Broadway stage somewhere in the future, you’re in for many long, dark days stuck in the pipeline. Find joy in the process and understand that not every script needs to find its way to Broadway.

There are many smaller achievements to celebrate as you travel along en route. Learning to recognize and celebrate the little things that put a smile on your face gives you your daily inspiration to keep going.

  • Celebrate every “aha!” moment that comes from the daily work in the trenches (yes, I said daily). There’s joy in that delicious idea that manifests itself
  • Celebrate the YOU that’s becoming. You are DOING what you said you’d do for yourself, and in the promise you are growing into what you said you wanted – someone who writes successful plays or musicals. How many people that you know actually do what they dream? Remind yourself, “I AM a writer/composer/lyricist.”
  • Find the joy that comes with collaborating with other creative people. Part of becoming a successful writer is knowing and working with other creative and brilliant artists. Take joy in immersing yourself in all of the creativity that’s around you, until one day you realize this is where you belong. This is who you are.

A note of caution here: don’t feel compelled to listen to everyone. Not every opinion needs to be addressed by anything more than a brief acknowledgement. “Thank you, that’s interesting. I’ll think about it,” should be your most frequent response. However, if the same comment, in various forms, appears more than three times, it is probably something you should look at.

 

Don’t Be Afraid to Self-Produce

 

THE DREAM: I need to find a [producer, theater] to produce my script. I’m a writer, not a producer.

THE REALITY: You need to be your own producer – at least at first.

How many of you were always the last to be chosen for the softball teams? Doesn’t sitting on the bench suck? It’s the same here. Be proactive in your life. Start the momentum by producing your own work.

Overwhelming, you say? Take it easy. Start baby-stepping your way to success.

  • Save your money. No one is going to love your baby (your work) more than you do.
  • If you don’t have money, be creative about finding people who do.
    • Learn how to start a Kickstarter fund
    • Ask! Start with those who know and love you, and their friends and family.
    • Make relationships with theaters near you. Volunteer, donate, go to their galas. Show up on their social media. Be their local ambassador and build a relationship with them.
    • Find groups, companies, non-profits or institutions who resonate with your show’s message and target audience. Find ways to introduce them to your show.
  • Network! Join communities online (like createtheater.com) as well as your local networking groups. Believe that synchronicities are always around the corner, and they will be.

Whoever promised that achieving a life-time dream was easy? Was anything worthwhile ever easy? Is life really a Staples commercial?

 

If You Are a Writer, You Write.

 

Ask any of the recipients that earned their stripes – er, TONYs. Nothing is easy. Ever! Nothing is promised.

But as trite as it sounds, “the joy is in the journey,” and if this is WHO you are and this is WHAT you do – it’s worth all of it.

Do what you have to DO to BE who you need to be.

DO BE DO BE DO.

 

Ok, let’s get to work! 🙂

Are you looking for more inspiration? Sign up for my weekly newsletters for opportunities and discounts that I only offer to my subscribers.

Best of all, they’re all free.