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!

Something Bigger

Something Bigger

“Something’s coming, I don’t know what it is, but it is gonna be great!” – Tony, West Side Story

It’s Coming!

 

It’s a new decade. 2020.

We find ourselves here, in the present moment. For me, and perhaps for many of us, it looks different from what we expected. The state of our industry, our country, and the world, are suddenly different. How’d that happen?

I know we all look toward 2020, and the new decade in general, to be something bigger. And better!

Where are you now, as a writer, as an artist, as a person? Where are we as a country, as a republic, as a democracy?

The second question may be out of our hands, beside our participation in the upcoming elections. But the answer to the first and more important question lies totally within yourself.

 

How Big Can You Be?

 

I’m challenging myself to be bigger this year, to set bigger goals and step up to the plate more often. I know that my mission in this life is to create theater – theater that expresses where we are at this point in history. When I teach theater to college students, I like to point out that although our discussions center around a play, we’re really looking at a piece of history reflected through an individual writer’s perspective. When we study a play, it’s a reflection of one individual’s viewpoint of what’s happening around them during that point in time.

Therefore, while studying dramatic literature, my students get immersed in the study of history as well. And they love it.

Many of us find it fascinating to study history through personal stories. You and I, by writing and producing plays and new musicals, are creating the theatrical canon of the 21st century.

I think that’s BIG.

My personal 2020 challenge is to help you put more of your stories on stage. Your challenge is to write the best plays possible that reflect the experience of living in this time, in this culture, at the beginning of this new millennia. And when those stories aren’t produced or published, they disappear.

So, how big can you be? Another Chekhov, Kushner, Sondheim, or Miranda? Why not?

 

Believe in Yourself

 

No one does theater because they think they’re going to get rich. And if that’s what you think, I’ve got a bridge to sell you.

You write stories, musicals and screenplays because you believe you have something important to say, to contribute, to the culture. You need to express your own perspective in your own way. And it gives you joy like nothing else when it works, when people stand and applaud your work.

When you know that your play changed something or someone, that makes it all worthwhile, doesn’t it? My favorite example is Jessica Blank and Erik Jenson’s Off-Broadway play The Exonerated, a play about six people who were exonerated after years on death row for a crime they did not commit. After watching a “command performance” in the Senate days before the final vote, the Supreme Court overruled the death penalty in the state of Illinois.

It doesn’t get any bigger than that. Yep, a piece of theater saved people from death and changed government policy.

Believe that your gift of storytelling can change lives and impact this world for the better.

 

It Takes a Village

 

Our plays are very much our children. Like our children, it takes a village to make them grow.

Your village are your connections, your theatrical friends and supporters who have nurtured you and encouraged your work all along. And it’s also the new people you’re meeting all the time, through your networking, pitching, and writers’ groups and classes.

I challenge you to go bigger this year – network more, submit more, learn more, write more. And don’t let the money blues, or the not enough time blues, get you down. Know that at a certain point it really is a numbers game, and if you keep at it you’re improving your odds all the time.

Just keep showing up.

Your real enemy is your own insecurity, your own sense of lack, your own depression or even despair. Sometimes it’s so damn difficult to keep submitting, to keep smiling, to keep trying. Despite yourself,  you are tempted to agree that theater is too hard right now to do.

That’s when you need to lean on people who truly know you and like your work – your Village. People who are in the same place and understand the struggle.

And by the way, a village isn’t a town or a city. They’re too big. Some online theater sites feel like cities,  so crowded and big. You want people to know you, who want to journey alongside you as you move your work forward. A village is your small group, your peers, your peeps.

 

CreateTheater is a Village

 

I’ve envisioned my CreateTheater.com community as a village where people can connect online, take classes online, and network online, to make meaningful ties with other writers and theater industry pros who are part of my theater community in NYC. It’s a village, not a city.

But if you’re a person who likes that “small town” feeling of knowing others and being known, then subscribe to our newsletter. Join in our community and take free classes that will come with the membership opening soon. Meet people along the way who are dreaming as big as you are.

I’m planning more for you coming soon.

Make friends in the industry online. Join the CreateTheater village.

Cate Cammarata is an excellent coach who has helped and encouraged me every
step of the way, since I first worked with her, when she was the dramaturg for the
developmental reading of my show, CRUDE-The Musical, at the 2016 New York
Musical Festival. This past year, CRUDE-The Climate Change Musical premiered at the Cape Cod
Theatre Company, Oct. 10 – Nov. 10, 2019. The show ran for five weeks, with 17
performances, and generated great publicity. I can’t thank Cate enough for her
expert coaching, over the past 3 years, as I worked to improve the arc of the script.
She’s taught me so much about the industry, about producing and about networking.
Cate has also helped me with specific networking opportunities.
I highly recommend Cate Cammarata as a fine coach for any writer looking to
succeed in the theater industry.

— Maureen Condon, Playwright & Composer

I believe a Mastermind group is essential – for the support, ideas generated, the encouragement, the accountability, the important friendships formed and for a sense of belonging in the theater, whether or not we’ve been produced. Cate’s Mastermind, in particular, is extremely helpful.  Cate knows her stuff and gently pushes us forward, stepping in to help when needed.  She is passionate about getting work onto a stage. She makes you believe it’s not “if” but “when”.”

— Jarlath Barsanti Jacobs, Playwright

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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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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.”

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Writing Active Dialogue

Writing Active Dialogue

Let’s Get Some Action Going

 

Have you ever been reading a script when the action suddenly felt clunky, heavy-handed or, even worse, stopped mid-scene?

Probably it was the result of poor dialogue.

Like everything else on stage, dialogue must push the story forward and reveal character, plot points and exposition on stage. When inexpertly done, the action drops dead on its feet. Poor dialogue makes the audience disconnect, makes the plot unbelievable and results in actors overreaching in their attempts to make their character come to life.

It’s the worst.

 

The Rehearsal Process in Development

 

Recently I was directing a new play by a young, inexperienced playwright who was clearly overwhelmed by the production process. In a particular scene the actors were presented with some very poetic, very flowery dialogue. It was beautiful prose, but it definitely wasn’t something that would come out of anyone’s mouth.

My actor was talented and experienced, and everyone in the scene tried really hard to make this dialogue work – but it was extremely difficult to justify these words on stage. Our many suggestions for a modification of these lines were all turned down, and so we were left struggling with a very clunky, heavy scene that stopped the action mid-play. Not great for a comedy.

What to do?

 

Active Dialogue is not Prose

 

Aristotle wrote in his Poetics that diction was the 4th most important element of dramatic action. Although Aristotle seems to infer that diction was more part of the production process than the writing process (more pertinent to the art of the actor than the art of the poet), he also defined diction as the metrical composition of the play, the way that spoken language is used to represent the characters themselves.

Diction is the actual composition of the lines spoken; if Aristotle’s “thought” deals with what is said, then diction deals with how it is said.

In other words, Aristotle’s diction we now call dialogue – not only what a character says but how he says it. If the words don’t sound believable coming from a character in this moment, it is not good dialogue. If it sounds good on the page but completely wrong when spoken out loud, it is not good dialogue.

Prose is not good dialogue, no matter how eloquent it appears on the page.

 

How to Write Good Dialogue

 

Dialogue isn’t an issue with writers who know their characters. If you live with your characters for any period of time, you can write dialogue that accurately reflects who they are and what they’re thinking.

In writing dialogue, use this as a checklist:

  • Dialogue must accurately represent the character in terms of background (geographic, socio-economic, era, age, time of day and state of being)
  • The structure, or meter, of the spoken dialogue must stay true to the overall structure inherent in the play (that is, whether the play is written in verse, is a sung-through musical, is sparsely written with minimal lines, composed of long monologues, etc.) and true to the rhythm, pacing and tone of the script
  • Great dialogue reflects the internal action, or psychological action, of the character in that moment. What does the character want right now in this scene, in this beat, in this moment in time? It gives insight to the character through both psychological and physical choices, and changes to reflect a different intention.
  • Active dialogue moves the story, or the plot points, forward in every moment.

 

Is This Really How People Talk?

 

Always give yourself a reality check: is this really how people in the world of my play talk? Are these lines moving my plot forward, revealing something about the character or giving important exposition that the audience needs to know? Is it structured in a pleasing way? Typically, long monologues tend to stop the action, as will flowery, detailed passages trying to pass as dialogue.

So what happened in the rehearsal room after that? As a director it is my job to justify the words of the playwright, no matter how expertly (or inexpertly) written they are. My choice was to tweak the action of the character to read word for word the flowery prose from her journal, to reveal the “hidden poetry within her soul.” Since this character wouldn’t speak like this, I had her write like this to reveal something hidden within.

The audience bought it, enjoyed the scene and gave accolades to the young playwright. A job well done.

Ah, the hidden art of the director.