The Need for Creative Producers

The Need for Creative Producers

Why I’m a Creative Producer

 

On May 13, 2013, in a speech at the Theater Communications Group (TCG) Gala, Emily Mann, longtime Artistic Director of the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, NJ, stated that the nonprofit movement was started because the commercial theater was “destroying theater as an art form.”

What??

This was an odd statement for Ms. Mann to make, having just received an honorary Tony award for the McCarter Theatre for its contribution to the vital function in the health of American theater, and having VANYA & SONYA & MASHA & SPIKE – developed at the McCarter – nominated for best play. Many in the commercial theater were offended by her comments, feeling that regional nonprofit theaters should be grateful to Broadway for allowing them to actually make a profit on occasion.

This in essence is the ongoing debate in the American theater.

 

Commercial Producers Help Drive NPD

 

In this era of almost nonexistent support from government and private foundations, sometimes regional nonprofit theaters are financially compelled to form partnerships with commercial producers to create new work – often works of significant value that, once having appeared on Broadway, provide enough necessary monetary success to allow the nonprofit theater a financial cushion it wouldn’t otherwise have.

Yet, while grateful for the funding, nonprofits are ever cautious about accepting money from “the dark side” for fear of loss of control of the artistic product, and for fear of betraying the mission under which the organization must adhere.

Commercial producers are usually driving these partnerships, lured by the opportunity to develop new work away from New York at a reasonable cost. However, as Ms. Mann’s comments show, everyone isn’t always perfectly happy with the arrangement.

That was in 2013. Has anything changed today?

 

Regional Theater and the History of New Play Development

 

During the 1930’s and 1940’s there was a feeling that there were important stories to be told that wouldn’t and couldn’t be produced by the commercial theater, because of the economics of Broadway.

The resulting Regional Theatre Movement during the 1930’s and 1940’s, led by its three founding matriarchs of Margo Jones, Nina Vance and Zelda Fichandler, proposed a new nonprofit model supported by and created for local communities, which would have the artistic mission to create new work and produce new interpretations of the classics, to bring about a “new renaissance” to the American theatre in the twentieth century.

These participants of the Regional Theatre Movement felt that it was their mission to create “art” as opposed to the mission of the commercial theatre, which they often perceived to be merely to generate income.

Somehow, developing “art” made their plays more “noble” than the work that was developed in the commercial sector.

Even today, in the eyes of the nonprofit theatre, Broadway sometimes still is an entity not wholly to be trusted; it is the “other”, a center of crass consumerism.

Founding leader Zelda Fichandler was burned once in an attempt to bring an Arena Stage production of The Great White Hope to Broadway; forever after her response to such partnerships was “Broadway: no.” Some nonprofit artistic directors feel the same to this day.

 

Commercial Producers Can Be Artists, Too

 

Commercial producers take offense at being perceived as merely “money men” (and women) – they consider themselves to be just as creative, smart and “hands-on” as the nonprofits, investing in the life of the play for the long haul.

Here’s the deal: a commercial producer must look beyond a single production to guide the entire life of the play from conception to (hopefully) an enduring life in the regional, educational and community theaters.

A producer’s enthusiasm and belief in a production is the fuel that drives the play forward. Many new plays are driven by a commercial producer who receives permission to produce the play from the playwright, or the playwright’s agent.

The producer then spends years (typically 7-9 years) on the development end for the play, hosting readings and developmental workshops to help each play find its own signature voice. Thousands of dollars are spent gathering a committed team of professionals in preparation for rehearsals to begin.

They do this all without being paid, without drawing a salary on the project for years – all because they believe in the work, just as much as the “art-driven” nonprofits do.

 

Commercial Producers Develop Work

 

Commercial producers with a dramaturgical sensibility can creatively bridge the gap between the nonprofit and commercial theater and encourage partnerships between the two that are beneficial to both.

Producers skilled in dramaturgy can bring to life the voices and images that accurately reflect our American experience at the beginning of the twenty-first century – and secure their future in the American theatrical canon for posterity.

Jill Rafson, then Literary Manager of the Roundabout Theatre in New York City, called for 2013 graduates from The Commercial Theater Institute – an organization that trains new producers – to become “Creative Producers.” She said that “Creative Producing” was the most underdeveloped skill in the industry, and that only through the insight and leadership of Creative Producers would emerging playwrights be challenged to develop more innovative and original work.”

 

Another successful guest lecturer in the program, commercial producer Kevin McCollum, pointed to a dramaturg in the class (me) and told the rest, “You all should know what she knows.”

 

Producers breathe life into a script. Playwrights need producers to mount their plays and to project their voice into the larger culture for them.

Creative Producers, using the skills and knowledge of dramaturgy, are necessary to help develop original new plays and to contribute significant new work into the American theatre canon.

 

Make Friends with a Non-Profit

 

If you’re a writer, make friends with a regional non-profit. Make connections with directors and producers who have contacts at theaters everywhere.

Submit everywhere. In reality, it’s a numbers game.

Learn dramaturgy – it’s an essential skill set.

Are you affiliated with a regional theater, I’d love to hear your side of the debate. Email me at cate@createtheater.com, and I’ll feature you on another blog post.

How do YOU feel about commercial producers working with regional theaters to develop new work? Let me know your thoughts..

 

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What Do Producers Look For in a Script?

What Do Producers Look For in a Script?

What Do Producers Look For in a Script?

From Page to …

You’ve finished writing your script, held a few readings and incorporated the feedback, and worked with a dramaturg. Maybe you’ve even had a showcase production of your show and have a website up with clips to prove it.

Now you need someone to help you take it to the next level!

Where’s a producer when you need one?

The Writer-Producer Relationship: First Steps

 

The writer-producer relationship is a special marriage of business savvy, creative vision and aesthetic resonance. Somehow your play must powerfully connect in some way to the producer’s psyche, to his “mission” as a producer, in order for him (or her) to go out and raise the kind of money that is needed for production. A producer must BELIEVE in your work and in your voice as a writer.

How do you as a playwright connect with producers?

  • Get to know producer’s tastes by studying what s/he has already produced and email them a synopsis of your script
  • Study regional theaters to find out the personality of the artistic director, and look for patterns that emerge when you compare their past seasons
  • Network through local theaters, the Dramatist Guild, Fringe Festivals, theater meetups, and CreateTheater masterminds, courses and Facebook Live groups.
  • Attend readings and workshops as much as possible, then stay and talk to people. Their connections can become your connections.

What Are Producers Looking For?

All producers are different and look for different things. I’ve asked a few of my friends what they look for in a new script.

Patrick Blake, Off-Broadway producer (The Exonerated, In The Continuum, Play Dead, 39 Steps) and Founding Artistic Director of Rhymes Over Beats Theater Collective

There are only so many stories, and they have been told dozens if not hundreds of times. What I look for is how fresh or stylistically interesting they are.

Daryl Sledge, Off-Broadway producer (Fried Chicken and Latkes, My Father’s Daughter)

 

What attracts me about a script is how well-written and how “produceable” it can be. For instance, what I look for are projects that have very few actors, very few settings and costume changes. That way you can keep your budget down … and it should be commercial. It should have acting opportunities for superb actors. I’m looking for things that challenge us, that set the mark for today, that say something about the type of society that we live in today. I’m looking forward to producing scripts from new writers that we’ve never heard from before that challenge us – that challenge us to be better people, better Americans, better citizens of the world. I’m looking for projects that really resonate with people today that will also bring in a new audience.

 

Jeremy Handleman, Tony Award-nominated Broadway (On The Town) and Off-Broadway producer (Fking Up Everything, White’s Lies)

 

The first thing that’s important to me is that I have to be emotionally affected by the material. That sounds rather basic, but not every script is going to move me and maybe something that doesn’t move me is going to move somebody else. So it has to be the right fit between the material and the producer. I also have a couple of other initial filters that are specific for me, which is that I tend to be drawn to character-driven work. Since I am a commercial producer, there has to be some gut level feeling that I have that there is a commercial path to this even if I don’t quite know what it is at this point. My third filter is whether the writer or the writing team a person or a group of people who I feel good about the possibility of working with, because possibly this is a relationship that could go on for years and years and years, so that relationship has to be strong.

 

Michael Alden, Tony Award winning Broadway (Come From Away, Disgraced, Grey Gardens, Bridge and Tunnel) and Off-Broadway producer (Not That Jewish, Becoming Dr. Ruth, Bat Boy, The Last Session)

 

First of all you want to find good writing, but the thing that intrigues me the most is stories about misunderstood outsiders. People that are having a hard time either finding themselves in their own community or being understood by their community. So the shows that I’ve done in the past speak to either about a child or the child inside of you that’s seemingly isn’t being connected with what’s going on around you, or not being understood by what’s going on around you. So that’s why I like Grey Gardens or Bat Boy the Musical. That’s what speaks to me.

 

Cate Cammarata, Off-Broadway producer (The Assignment) and Associate Artistic Director of Rhymes Over Beats Theater Collective

 

As a producer I’m looking for a script with a strong female protagonist that challenges an audience and inspires them and gives them some kind of a fresh idea, a new thought that maybe they never had before.

 

CreateTheater is about Connections

 

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Denial is not just a river….

Denial is not just a river….

Money.  There.  I said it.

As much as I try to avoid it, everything comes back to one thing: money.

As artists that’s a dirty word.  Our art, our mission, is what’s important.  It’s our life’s work, our passion, what means more to us than anything in the world.  And we’re right – our art IS the most important thing that gives meaning to our lives.

But we are composed not just of spirit, but body.  And that body needs to eat, to be warm, to be refreshed, just as much as any stock broker, engineer, or doctor.  No value judgements on what we each contribute (which is significant, speaking as an artist).  The plain bare bones facts are that artists can’t starve – they have to eat too.

Just as important – artists have to sell their art to create the significance both their body and spirit need.  Engaging an audience and getting our message through to them is at the heart of our art.  But it’s a constant struggle.

Rule of Engagement

The truth is, there are no rules to find the money you need to get your art, your show, out there.  And if someone tells you there is, a quick google search will prove them wrong.  Ingenuity trumps all rules every time.  But the reality is, if you don’t make the effort your play will wither on your hard drive or your heart and be buried faster than my car in this current blizzard.

Since this topic is at the top of my pre-frontal cortex now as a creative producer, artist, and as human being, I think it’s a topic worth exploring.  The mission of this blog is to Create Theater, and raising money is a major challenge to that in the current economy.

Raising Money for Theater is necessary.  Nobody likes it!

The next few posts will delve into raising money both as a non-profit, for a commercial venture, and as a mixed hybrid of both.  So stay tuned, and let me know your thoughts.  This isn’t meant to be a monologue, but an dialogue – or maybe an improvisation!