Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Crowded House

One of the things I want to get into today is talk about large casts versus small casts, and the weird conundrum that both provide.

I recently sent my script of Dying Goldfish to Steve Kelsey, Pete and my former high school theatre director, who sent me via email some very good and insightful notes on it. Aside from a few pieces of confusion resulting from a possible generational gap (i.e., he was skeptical that a 24 year-old would meet up with someone at a bar at midnight), his dramaturgical comments where really helpful to me in figuring out where I should proceed with rewrites.

In his notes, Steve pointed out that the cast list was quite unwieldy for professional production (ten actors — five men, five women), yet acknowledged that this was probably essential for bringing in audiences for an Off-off production.

Here’s what Steve wrote to me:

“Do you need to hire all those actors needed for the [wedding] reception [scene] to tell the story you are after? I know that a large, unpaid cast helps box office in a self-produced show but a large cast reduces the viability of an after life for the script.”

He’s absolutely right. It’s a weird thing you have to keep in mind when doing an independent/community/amateur production of a play.

The truth is, when more people get involved with a small show, more people come to see it, since each person involved brings their own friends, fans and family members.

When Jason Parker Green and Mac Rogers did F at ManhattanTheatreSource, Mac admitted he was floored at how many people came out to see the show, since he had never (at the time, anyway; this was before Fleet Week) seen such a high turnout of audience members. I had talked to Jason shortly thereafter, and he said this was due to the rules of the game.

“We had a bunch of writers with a bunch of different cast members involved. That’s why we had so many people come out to see F. You want a lot of people to come see your show on this level, you need to have a lot of people involved,” he said.

This makes sense. One director with her respective audience base, plus four writers with their supporters, plus 13 actors with their supporters equals standing-room-only attendances in that 50-seat house.

I’ve written a few shows that have 25 to 30 speaking roles in them, but Pete and I figure out how to break those roles to accommodate cast sizes of 7-9 actors (bear in mind many of these speaking parts are just tiny one- or two-line parts for characters given names such as DRUNK GUY TRYING TO PICK UP CHICK or ANNOYING CHICK AT PARTY).

To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure if I’m intentionally writing plays that require large casts or not. In other words, am I doing this because I know on some level that I need to write plays that require large numbers of people to be involved in for the production to stay afloat? I really don’t know.

These rules, however, do not apply for the rules of Off-Broadway. In fact, the rules for survival in the Off-off world are the rules for death in the Off-world.

If you submit a script to an Off-Broadway theatre that offers 10 or more speaking roles (and it’s not a musical), the odds of it even getting read are slim. When you have to pay every actor scale in a professional production, it doesn’t make sense to pay someone every night just to say three lines or to be a glorified extra. With large casts, costs can skyrocket.

I will say I find it vaguely amusing that in the world of self-produced Off-off-Broadway theatre you have to be indulgent in order to be economical.

Of course, there’s always the possibility of double- and triple-casting. Personally, I like the idea of having a cast of eight or nine playing 25 or 30 speaking roles. This is something Nosedive did for A Very Nosedive Christmas Carol and will be doing in the upcoming Adventures of Nervous Boy. It can give the play a fun, ensemble-y feeling. Frankly, it feels very…well…theatrical.

(I am also aware that this sort of logic cannot necessarily translate into getting the script picked up for production of an Off-Broadway show. You tell a seasoned producer or director that he or she can come up with a way to quadruple-cast your show that has about the same number of speaking roles as the number of people in Bavaria, they may break your kneecaps.)

I really don’t have an answer to any of this. Suffice it to say in the meantime as I await either Mr. Big-Timey Producer to hand me the Standard Rich & Famous Contract to sign or a Handsome Middle-Aged British Lady of Affluence to be my patroness in exchange for sexual favors and the occasional poem dedicated to her immortal beauty, I’ll probably continue to write plays that require cast sizes of ten actors. What the hell? They’re fun. And they bring in more audience members to your 50-seat house.

Besides, figuring out how to double- and triple-cast the thing is Pete’s problem. (Ah, I’m just kidding, Pierre, ya big lug.)

Petty and petulant,

James “Director’s Bane” Comtois

April 4, 2006

5 Comments:

Blogger Philucifer [aka Charlie Willis] said...

Oh, no! You gave him a blogger blog AND enabled comments!?!?

There's no WAY this can end well.

2:34 PM  
Blogger Jamespeak said...

Then again, Charlie, is this a surprise? Was there really an option of this all ending well?

5:22 PM  
Blogger Froggeh said...

This is the way the world ends...

9:39 AM  
Blogger Philucifer [aka Charlie Willis] said...

... not with a play, but a blogger.

12:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From little me, upon reading this, I think, in a round about way, you hit the nail on the head. Just coming out of doing a community theatre piece - I wanted as many people I could get on stage - I want a lot of non-paid people doing a lot so that my production can make a lot of moola. I also know in the past when said community theatre program has done smaller cast productions, profits were not as good. Not, that community theatre and off-off, oh what am I saying, besides the fact that community, has a community, and off-off broadway, you are a drift in the ocean of theare in NYC, they are basically the same. Except off-off is a little more prestigous and when said you do off-off, it sounds a lot cooler.
Also, I just got done reading and watch Angels in America. And, one of the techniques I loved was the double and tripple casting. It is a lovely technique and something you are really good at. Keep up the good work.

11:27 AM  

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