Little Jimmy's Guide To Self-Producing: An Introduction
Well, the theatre blogosphere has brought up the subject (as it apparently does every few years or so) of self-producing, and with Mr. Freeman's post here and Travis Bedard's suggestion that I offer the "hows" (rather than the "whys") of self-producing, so I think it may be time to quit stalling and offer a very one-sided, Jimmy-centric Guide to Self-Producing (in a similar vein to Dave Sim's Cerebus Guide to Self-Publishing, which Nosedive Productions cohort Pete Boisvert and I used as our bible for Nosedive for those first few formative years when we decided we were in fact a theatre company and not just two dudes putting on plays). After all, Nosedive is now kicking off its 10th Anniversary season, so what better time than the present is there for me to natter about the trials and tribulations of self-producing my own work for the past 10 years?
One major perk about writing such a quixotic "how-to" guide like this is, whenever the conversation in the theatrical blogosphere invariably comes back to the subject of self-producing, I can just post a, "check these out" links every few years and call it a day.
Bear in mind that this "how to" dealie, like with all "how to" dealies, contains a great deal of bullshit. I'm basing this all on my personal experiences with self-producing through Nosedive, which is quite different from the experiences many, many other playwrights and directors have had with self-producing. Like I said, this is extremely Jimmy-centric here.
I call this upcoming series of entries quixotic because I don't think this will do very much in the way of getting people afraid to self-produce to jump in and self-produce. Much of the world of self-producing is that of "trial by error," which these entries won't offer. But at the very least, I can point the folks interested in self-producing in the right direction (the way Adam Heffernan and Dave Townsend pointed Pete and I in the right direction when we first moved to the city and ultimately formed Nosedive Productions).
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I guess before I get into the "hows" of self-producing, I should take some time in this introduction to get a little bit briefly into the "whys" for Nosedive (which are part-and-parcel with the "hows"). It wasn't for high-minded or idealistic reasons: we weren't trying to stick it to the institutional theatre model or to get a foot in the door of an off-Broadway or LORT theatre. It wasn't for any financial reasons: we knew that self-producing was going to cost us, not gain us, money. It also wasn't for tangential career reasons: we weren't self-producing as a means to get noticed and whisked away into fame and fortune by a Big-Timey producer (I'm sure we wouldn't have minded, but Pete and I are stubborn, cynical New Hampshire men and are pretty realistic-to-pessimistic about garnering real world success).
Simply put, Pete and I wanted to put on plays, were impatient about doing so, and realized that staging them our damn selves was the best option available to us.
I moved to New York from Boston in the summer of 1999 and wanted to have my plays staged in the city. I had asked a few friends of friends how the hell that would be possible. Most of the options were the same: either form some relationship with a theatre so that they may (may) do a staged reading of my work in a year's time (though most likely longer), or spend a year filling out the paperwork to become a 501c3 (not-for-profit) entity.
My reactions to both options were the same: Fuck that.
Meanwhile, Pete Boisvert, someone I had gone to high school with but fell out of touch with during college, had also moved to New York at the same time and was having a similar experience trying to find directing work. The short story: no one hires a director just out of college with no real world experience.
So, we met up in the city (reunited by our mutual friend, Ben VandenBoom) and commiserated to one another about our respective "going nowhere fast" experiences.
Sometime in September (or October, I can't quite remember) of '99, Pete had asked to read a couple of my scripts. I obliged by sending them to him. Fortunately for me (and for him, since he didn't want to engage in an awkward conversation about how unimpressed he was), he liked what he had read, particularly one play, Allston. He called me one night to talk about him directing Allston. Although I wanted Allston to be staged, I actually wanted another one, Monkeys, to be staged first (for some reason, I wanted this to be my first play in New York and Allston to be my second; don't ask me why).
So, we started talking about the idea of renting out a theatre and putting on Monkeys. Since I didn't - and still don't - have much of a desire or aptitude for directing, and knew someone who wanted to and could direct (and, more importantly, wanted to and could direct my stuff), I absolutely dug the idea of us working together, finding out how to stage this show (and, if it went well, Allston sometime further down the road) and splitting the costs, grunt-work and eventually box-office earnings (if they existed) of the production 50-50.
The bottom line is the two of us were
eager impatient to get started. We didn't move to New York to wait around for years for some theatre company to deign to give us the time of day at their convenience or spend a year or more working on paperwork to become 501c3. If I tried that route, I'm sure I would have gotten frustrated and left the city within a year (Pete tells me he'd have probably done the same).
(I should point out here that we here at Nosedive Central are not the most business-savvy individuals. However, one of the huge perks about self-producing is that you can control how much or how little the business aspects take up your time. The more business-savvy of you reading this will probably have the drive, organizational skills and common sense to create your Web site, fill the not-for-profit paperwork, write your mission statement and print your business cards all while staging your first play. We here at Nosedive did - and are doing - many of those above-mentioned things years later. For good or for bad [often, it's been a bit of both], it's always been about putting on the show first and foremost for us. But I've gotten way ahead of myself.)
So, about two months after moving to the city, Pete and I had the project we wanted to do: my play, Monkeys, which Pete would direct. If the process of getting this show up on its feet wasn't a disastrous experience or financial fiasco, we would then stage Allston. Awesome. Super. Fantastic.
There was just one problem: we knew exactly fuck all about how to go about doing this.
Next: Getting a little help from our friends, staging our first play, and revealing the most basic, paired down, nuts-and-bolts way this came about (with helpful tips for you, Dear Reader!).
Bending your ear,
James "Senile Grampa" Comtois