Thursday, January 14, 2010

Little Jimmy's Guide To Self-Producing, Part 3: Landing the First Show

I realize, somewhat sheepishly, that my last "Next" tagline for this part of my "Guide to Self-Producing" is a total, or at least incomplete, lie. I still need to wrap up some aspects of staging that first play before getting into nattering about Incorporation and 501c3 paperwork, company-building and flashing forward. As always, I've gotten ahead of myself. I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me (albeit slowly over time).

For this entry I still need to write a bit about how Pete and I did some (meager) promotional work with our first play, Monkeys, then skip right to the end with how the show went down, then go into what we learned from the whole experience. The following entries from here on in will be more "overviewish" and "how to-ey" (those are real words, right?).

* * *

I don't think I'll get too much into the rehearsal process, since how you organize your rehearsals is really up to you. Plus, how long or how short you want to rehearse is your call. Pete and I have our methods, you have yours. I see no point in offering any coaching tips, however direct or indirect, on the subject. I'm not teaching you how to direct (I couldn't even if I wanted to) and not explaining to you how to organize your cast's schedule. Those are tailor-made real world headaches that you're just going to have to figure out on your own, unfortunately. (If you're super-curious, we usually do 3-4 weeks of rehearsal with one week of tech, but that's just how we roll.)

Although we ended up getting decent attendance for our first play due to emailing everyone and anyone we've ever heard of to come see the show (and the sheer novelty of us dipshits putting on a play six months after moving to New York compelled many of our out-of-town friends from Boston, D.C. and Manchester, New Hampshire to come to New York to see what all the commotion was about), we didn't do a whole lot in the way of publicity aside from designing a promotional postcard (which can be found here), printing 5,000 of them (we used 212 Postcards at the time but now make business card-sized promotional cards through, and mailing them to friends & family members, handing them out at every party or get-together we were invited to (or crashed) and dropping them off at virtually every bar, coffee house and tattoo parlor below 14th Street.

Our publicity campaign for Monkeys was simultaneously as low-grade and pathetic as you can get but also our most tenacious and energized. We weren't listed in any sites or magazines as far as we know (aside from being advertised on the Surf Reality's Web site), but we were more aggressive in badgering everyone we knew, everyone we kinda knew, and everyone we had just met - in person, over email and over the phone - to come see our goddamned play. Fortunately, there were many people in the cast for whom this was their first play in the city as well, so several of the cast members were equally tenacious in getting their friends, acquaintances and borderline enemies to come see it.

Nowadays, it's just a matter of writing a press release and emailing it to our press contacts list, emailing our mailing list and posting the plugs on this here blog. Not that I'm complaining, mind you. I'm just kind of marveling at how much literal footwork we were all willing to do when we were in our early twenties.

(It wasn't until putting on our second play, Allston, that we knew about theatre listing sites, such as, or ticketing agencies, such as or But of course, you know about those places - and many others - because you're much savvier than Pete or I ever was, or ever hope to be.)

Both Adam Heffernan and Dave Townsend gave us some examples of promotional postcards from other shows, and it was Adam that told us to come up with a production company name to make us seem more "legit." I already knew the name we'd use: Nosedive Productions, the name of a fictitious production company I made up in high school (and would doodles on my notebooks, complete with a logo of a face with a shit-eating grin offering a very enthusiastic down-turned thumb). There wasn't any discussion there: we had bigger fish to fry and more important things to worry about. Since we didn't consider ourselves a company at the time, the last thing we cared about was what our name would be. Yes, I'm still vaguely amused that a company that's been producing theatre in the city for over 10 years has such a ridiculous name. No, I don't regret it one bit.

Although we didn't seek (or receive) any reviews, or go through any online ticketing agency, it's just as well. It was our first show and we weren't quite ready to get bitch-slapped by any negative press, and it wasn't like we really needed to do any "crowd control" or advanced sales. No; we charged $10 (I would keep $5, Pete would keep $5), which I collected from the audience members and put in an empty coffee can.

(I don't recall anyone flashing their Equity card at me, but perhaps that's because they saw that the "box office" consisted of a dorky 22-year old holding a coffee can and simply didn't have the heart to use it. Who knows?)

The show went up, and our houses ranged from respectable (12-20 people) to a couple full (45-50). For our closing night, we had 60 people in the house, and the owner of the space brought in more chairs. It was definitely a nice way to go out on our first show.

How'd we do financially? We garnered a total income from ticket sales of about $2100, a $300 loss from our final budget of $2,400. Which means Pete and I each took a $150 hit. That was fine by us.

Spending $150 to put on a play? That was more than fine by us.

At the end of the day, staging Monkeys was an extremely fun learning process, and a good stating point to figure out how we wanted to proceed next. In a way, getting the show up of its feet showed us how easy it was to stage a show, provided we weren't getting into self-producing for fame, fortune or glory (and believe me, we weren't).

In a lot of ways, you're on your own, so it depends on if that concept thrills or terrifies you (obviously for me and Pete, it's the former). There are some community-building organizations in New York to help you feel less alone, such as ART/NY, the Community Dish and the League of Independent Theatres. In terms of providing resources, they're great. In terms of them holding your hand every step of the way or footing the bill for your next show...well, no. Think of those groups as the equivalent of our Adam and Dave.

It also wasn't until much, much later that we became a member of Fractured Atlas (something that we should have done sooner than we did) and even later still (i.e., are doing now) became an Incorporated Company and started the paperwork to becoming a 501c3 not-for-profit company.

However, it was only until we put up our next show, Allston, nine months later that we made one of our biggest blunders.

Next: Our Big Blunder, and now flashing forward, joining Fractured Atlas, becoming an actual "company."

Wondering if he should have written, "our biggest boner,"

James "Nah, Let's Keep It Classy" Comtois

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am really enjoying these "guide self-producing" posts. I am glad that being unemployable gives you the time to write them.

7:50 PM  
Blogger Jamespeak said...

Ha! Well, glad to hear it! I do hope I'm actually "unemployed" rather than "unemployable," but we shall see.

1:03 AM  
Blogger Sean said...

I AM DRINKING THIS SHIT IN. This is amazing. MY GOD, I'm glad we didn't actually meet in 2000... we actually lost about ten grand on our first show because I insisted on paying the actors $200 a week, including rehearsal...

11:58 AM  
Blogger Jamespeak said...

Oh, awesome, Sean. Thanks! I hope you (and the rest of the readers) can be patient enough to wait until next week for me to continue this series.

I've been going back and forth on covering "To Pay or Not To Pay," but that's ultimately up to the would-be self-producer and (more importantly) his or her budget and means.

But $200 a week? Including rehearsals? Good LORD! We've never been able to offer such wages.

12:18 PM  

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