Friday, January 29, 2010

A New Self-Producer Chronicles His First Time Out

In the comments section, Kent Barrett recently brought this to my attention. Fresh out of grad school with a script, some startup money, and a few potential collaborators, Kent started this blog to chronicle his efforts in putting on his first show in the city.

I'm hoping to continue writing more self-producing guides, but for now I'll remind Kent (and other first-time self-producers) that my entries are not exhaustive nor immutable. You'll realize as you go along, that some things that worked for Nosedive may not work for you (and vice versa). To paraphrase what Dave Sim wrote in his Cerebus Guide to Self-Publishing (which, again, was Pete and my bible for the first few years after we decided we were an actual company), very little in this field can be taught, yet almost everything can be learned.

Self-producing in a number of ways is about carving out your own path and doing things your way. But really, you'll figure that out pretty quickly. Hell, from what it sounds like, Kent already has a bit of a leg up than Pete or I did, so you sound like you're so far, on the right track.

(And Kent, if you come across a road block, feel free to ask me in the comments section or shoot me an email at and I'll try to offer any advice I haven't covered in the entries so far. That goes for anyone trying to start up their own productions. Pete and my expertise may be questionable - our experience in the indie theatre scene is our own and not exactly the same as that of CollaborationTown, Management Co., One Year Lease or several other self-producing companies - but it never hurts to ask.)

Having sad all that, I'm very curious to follow his trajectory and read about his experiences. And of course, see the show once it goes up (his target date is in May).

Okay, that's it for now. Have a good weekend, folks. I'll catch you on the proverbial flippety.

Corrupting the youth,

James "Mental Sodomite" Comtois

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Blogger Kent B said...

Hey James,

Thank you SO MUCH for all your support, encouragement and work toward all of this. I really can't tell you how much I appreciate it! Right now, I'm in the middle of trying to find a performance and rehearsal space. The big hurdles I'm hitting are:

1) Obviously trying to stay within my budget - which I wanted to ask you about: In one of your entries you talk about joining an umbrella arts organization such as Fractured Atlas or The Field. If one were to join such an organization, then would it be possible to call yourself a non-profit institution without going through all the 501c3 craziness? The reason I ask right now is because there are many spaces that will give discounts to non-prof groups, but I didn't know if that could truly apply to this situation. Do you, by any chance, know?

2) The other big struggle I'm having is all the details that I had no idea about. Forgive me if you've covered this already and I just didn't see it, but many spaces seem to want you to have liability insurance, some want some sort of fire coverage, and still others require their own personnel on sight acting as either technicians, management staff or both.

3) Another question I have is when requesting a space rental, do I need to let the venue know that there will be things like graphic language, simulated sex, violence, nudity, etc?

4) Finally, have you guys in the past ever offered free drinks after the performance? I know we can't sell alcohol without a liquor license, but do you know if it's possible to give it away for free?

Thank you again James. I know this isn't your job or responsibility to act as a mentor or guide, and I apologize if I come across as a whining little brat whose just looking for easy answers. I literally just don't really know what I'm doing and truly appreciate all the insight you've already given and may be able to provide in the future.


1:05 PM  
Blogger RVCBard said...

That goes for anyone trying to start up their own productions.


Like Kent, I'm self-producing with zero cred and no budget (so far). IMO, I can make that work if I get the right people. How do you go about doing that? Where do you find amateurs in the best sense of the term (aka, doing it well for the love of it)?

An idea I'm kicking around for my own project (producing works by a group of new playwrights of color) is going freegan as much as possible. This is not just to be cheap but to show people - not just tell them - that putting on a play does not require a huge amount of disposable income: only time, enthusiasm, and imagination. If your standard for disposable spending is a night out drinking, mine is a solo trip to the movies.

Where do you find free resources such as performance and rehearsal space?

7:57 PM  
Blogger Jamespeak said...

Hello, RVCBard! I suppose well wishes and godspeed are in order to you as well!

In terms of getting the right people, I should point out that I think I'm very lucky that Pete and I were on the same page right out of the gate, and that we ended up gravitating towards all the right people for Nosedive to continue for 10 years. So I do consider myself very fortunate in that regard.

But of course, my personal good fortune does you absolutely no good.

I think, for the moment, I probably have to answer your question with a series of questions. Do you know anybody (as in, do have any friends or casual acquaintances; not as in, do you have an "in" somewhere) in your area that's interested in putting on a show as you are? How embrionic is your idea for the production? Is it a specific show or showcase or is it just in the brainstorming process? Have you also looked into festivals? You're based in Brooklyn, right? There are a ton of fests going on in the city year-round, and they're growing in size and number each year. Festivals would bring down costs considerably, since they often don't charge you for performance space and offer some (but only some) publicity (bear in mind festivals are responsible for promoting the festival as a whole, not your show specifically).

If you don't have any friends you can rope in to help you out (with casting, directing, etc.), you can take out ads in either trade publications (like Backstage) or craigslist. You can also, if all else fails, direct it yourself (as I was planning on doing if I hadn't met up with Pete, or if he didn't like my work).

You may also want to consider joining the Community Dish, a consortium of off-off Broadway theatre companies. It's free. If you want more information on that you can contact its president, Tim Errickson (a very amiable fellow) at

In terms of free rehearsal space (I think the only way of getting a free performance space is to get accepted into a festival), those are usually of the apartment variety. Right now, Nosedive is rehearsing in rooms in my sister's apartment building (seriously, it's odd; her building has these huge vacant unlocked rooms all over). Before then, we rented rehearsal studios. Currently, the Vampire Cowboys Battle Ranch in Bushwick seems to have the most reasonable rates. However, studio spaces and prices are ever-fluctuating. Several spaces we've used over time have closed their doors and new ones are popping up constantly.

I hope some of this helps. If you have more specific questions feel free to email me and I can try to point you in the right direction.

1:52 AM  
Anonymous RLewis said...

Just to chime in on a couple of questions asked in these comments:

the free rehearsal space that I've found in the past has almost always been a local church (liberal ones rarely have a problem with nudity and language, i.e. Judson Church, Middle Collegiate, or St. Marks, etc.), or sometimes a community center or art gallery, and other times a friend's connection (their boyfriend's loft, their building's basement, their day-job's conference room, etc.)

currently, Fractured Atlas is my fav' fiscal conduit. we have our own 501(c)3, but are thinking of joing FA anyway, because they have really great insurance rates.

if you join a fiscal conduit, you are not-for-profit, and i'm pretty sure that you can offer a tax-deductible donation letter for the market rate of any donated (or partically donated) space, so the venue can right it off.

you can get a day-by-day liquor license from the city, but really, unless you're selling a lot of booze, who does that? And we like giving away drinks so much that we do it both before and after the show. sometimes donations at the bar are better than if we'd charged.

i would never hide anything about the play, i.e. issues, nudity, language, etc. - may as well be up front, if delicate, about everything.

12:27 PM  
Blogger RVCBard said...


I sent you an e-mail that should answer those questions. It's a bit too long to post here, although I'll probably put it on my blog.

5:10 PM  

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