Friday, February 12, 2010

Little Jimmy's Guide to Self-Producing, Part 10: Getting The Band Together

Of course it figures that, after trying to make a habit of posting these self-producing how-to guide entries during the week, but leaving Friday clear for other such nonsense, I do the reverse this week. Ah, well. I am, after all, a blogger, and not to be trusted.

Blogs. Ya get what ya paid for.

Any ole fuckeroo, on with the show...

* * *

RVCBard had asked me earlier about how to go about getting the right collaborators and my original answer was a little fumbling. I think this is because this falls more in the "alchemy" category than the hard science one. Still, I thought I should expand a bit, since this tends to be one of the biggest hurdles when a would-be self-producer is starting out.

As I have said before, and will say again, I was - am - very lucky to have met up with Pete at the time that I did. We had very similar goals and were on the same page when it was required. In other words, we're actually very different people (then as now), but see eye to eye on a number of crucial junctures. I was also very lucky to have a friend in Chris Bujold who decided to move down to the city once he heard Pete and I were thinking of putting on a play. We were all very lucky to know Dave Townsend and Adam Heffernan, who were willing to lead us horses to the water. We were lucky with picking our cast for Monkeys. We got lucky when we discovered Katie Clark (who acted in our first play and a couple after that) was dating this Christopher Yustin guy, who was super fun to hang out with and an amazing actor. We were lucky that he lived with Steph, who really liked the plays she had seen of ours and wanted to be a part of it. I was lucky that Pete and Patrick Shearer were good college friends, and we were both lucky that he decided to move from California to New York in 2001. And I consider myself very lucky to have such a talented younger sister, who wanted to join Nosedive after she graduated from Vassar in 2005, even though she is a punk.

And so on, and so forth.

So, yes. We ended up lucking out - and continuing to luck out - with joining up with excellent collaborators, some of the best in the city, in my humble estimation. But fortunately, it doesn't require luck alone. And eventually, as you progress, it requires less luck.

In case you hadn't extrapolated this, not only did I only refer to a small group of people, but only a small number of were there from the very start.

(Hell, a couple years ago Pete unearthed a copy of the script for Monkeys and we realized that he and I were the only two people involved in the production that were still involved with Nosedive.)

Like-minded people gravitate towards one another. This may take some time, but that's fine. If you're working on creating and cultivating a company, you shouldn't expect - nor are you expected - to have your company fully formed and frozen in time from square one. People will come and people will go, but more often than not, the good ones, if they're not there from the start, will eventually come along and stick around.

Bear in mind it was years before we did any sort of collaboration with such folks as Qui Nguyen or Mac Rogers, two of the best playwrights working today (in my humble estimation).

(For those of you seeking simple nuts and bolts information on how to get a cast and crew together for Play #1, I think the best bet is to rope in as many like-minded creative friends you've got. I mean, you have to have at least one or two, right? Unless you're a friendless creep who stinks of cheese. Okay. So if you're a friendless cheese-reeking sociopath, but still want to self-produce, you may first want to shower. Then, after you've cleaned yourself up a little, you can either take out an ad in a trade publication like Backstage or post a listing on craigslist. If you're a writer and you absolutely can't find a director, direct it yourself. And again, you may also want to join the Community Dish, if you're in the New York area. If you're interested in joining the Dish, shoot me an email and I can tell you how to get involved. But please, shower first. I don't want you showing up to the meetings with that cheese funk.)

You also need to heed Mac's advice of going out and seeing as many shows as possible. You should do this for multiple (and obvious) reasons, but one of them is, of course, to seek out potential collaborators.

Since self-producing is about carving out your own path and cultivating your own garden (to mix two really horrible metaphors), a lot of your experience will be that of the trial-and-error variety. Don't worry about the errors, because trust me: you're a-gonna make some. Just try not to repeat them with the next show.

If you continue to put out good work, you'll draw the attention of other good theatre artists who will want to work with you and vice versa.

Offending his collaborators with his writerly musk,

James "Stinky Cheese Man" Comtois

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Anonymous RLewis said...

While a lot of what is in this post seems like common sense, it might be the most important post in this series so far.

You see, I cringe at the phrase "self produce", but "selves produce" sounds stupid. We need a better word for our collective act of production. If someone is going to do it, a one-man-band might be the hardest way to achieve success. Building a team is so important, and you've laid out real examples that do the "show, don't tell" rule very well.

But building the right or best team might be one of the hardest things to do. And you're right to emphasize that it takes time. Things like Trust and Understanding and Common Cause come into play (collaboration is easy to say, but very hard to pull off), and they are big concepts to get right (you're doubly right to include that mistakes will be made, so don't sweat it).

I'd also like to underscore your support of Mac's call to go see other's presentations. It takes time away from our own work to go to the theater 3 of 4 times a week, but my partners and I have made it a priority, and it has become part of our process.

Most of our best collaborators have come to us cuz we saw their work and convinced them to come see ours - this is where collaboration starts. (Aren't we all just swapping the same $20 bill around at box offices throughout the City?) And it's also about going to forums (like the recent Devoted & Disguntled, panels like No Passports - coming up soon, and gatherings by NYIT, ART/NY, LIT, etc.)

Ya gotta kiss a lot of frogs to find the right princes/esses for your team, but we think Participating In The Community is one of the most important parts of the job, and not just what we do for fun... well, it's both (especially when drinks are included).

11:24 AM  
Blogger joshcon80 said...

I still haven't figured this one out. I'm the only constant member of The Management. Everybody else comes and goes to pursue other projects. God, I'd love some consistency.

11:48 AM  
Blogger RVCBard said...

In case you hadn't extrapolated this, not only did I only refer to a small group of people, but only a small number of were there from the very start.

I figured as much. Part of my own dilemma is figuring out the people who're committed to the people who're just interested.

Don't get me wrong - I want as many people interested as I can get. But it's hard to hinge making something happen without people who are going to work with you instead of around you, if you get my meaning.

As far as going out to see shows is concerned, I highly recommend reviewing off-off-Broadway shows. Free tix, and you get to think about theatre from the other side of the black box.

3:33 PM  
Blogger Jamespeak said...

@RVC Bard, yeah, I definitely get you. That's true. And I think you're going to find that to be the case as you continue along this path. As RLewis said, there's a bit of "frog-kissing" going on at first that's kind of unavoidable.

We actually found that a number of people weren't willing to commit to doing the legwork of co-producing at first until we had gotten a couple productions off the ground, which showed folks that Nosedive was a thing that was actually happening. (I'm not saying this is good or bad, I'm just saying meeting folks who stay in the "kicking the tires" phase is part-in-parcel with the game.)

Fortunately, you don't need too many others who are committed to getting the production in question off the ground. Use your best judgement as to who seems to be willing to help you with the legwork, and talk with them extensively about planning and mapping out a course of action. (You can usually tell this by how the conversation is going. If the person is just speaking in enthusiastic bon mots of the, "This is gona be awesome!" then they may just be playing lip-service. If they actually engage with you with the discussion leads to practical aspects, like finding a space and making downpayments, that's usually a good sign. When Pete was eager to talk about how we were going to coordinate finances and picking good months for venues, I knew he was as committed as I was, and I think vice versa.)

Once things start going underway for real, that usually gets the ones that only seem interested to shit or get off the pot, so to speak.

3:52 PM  
Blogger Jamespeak said...

@Josh, but hey, that's almost my point exactly. The lineup at Management does seem to change as the years go by, but you guys are still putting out (in my mind) consistent and quality work at a steady rate. By my count, three full productions in a 12-month period is pretty amazing.

But I can understand that the turnover rate can be a bit tiresome.

3:55 PM  
Blogger Jamespeak said...

And I meant to write, "If they actually engage with you when the discussion leads to practical aspects," not, "If they actually engage with you with the discussion leads to practical aspects."

Bah! Curse my substandard grammar skills!

4:05 PM  
Blogger Ian Thal said...

I figured as much. Part of my own dilemma is figuring out the people who're committed to the people who're just interested.

I don't see that as a dilemma at all. People who are "just interested" will work with you on the short term. People who are "committed" are with you for the long-haul. They might not even know if they are committed until you've worked together on a project or two.

5:34 AM  
Blogger Jamespeak said...

Good point, Ian. A number of people who were interested in working with us on a project have ended up people who've stayed with us for the long haul.

Just be cool when you encounter the reverse: we met a number of people in the starting stages that talked and acted as though they were committed to getting Monkeys off the ground, but took off once things got going. But that happens. C'est la vie.

11:13 AM  
Blogger Ian Thal said...

Exactly. I've thus far worked with much of the same crew from one staged reading to the next, but I have to accept that they all have their own lives and projects.

That said, sometimes you catch that one of your crew has made a long term commitment to your project's success (i.e. it's pretty obvious that somewhere down the road, one of "my people" wants to direct the play once I'm satisfied that it is ready to be staged.)

11:37 AM  
Blogger Sean said...

This isn't too far from the points already made, but you will have to answer the question, eventually, about your own commitment. If you begin to wonder why more people aren't doing more work on the shows, it could be that you want too many other people to do too much of the work.

We've been together ten years. It was the three of us at the beginning and remains the three of us today. There are a lot of things that we simply haven't done well, but everything that we've done, the three of us have done. Almost everyone else we've worked with has been embraced but kept at arm's length. As soon as someone comes along who, organically, wants to work as hard as we do, (and who doesn't already have their own company), they're gonna get folded in like whipped egg-whites in a souffle.

Having a gigantic success takes a lot of people working together, but having a show exist takes a couple of people working really hard. We've got a total of three, and it has sucked at times, but we still make shows.

(Do I need to make it perfectly clear that I'm speaking as a producer here? Of course, none of our shows would have existed without the 20 extra people who sign on for each production...)

9:16 AM  
Blogger RVCBard said...

Coming at this rather late, but here are a few thoughts I've been having.

Steady progress beats a sharp peak and crash.

This is reaaaaaaally hard for me because I tend to be restless by nature. I'm very much a "get it done" sort of person, so it's hard for me to relax and let the process happen. I get really down on myself and down on the project because it's not happening as quickly as I'd hoped, but if I step back a bit, I do notice progress.

I'm also learning to cut myself a little slack for putting my own life first. I'm working full-time at a job that doesn't pay very well, isn't in a field I'm excited about, and does not challenge my best abilities. But I can feed myself, make rent, and pay bills.

I miss the freedom of freelance copywriting, but not having to worry about bills for a while is pretty good. But it you know of any entry-level advertising jobs, feel free to send a message my way.

2:22 PM  

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