Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Cynic’s Guide to Making Under-99 Theatre in 10 EASY Steps!

Back-of-a-business-card artwork by Hugh Macleod.  Buy his stuff, follow him, etc.
[For today, a little levity.]
Making theatre is hard.  That's why I broke it down for you in these 10 easy steps!
1. Do a Shakespeare. His plays are free, and there’s instant name recognition. Conversely, produce a new work from an upcoming playwright. What they lack in name recognition they more than make up for in a willingness to work for free and a potential to bring in an audience (i.e. friends and family.)

2. Broker a deal to rent a theatre for a split of the door. That way you’re not out any cash. If you can’t make the guarantee, don’t sweat it. Burn bridges with theatre managers if you need too. Seriously -- do you know how many theatres there are in this town? There are way more bridges than you could comfortably burn in a lifetime.

If you have to pay something up front, ask your actors to “invest” in the company. Call this investment “membership dues,” so as to avoid violating section 4(E) of the Los Angeles 99-Seat Plan. Another possibility is to kite a check.  You may also consider asking Mommy and Daddy to foot the bill.

3. When on the hunt for a director, willingness is the most important quality to look for. If someone expresses a passing interest, that’s enough. Crown them “Director” and put them in charge. Don’t question their choices, no matter how inexperienced or stupid the director may be. They’re willing, and in Under-99 Theatre, willing is enough.

4. You don’t need a unified design team. You hardly even need designers! Mostly you need people who are good at obtaining the needed set pieces, costume pieces, props, etc. It doesn’t matter if the flag has fifty stars in a play set in 1931, and it doesn’t matter that you’re using the same $2 plastic breakaway knife that everyone else uses. All that matters is the actors. To that end, spare no expense (out of your lighting designer’s pocket) to keep your actors lit.  (Well, keep them lit as best as you can without really breaking a sweat.)

5. Cast large. The bigger your cast, the bigger your potential audience (i.e. friends and family.)

6. Don’t bother to file your 99-Seat Plan. Why draw attention to yourself with Equity? If anyone in the cast cares, you can easily fake the paperwork, lie, etc. But don’t be up front about it – you may scare off the union actors, and everyone knows the only good actors are union actors.

7. To promote the play, you will need postcards. Pick an exciting or intriguing image for the card – it doesn’t matter if it’s relevant to the play, so long as it’s eye-catching – and put a full cast list on the back. If putting the cast list on the back prevents you from putting a summary of the play on the postcard, who cares? No one comes to a play because they know what it’s about. They’re coming based on that eye-catching image. And because they know someone in the cast.

8. It’s never too soon to plan out cast parties. You should have as many of these as you can over the course of the run. A carousing cast is a happy, unquestioning cast. What you lack in substance and artistic challenges you can make up for in social intercourse.

9. Flood the social networks with plugs for your show. This involves little more than linking to the Facebook event and saying “Come see my show!” If possible, have your entire cast and crew bomb Facebook at the same time. Since odds are you all have the same friends, this will really make an impact.

10. When the show fails, don’t hesitate to lay blame -- but don’t blame yourself! You know how hard you had to work to get the show to this point. Instead, pick one or more of the following to blame:
  • The audience
  • The reviewers (or lack thereof)
  • The economy
  • People who may have left the company and/or show
Above all else, don't ask "why?"  Don't worry yourself over reconciling art with commerce.  Don't push yourself past the breaking point as an artist.  Remember it's called "play," and that means zero responsibility to the audience or the artform and 100% self-involvement.  As it should be!  I mean, you're only doing this to get noticed by a casting director or agent, right?

[Did I miss any major points?  Comment below!]

1 comment:

Michael Seel said...

Thanks for the chuckle.