Monday, July 22, 2013

Why do people "mess with your play" Part 2

So last week we talked about two reasons why people might be "messing" with your new play. This week we'll talk about the next two.

#3 Your cast list isn't flexible enough.

Casting a show is a hard undertaking. I know because I've done it several times before. You always have the fear that you may not have the people showing up that will fit the part perfectly. A lot of times you have to make compromises. You have to take the actors that you can get and that work well together. It doesn't help when you know you also have to please the playwright who might have had completely different people in their minds than the people who showed up. It's very hard to argue with the whole "When I wrote it I was thinking of this kind of person" when all I can say is "this is who SHOWED UP!" 

Here are the realities of casting your play...

  • Sometimes the guy who "looked right". Doesn't have the skills necessary. No I can't give him the right skills in time for the play.
  • In the theatre world there are five women for every man. Sometimes if the character doesn't specifically have to be a man I will cast it as a woman who can read the part.
  • People might have to play older than they are, people might have to play a different race or nationality than they are (if it is viable). Like the song says you can't always get what you want. Get over it.
  • What ever famous actor or specific type that you had for the role when you wrote it? Forget it. I cannot get an Anthony Hopkins look a like (or Anthony Hopkins himself) to come and audition for us. If you can get him over by all means make some calls.

#4 You can't keep playing the "God card".

Yes I know that as a playwright you are an expert in the world that you created. Yes I know that you had all of these cool ideas and inspirations in mind when you wrote it and the characters had a lot more nuance and depth in your head than you the director and actors are finding on the stage. Well here's the problem...the story that you wrote, the one in your head, is probably not the one that is on the page right now. A playscript is not a story or a piece of literature. It is a blueprint to a theatre performance, the equivalent of a musical score to a symphony. You have to let your play stand on it's own and trust the production team to interpret the blueprint in a way that's right for the audience watching it.  If watching it you don't like what you see then maybe you need to make some edits to the script and make the things much clearer.

Not many playwrights want to admit it but maybe your production is muddled and not good because you gave them a bad blueprint. Maybe you have a great story but a bad script. It's happened to's happened to all of us....let's just get it done. 

Monday, July 15, 2013

Why do people "mess with your play"? Part One

I seem to enjoy living in two different worlds theatre wise. I am connected to a whole lot of playwrights and I get to celebrate and support their work. I get to hear their problems and concerns with the industry and I like being in on the conversation with them to try to make the industry better. One of the most common complaints I hear from playwrights is about people messing with their work. You got a production and you get mad that the director changed a stage direction, cast a character differently than they should, or changed a line. One of the most common arguments that I hear when a group of playwrights get together is what to do when people start messing with your play. Well let me share 4 thoughts on the issue...

#1 If people are trying to change your play it might need changing.

This is a truth some playwrights don't want to admit. If an actor is continuing to flub a line, if a stage direction is constantly being snubbed then it might be because it might be an impossible line or stage direction to perform.

Here's a prime example: I have had the pleasure to be involved with a few productions of Larry Shue's The Foreigner. In the last scene it calls for one of the lead characters to sink down into a hole in the floor in a KKK costume to look like he's melting like the Wicked Witch. at least I'm told in the stage direction that's what's supposed to happen. In one production I've acted in the trap door was there and he disappeared in it but there was no melting. In another I did house for they didn't use the trap door at all. I've seen it twice more in other places. Still the trap door isn't used the way it is described in the script. Now are all of these different theaters bad at doing shows or is the stage direction just a bad one? You be the judge. 

#2 You have to let the Production Staff do their job.

Look I know that you have a perfect idea in your head about how your play is supposed to look. You probably saw it coming out one certain way and with one certain cast and in your head that's the only way it can be done. Well the problem is that you work in the theatre. And in the the theatre every production is like a snowflake; they're never the same. You'll have different directors and different administrations with different needs. Please have your standards but know that your play is going to change. You may have the right to approve or deny stuff but if you think that you can hold the play hostage to your whim until your play is done exactly the way you want it then you've missed out on the point of working in the theatre. I make a point that unless I'm directing the show or are otherwise involved in the show I'm absent for rehearsals of my shows. I want to leave room for all the people working on my shows to have fun and enjoy the show. And if they enjoy working with you then they want to work with you again.

The thing is to know the people who will be interfacing with your work and letting them have fun. Be flexible for their needs and let them have fun. If you can provide them with a fun time working on your piece then you're golden!

To be continued! Look for Part 2 next week.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Who you gonna call?

So I've been talking a lot about a lead list in these past few weeks. A list of all the people you know, and people that they know, that can help you get your plays moving forward. I've told you how to keep contacts with theaters for open submissions, I've showed you how to make a submission calendar. Now what do you do with the list of actors, directors, designers, and other theatre artists that I asked you to list? Well here goes...

Think about it this way. You've been given a production for your next play. A theatre is going to produce it or you have a benefactor that's going to open their wallet and give you everything that you need to get it on it's feet. But there's just one problem... you don't have a director. They don't have the exact pool of talents that your play needs and they're worried about turnout for auditions. Eventually they tell you..."If we want this play to be the best we need to get the word out. Do you have anyone that you know?"  So who do you have in your phone? Who do you have on social media that you can get the word out to have things done? Don't know? That's where your lead sheet comes in.

Go over that list I had you make. If you took out your phone and made some calls, got on your social media and sent out invites would you be able to get your show cast or get a director/designer in about an hour? What if you're producing the show yourself or you get that private backer. Now you have to get your entire production crew and staff together or else you don't have show. That means that the people you have in that list are the only leads you have to fill that job. Here are some tips...

  • Keep your lists in categories based on skill level, location, and resume. You want people in your location, with the skills to do the job, who will do it for the money you're offering. (You were going to pay them something right?)
  • Keep calling until you get who you need. If someone says no then ask them if they know of anyone that can. You live and die off of names and numbers.
  • If you get a lot of rejections ask them why they won't. Maybe you need to make changes to the show or even work to pay them more to get people involved.
  • Theatre is an "economy of guilt" as my grad department head says. Remind them of the last time you went to their stuff. (you have been going to their shows too right?)
  • Be honest and don't promise anything that you can't. Never promise the job to anyone until they've had a chance to interview/audition. I know from personal experience how much you can burn yourself on that.
  • Don't be worried about people not like you because you're bugging them or "spamming" them. You are a business calling business contacts. Even offering them a job opportunity. If they don't like you then they can request that you don't call them again.
  • Most importantly keep in touch with your contacts. Don't get disconnected. I have been guilty of getting people's info and forgetting about them for a year. Make the commitment to keep in touch. 
  • Last one: Keep researching and keep your list updated. You should know if one of your friends moves or if they've taken a new job. 
So there you go. You should be like Santa Claus make a list, check it twice, visit at least once a year, and know what they want. If you can keep that up you are sure to have a strong network.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

MFA Diaries: July 2

So it's only Tuesday and I'm fried. I've been in rehearsal for two great student readings, celebrated my one year anniversary with DragynAlly, I've stayed up all night writing new scenes for a Delta Blues Noir Musical, and seen Lee Moyer (my new favorite illustrator) talk about about the joys of bringing a show poster to life. And now as I think of it I should probably be calling potential actors for my next reading. It's a few weeks away but trust me it never really feels like that.

Did I mention it's only Tuesday. The week isn't over yet.

And so here I am...completely fried. Homework and Reading calls to me on one side and bed calls to me on the other. But do you know the weirdest thing? I love it all! When you hear people talk about the Hollins Summer Programs one of the the words that always gets repeated is "intense". And let me make no bones about it the Playwrights Lab is INTENSE. A day here is equivalent to a week anywhere else. You get a semester's worth of time in a full six weeks. I know that I'm running on fumes now but I know that it won't be more than a moment right after I hit the pillow that my brain will wake up and go, "You know that reading we have for class really sounds interesting." And I'll be up again tirelessy plowing through my work.

Because that's where the Playwright's Lab gets you. It's all intense work but the work is all of the fun stuff that you were going to be doing anyway. It's not a chore that I have to write a full length musical over the course of six's a joy. and then you're working on scenes for another class and then you're reading some theatre history or a play for another and all you can think of is "this is the most excruciating fun I've ever had!"

One of my colleagues will say that taking classes at Hollins is like deciding which Island on Hawaii you'd rather visit. I't all going to be fun.

So yeah I'm bone tired and could hit the sack at eight and not wake up until it's time for class at nine in the morning... but I feel the call of my books lilting in my ear. My unfinished plays are saying calling me, begging to be worked on.

Maybe I'll stay up for one more minute.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Make a Submission Calendar

So in a post a few weeks back I told you about making a lead list of all the business contacts that you have in the industry. If you noticed anything about the list only a bit of them were new play competitions or calls for open submissions. But what do you do with the ones that you do have. It's time to bust out a pen and a calendar and get to marking.

Research all of the submission opportunities on your list. Go on ahead and print out all of the guidelines  and store them in a file for quick reference. Now look at the part of the guidelines that state the deadline. With a big red colored pen start marking down the submission guidelines. Make sure you're writing it out on a calendar that you use all the time so that they're always fresh in your mind when you're working. Here are some pointers I've found that help.

  • Mark your calendars when submissions open and 10 days before: You still have to mail these things out most of the time and the snail mail only goes so fast. You want to go by when you need to be mailing off the play. You definitely don't want to be late to the game.
  • Submit to as many as you like but if it's more than twenty it can get pretty confusing.
  • Follow all of their guidelines specifically: If your script doesn't follow the proper format or if you don't include a bio or a headshot you've just become easier to throw away. If your script is easier to throw away then it's not going to get accepted.
  • Look over your first ten pages: Most readers in a literary office will read the first ten pages of your play before making a quick judgement that your play is worth producing or not. Make sure that your first ten pages keep their interest.
  • Also mark on the calendar when they say in the guidelines that they will be making their decision. It helps you know what needs to happen in the long run. More about that in later posts.
So now you have a lead list that keeps you up to date on what submissions and contacts are out there and a calendar to keep the submissions on track. What else do you need to be a great businessman and keep a great network? More on the way!