Tired of rejection letters and fed up of waiting for someone else to produce her work, Kimberley Andrews decided to bite the bullet and bring her own writing to the stage. But where to start? In the first of an eight part series, she relates the trials and torments of self-producing, sharing her Dos and Don’ts for organising a show without losing your sanity.
Like most playwrights, I have spent many a long hour perfecting an unsolicited submission for a theatre. I’ve laboured over cover letters, cringed at my biography and grappled with a 200 word synopsis that stubbornly remains at 236 words even if I delete an essential part of the plot. I’ve then played the obligatory waiting game (obsessively checking my inbox at 4am in case the literary manager happens to be nocturnal) only to eventually receive a bog-standard ‘thanks but no thanks’ and the said script gets laid to rest in the cemetery that is ‘my documents’, never to see the light of day again.
This is not to say that I don’t keep submitting in the hope that one day a bidding war will take place between the Royal Court and the Bush over my latest play. However, in the meantime, I am left with the issue of how the hell am I going to get my work seen? Romantic as it might seem to needlessly print off a script and leave it to decay in the back of a drawer to be found after my death, that’s not why I write plays. I write plays for them to be performed. I need to see my work on stage every now and then to know that I’ve chosen the right career and that the perpetual financial insecurity is worth it. I need to see my mistakes in all their glory, cringe when dialogue is out-of-place and rejoice when an audience laughs at my jokes.
With this in mind, I decided to take the bull by the horns and start producing my own work. If Facebook was anything to go by, this would be fairly easy; I just needed a fancy promotional picture for my show and a commitment to bombarding my friends with invitations. How hard could it be…?
The first decision I had to make was, what, out of all the masterpieces decaying in the back of my metaphorical chest of drawers, should I produce? Should I go for that 3 hour epic with a cast of 82 Roman soldiers*, all requiring highly authentic costumes? Or what about a national tour of that first ever play, the one my Mum thought was ace?
(*Ok, you’ve got me, I haven’t really written an epic roman play with a cast of 82, which is lucky because don’t think my papier-mache skills would stretch to body armour).
After conducting some in-depth research (i.e. quizzing a few of my friends who were already producing work), I quickly concluded that if I wanted my first project to be a success, I would need to keep it manageable. This to someone with no experience, a pitiful budget and hardly any spare time meant keeping things small. (Oh, and producing work that someone other than your Mum thinks is half decent is a good move too, apparently).
At this point, I remembered that folder marked ‘sketches’ lurking on my desktop begging for liberation. Using sketches (or indeed short scenes if you’re not very funny), has some advantages for the novice producer. Firstly, the task of writing them, polishing them and making them bloody brilliant, is much smaller than doing the same with a full length play. Secondly, you’ll be asking much less of the actors and director, which is handy if you’re asking them to work for free, which I was. Thirdly, many venues offer one-off performance slots for sketches, reducing the financial risk. And finally, you can always ask other people to contribute material, which takes the pressure off and allows you to get to grips with learning about what it is that producers actually do.
Speaking of asking others to contribute, it is tempting to try to take on the whole project singlehandedly. I quite liked the idea of putting on a spectacular show all by myself and taking all the glory for it, who wouldn’t? However, I can’t stress how valuable it was to collaborate, delegate and basically beg for help from just about everyone I knew. Getting my mates to contribute sketches and handing my script over to a director really allowed me to sink my teeth in to the task of producing, which I soon discovered was a huge job in itself. Ultimately, this is how it works in real-life: when the winner of that bidding war finally gets their gleeful mitts on your script, you’ll be handing it over to directors, producers, casting directors and your main job will be to sit back, relax and feel smug.
Do’s and Dont’s
- Do produce your best work. If you haven’t shown it to anyone, get some feedback (either by joining a writers group, doing a course or asking a brutally honest friend).
- Don’t be overly ambitious with your project. Keeping it all manageable allows you to find your feet and make sure it’s good.
- Do delegate and call in favours wherever possible, you’ll thank yourself later.
- Don’t wing it. Have a plan from the very beginning. Treat yourself to some new highlighter pens and be organised.
In the next post, I’ll be looking at how to find the perfect venue and what to ask the theatre to ensure you’re getting a good deal.