On Production

The cast of Lucretia Jones, bringing the message to the people… of a local bar in Astoria

When I was a kid, and my dad was the conductor of the Cedar Rapids Symphony, (No, I’m not kidding) (YES, they had a symphony!), he would do a free performance in the park every year under a tent. I remember, as a kid, going door to door all over the city, leaving fliers. I got five or six of my friends together, and my mom gave us all gift certificates to the local ice cream store for passing them all out.

So often, when we talk about trying to produce theater, and particularly marketing theater, our ideas are limited to the things we can do while we’re talking to our friends or sitting in front of a computer.

1) Postcard design – We have made amazing postcards. So have you. Where did they go? Who ended up holding one? How many stacks did you leave in places… where there were *other stacks*?

2) Websites – You can spend a lot of time and a lot of money making a great website. Or you can spend none and your website won’t look as good. Or something. How many times did you pull up your website *on someone else’s computer or phone*? Like, when you saw the site, was it you and the designers and your production team? Were you ever not in your house?

3) Facebook. Twitter. All of your friends and followers, when is the last time you were talking to them in person. Each one of them. How many of your followers aren’t in your town? How many facebook invitations do *you* ignore?

4) Email blasts – How many of these do you read, smile and trash? How many do you trash unread?

5) How many hours did you work on reading scripts, crafting pitches, creating themes for seasons, crating advertising ideas around those themes. How many hours did you spend in rehearsal with your cast and crew and production team. How many hours were you in pre-production meetings? – NOW, how many hours did you spend at *other people’s shows*?

We all talk about producing shows, but we spend an awful lot of time talking to other producers, and writing blogs and tweeting and FBing and emailing and everything. If the act of theater, right now, means taking what is written and making it live, in person, five feet in front of our audience, it’s interesting that so much of what we do to produce theater is to take that experience and translate it back to the written word and distance ourselves from people when we’re selling it.

I remember in college asking the cast why they weren’t doing more to get the student body out to a show I was directing. I said, “I don’t see the posters anywhere!” and one of the cast members said, “What are you talking about? There’s at least ten of those posters in my dorm room alone!”

Here’s the thing, though. I’m not accusing anyone of stuff that I’m not mostly accusing myself of. But what if we switched the paradigm a little bit. What if we couldn’t call ourselves producers unless 50% of what we do is out of “the office”. In order to be an off-off producer, we *have* to go to other people’s shows, we *have* to go to other people’s fundraisers… and we have to *invent* reasons to bring people together to better market the entire community.

It’s interesting because we have a standing excuse. “We all have day jobs, and we’re all producing shows, so we don’t have the money and we don’t have the time…” I’m saying, if you don’t have the money and you don’t have the time to support the culture that you want to be a part of, then you aren’t *really* producing.

We should be saying to ourselves, “Once a week, and $20 a week, I have to invest in the off-off community. I have to find that time and that money, the same way I find the time and the money to create my own shows.”

I don’t know if I could do it either. But I do believe it’s what we should be striving for.