TO SELF-PRODUCE, OR NOT TO SELF-PRODUCE
AFTER MORE THAN 30 YEARS of loving theatre, writing plays, studying the craft of playwriting and having my plays selected for readings and workshops; after years of submitting those plays to theatres large and small around the country (and England) and receiving many a glowing (albeit boilerplate) rejection; and after finaling at Sundance, fellowships, labs and a couple of prizes along the way, I decided, however foolhardy, to produce my own play.
“What—why—how—?” People asked. And not just people—friends; trusted allies in the slog through life. All good questions, but ones that ultimately only served to strengthen my resolve. As to why I felt compelled to do this, the reason that comes quickest to mind was: If I didn’t self-produce, then it wasn’t clear—despite all the aforementioned time and effort and minor success—that my work would ever see the light of day. Oh, yeah, it could happen; and I live in hope and engage in many forms of positive thinking. But in practical terms, it was looking more and more unlikely. And it became obvious that if I wanted to see my work onstage before I needed a walker, I was going to have to produce it myself.
My first play was produced and directed by Dorothy Lyman—an auspicious beginning 23 years ago. Then life intervened. I had a child, we moved a couple of times, the child had ambitions, which kept me away from pursuing my own goals. But with my son off to college, I found myself starting over. In starting over, however, where exactly does one start? It’s not that I’d ever stopped writing, but I’d dropped out of the game and most of the principal participants had changed in the interim. Dorothy closed her theatre twenty years ago (not my fault!) and moved to New York. I didn’t have any friends with theatre companies anymore and though I hung around a few before I jumped into this madness, no one was buyin’ what I was sellin’. So there was another reason I needed to do it myself.
Over the next few months, I’ll be writing about the journey of how I came to be brave (or silly) enough to self-produce my own play, Villa Thrilla, along with recounting the minefields, pitfalls, fears and yes, joys! that have occurred along the road to getting it on its feet in front of a (mostly) paying audience. I’ll give you the what, why, how and where, as well as all the angsty decisions about money, selecting a director, finding a co-producer (you didn’t think I was stupid or brave enough to do everything myself did you?), choosing a theatre, actors, the union, designers, publicity or lack of it, and bad reviews. My goal is not to scare anybody but to give other playwrights the confidence to produce their own work, to arm them with some information about how they might do that and the resilience to see it all through.