Q. So you want to put your own play on. How?You might have sent your precious play off to a theatre-or even several- and not had the response you want. Or maybe, youíre not writing the kind of stuff thatís easy to produce at the moment. Theatre is a fickle creature and she likes what she knows. But you donít always have to compromise or put your script in a drawer; there is something you can do. Put your play on yourself. Itís not as daunting as it might seem with our friendly guide. Weíve all done it and lived to tell the tale. Hereís our advice.
1. Make a budget.
Even if youíve got no money . There are certain things youíll have to pay out for- no point denying it. Work out how much you can scrape together/beg/borrow.
2. Make a list of who you know
Friends, colleagues, relatives- nyone who can be trusted to pitch in and be reliable. Whether itís the odd fiver or much more, adapting a costume, moving scenery, standing on a street corner handing flyers out, whatever- start being extra nice to your friends.
3. Find a venue.
This is the biggie. They donít come cheap- unless you think clever and choose somewhere that no one else has used, yet, like an old disused church or warehouse. This is also known as site specific theatre, but it has to be in an area where thereís reasonable transport links. Do your research. Get a range of prices. Take note of how many people the theatre holds, what the deal is- some do box office splits; which means, every ticket you sell, the theatre takes a percentage, usually 60%. Other theatres rent out their space at a flat price. Do the figures - can you break even? Can you make a profit? Can you, personally, afford to make a loss? And check if theyíll let you rehearse there, and if not, when theyíll let you get in before you start the show.
4. Find your play.
If itís your own, then make a practical list; how many in your cast, what ages and types, how far youíre willing to compromise. If you have a big cast, ie. larger than 5, can actors double up? Are there some very small, walk on parts that you donít really need, if youíre honest? If so, be tough- get rid. Pare it down to the most economical, realistic scale. It might tighten up the play anyway. If youíre doing someone elseís play, let their agent/management know youíre on a shoe string
5. Whoís the boss?
If youíre planning on being the director, think hard- have you any experience? Is it a demanding play, does it have lots of scene changes, accents, etc. Would it be a better learning curve for you the writer to have an outsider direct it? You could find someone whoís a bit of a name but temporarily out of work. Look out for directors at smallish venues whose work you admire. If youíre going to do it yourself, then prepare. Let your cast know if youíre new to it; theyíll understand.
6. Find your cast
Do you have an actor in mind? If not, do you have a specific need? Eg. Young people, older people, Czech people. You can always find actors who will be willing to play the parts- but you have to know where and how to find them. You donít want just any old souls. Drama schools are full of fantastic actors bursting to be let loose.
How are you going to get an audience? Word of mouth, an already recognised venue with an efficient mailing list/ regular loyal audience, or paying for a good PR? Youíll need leaflets, posters, critics to turn up on press night. You can do it yourself with a lot of energy, charm and a few hours on the web researching who and where; make sure you know the reviewers names and what their speciality is; and if theyíve got special interests, eg. Womenís theatre, anything you can use to get them in. Donít forget youíre competing with other plays every night.
Are you going to design the set yourself? Or do you have a friendly designer? Sets, costumes, the whole look of the show; unless itís minimal, youíll need someone to pull it all together. Good designers are expert at begging, borrowing and the rest.
Youíll need someone to design the lighting, run the show and any sound. Some venues include the cost of a technician, but not all. You need to check.
Are you going to rehearse in the space youíll be performing in? If so, you and your cast/team will know the space; the backstage area, the audience type, the stage itself; if not, youíll need to hire or find a space for at least 3-4 weeks beforehand to rehearse the play. Donít panic- thereís always a church hall, youth club or similar space to let for a minimal fee. Even in London. You might have to spend some time searching around, thatís all. If all else fails, you can use your/someone elseís living room. Just ensure itís quiet, uninterrupted, and has access to loos and a kitchen.
Never risk anything you canít afford to risk. Seriously. Iíve done this- once. It took me five years to pay it off but it was worth it, even so Iíd say donít ever, ever do it. House, car, massive overdrafts- no. You want to enjoy the experience- itís your play, itís your baby, you should be able to have some fun, not be worrying about how many years itíll take you to pay off. Improvise- most fringe plays donít need elaborate sets and costumes, and actors will work for nothing if they love the play. Everything else you can beg, borrow, or persuade, even the venue, if you follow our advice.
Work the press. If thereís anything about your play thatís publicity friendly, go for it. Let a friend/colleague/someone else, anyone else sell it for you- itís always so much easier to sell something thatís not you. Invite people from other theatres, TV, film, anywhere to get some profile. This is what youíre doing it for, right? Be shameless- itís your only chance.
Remember the play is the thing. You might have a cold draughty venue, an irritable director, an audience that isnít quite what you imagined- but if whatís happening on stage is true to the play that you wrote, thatís all that matters in the end. Itís your play on stage- you wrote it. So be proud. Even if it isnít exactly what you want- I hate to tell you, but it never is. Itís always something else. But sometimes it can be marvellous- and itís yours. So fill that audience with hope and anticipation- and then learn from what you see, and then sit back and enjoy, and bask a little. Because you did it.
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