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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

How to Produce Your First Stage Play

So, I've been in a place where you want to do something, but don't even know where to begin.  You do your research and it is some help, but not enough.  You ask people and they talk to you in circles or so vague that you're back at square one with your original question: How do I do this???  It's frustrating!  You may not have any background in the performing arts or have had no formal training in script writing, which makes it feel like you're that much further from making it happen.  I'm here to tell you, while schooling is a wonderful tool to have on your tool belt, if you don't have it, I'm here to tell you, your play still can be done, and done right!  Trust me, as you meet people and they get on board with you, you'll find often times they will have had some formal training and can provide technical info to you.  For example, in rehearsals I tell our actors they need to project...not scream at each other, but project.  Well one of our actors who had attended some acting classes said the way to accomplish that is to speak in a lower tone...from your diaphragm...and doing will allow you to speak louder without it sounding like you're screaming.  The following is for a play that may run for like 1.5 hrs...no intermission.  Okay, let's get to it!

For your first play this is what I've done and has worked for me:

1. Complete a script with a cast of 4-10...including extras. (Try to keep the cast small)
2. Post Auditions/Casting Calls-google search websites that allow you (casting agent) to post your audition
3. Find a venue to hold your auditions-community centers, churches, libraries, dance studios, etc.
4. After you've cast your actors, have a table read (sitting at a table reading through the script in its entirety).
5. Set up a rehearsal schedule-you won't please everybody
6. Rehearse, Rehearse, Rehearse!
7. You can have already chosen a show date and time, however, know that will only be tentative (things happen).  I will usually choose a couple of dates after I've seen a full rehearsal that has flowed.
8. Find a venue-community center w/ stage, black box theater/local performing arts theater (seating from ~75-600), high school auditorium etc.
9. Start promoting early-flyer's, social networks, radio, online community calendars, etc. (leave no stone unturned)
10. It's showtime.  Your hard work has paid off! 
*Even on the day of the show you may encounter some mishaps (wardrobe malfunctions, broken prop, etc...that's the joy of live theater...you gotta make it work)...simply roll with the punches!


The script
My mother, Dr. Denise Treadwell, has written several stage plays.  She has several binders full of scripts.  She will be the first to tell you, she doesn't know the first thing about how to technically write a stage play.  God simply guides her hands.  So, it is outside of my expertise on formal script writing, but I'm sure you can look at sample scripts or research the scholarly manner to write a stage play/theatrical production.
 
The audition process
1. When posting your casting call be sure to make it as detailed as possible (audition dates/times/location, show dates/times/location, compensation, character breakdown (name, age range, traits, etc.), and other production info that is applicable
2.  I will usually ask that potential actors submit their most recent head shots and resume and tell them if they are who we are looking for and match a role we will send them further details...those further details will be the exact date and location, how they are to dress, what they are to bring, whether its a cold reading or they should prepare a monologue, etc.  This is a big time saver for me.
3. I usually don't give out the business phone number...otherwise you will be flooded with millions of questions by actors who won't even show up at the audition.  I've lost count of the time that I've spent on the phone answering numerous questions to people that I will never see. SMH  Also, even when emailing, there are just some things that will be answered the day of the auditions and I communicate that.
4. Have materials ready (i.e. excerpts from the script, play synopsis, you/company background, ground rules, your expectations, actor profile sheets, sign-in sheets, etc.)
5. The actual audition can be done in a couple of ways...one way is to have to rooms: a room where people can gather and another where they can audition, or they can be done openly.  Your preference
***5.  The actual audition can be informal and much simpler...depending on how many people you are expecting to come, you can assign roles and have them read from a scene together. Be sure to listen out for the things you want them to bring to that character.
6. At the end of the audition you can thank the people for coming out and let them know that if you are interested, you will be touch with them.

The rehearsal process can be done a few ways
1. You can give the script to the actors for maybe 2 months and require that they memorize their lines so you can practice without papers everywhere and they can begin to work with props
2. You can begin rehearsal immediately...in the past, we've held them weekly for a couple hours...not enough time, however, most people can't afford to do this full time because of jobs, family, and life.  In spite of this, it still can work!  Set a date when you tell them they'll be working without the script otherwise it can become a crutch.  In the beginning you can cue them, but its only a cue...not feeding them the entire line.
3. Sometimes its hard to tell if they are 'acting' or stuck so before rehearsal begins, tell them if they get stuck to actually say the word 'cue' and then you will give them ~3 lines.
4. You can also rehearse specific scenes certain days...Saturday you may practice scenes 1-3 and the following Saturday 4-6.
5. We personally like to have EVERYONE at rehearsal...including extras.  This has been to our benefit...if something happens and the lead role can no longer be part of the production, you can pull lady #1 who has been there to see and hear all the direction for that character, and therefore knows what to bring the role rather than starting from ground zero with a fresh face.

Picking a venue
As you call around you will get invited to do a walk through. Find out the dimensions of the stages.  Do they have male and female dressing rooms? Do the curtains open and close?  The venue and all its amenities can get costly but because this should be a simple production you won't need body mics...they can get cumbersome,...people forget to turn them off, etc..  Will you need a spot light, gels (colored pieces of plastic-like material that slide in front of the lights change the lighting color on stage?  What are your technical needs in terms of audio/sound.  Remember keep it simple as everything has a cost.  You may not need to use their box office if you will have someone at the front door.  Are you going to sell merchandise in the lobby after the show?  If so, remember that it is standard for the theater to get a percentage of those sales...yes, this doesn't make sense to me either, but that the norm.  Have your insurance as the venue will need the rider that your insurance company will fax over.  Know the block of time you will need...set-up time, show time, clean-up time.  ***Many places will ask you what's your budget...I'll tell you a little secret, when we first started...we didn't have one.  On a personal note, I HATE that question.  That's none of their business...I feel like this, if you know my budget is your rate arbitrary and therefore will suddenly change???  That's just me though. 

The set
You could rent them, but unless you have a big budget they can get expensive...but check around you never know.   We've used light panels that look like walls and add doors to them.  They can be put up and taken down easily.  If your play takes place in a house it can easily be dressed up...put up pictures/art, the furniture and props will do the rest.  Again, keep it simple as you don't want to eat into your set-up/clean up time. 


Other random tidbits in no particular order
1. Don't settle.  This is YOUR production.  If you have a vision make sure it's looking like how you envisioned.
2. Your actors should ALWAYS be on time...time is money especially if you are renting a multipurpose room or other place for practice.  Furthermore, you don't want to waste time...yours or the other actors who are there promptly.
3. Lay the ground rules for rehearsals
4. Encourage the actors to practice ONLY with each other...not friends/family.  You don't want your story to be out there before it's on the stage
4. Have your million dollar liability insurance--sounds like a lot but you can make small payments on it to obtain it.
5. Gather props.  Practice with them in rehearsal.
6. How your actors practice in rehearsal is how it will be performed on stage.  Make them do what you want them to do correctly.  The excuse, "I'm going to do it differently during show time..." is NOT alright.  Trust me, I've seen newbies to theater hit the stage and between the lights and reactions of the audience, it doesn't go as planned as they may be thrown off.
7. Your actors should never take direction personal.  Most seasoned actors know this, however, if you are working with novices, you may want to remind them that all the direction is for the play...for that particular character.
8.  You can equally be informal and professional  I've found working this way makes people really comfortable.
9. Everyone is going to have big, bright ideas about your play.  Such idea's should be presented after rehearsal and should ALWAYS be ran by the playwright.  However, be careful in using people's idea's...this can get ugly, especially if people see dollar signs!  There should be one director...not an entire cast full of directors!
10. Stick to the script.  No line should be changed unless it is approved by the Director/Playwright
11.  Ad libbing should be kept to a minimum...people who aren't good at it can upstage other actors or simply mess up the entire line and what you want portrayed.
12.  It's always nice to have dress rehearsals.  This is a wonderful thing, but if you are working from the lent of your pocket, it may be to pricey...an additional $1500 or so.  I've had actors run through the production during set-up at the venue.
13. Keep your play simple...having different scene locations can become either expensive or cumbersome.  Your play can take place in one place and still be a good show!
14. Create a color scheme for each actor (i.e. antagonist may where black,) etc
15. Go over wardrobe with your actors.  Have them bring in the clothing they're thinking about wearing...this is beneficial for more reasons than one! ;)
16. Remember, this is a team effort, have your actors responsible for the props in their scene.  *One day you will have a props manager, but until then, work as a team to produce the best play!
17. You don't have a marketing team yet.  Your team is the production team and actors.  It may take some leg work, so hopefully your actors are willing to pitch in pass out flyer's, promoting the event on social networks, etc.
18. For showtime, people will often say they will make a donation...that's nice, but it's nicer to have butts in the seats.  Encourage them to be a body present!
19. You can have rehearsed for months and as it gets closer to showtime a rehearsal may seem like it's flat lining...this happens.  Don't worry...the show will be a hit!
20.  As you direct it, always make sure the energy is up.  One sourpuss can spoil the entire production!
21.  I never encourage the actors to buy anything.  In fact, I HIGHLY DISCOURAGE them to purchase anything.  Whatever props, clothing they don't have should be reported to the director.
22.  You may come across those who before they even get the part, are asking, "How much does it pay?"  On a personal note, anyone who is doing this for money, I prefer NOT to work with.  I prefer those who simply enjoy the arts. Remember, you are investing a whole lot more into this than they are.  My response is, "Will your name blow-up the box office?  If so, you will be the first to get paid.
23. Community theater typically does not pay and if it does its minimal.
24.  Show your actors you appreciate them.  Give them a token of appreciation...i.e. a gas card.  You could also agree on paying them a set amount after all productions costs have been paid.  I've found that actors will bypass this and will want you to put the money towards another production!  Those are the true actors passionate about their craft...in my opinion!
25. Rule of thumb: Your marketing should be the minimum cost of the venue.  If your venue is costing you $2500, your promotion costs should match it!
26. Always have understudies...this is hard to cast, however, they will come in handy if your actors egos get so big they can fit through the door!
27. Keep things simple...remember this is your first play and unless God has blessed you with all the lavish  resources to make this happen, you may have to, as I said, keep it simple.
28. Be prepared to make drastic last minute changes (i.e. we had to recast a lead role two week before a show...there was a ram in the bush who pulled it off well too!)
29. At some point take pictures for your flyer's...you can do this with your own digital camera, or you can go to your local photography studio and have a 'simple' photo shoot.
30. Everyone who says they will come to the audition, may even confirm that they will be there...sometimes are no shows.  Be prepared.
31. The actors compensation is the experience...however, to show appreciation for the time, talent, and effort, you can offer them a percentage of the ticket price.
31. Don't let no one put your production on the back burner.  This should be their priority once they commit to the project. 
32. My personal pet peeve...people will miss rehearsal for another audition...what a slap in the face.  They are compromising this production that they've committed to for something that they may or may not get when they already have a role locked in!  SMH  This is unacceptable for me...but this is your production...you make the rules.  Make sure you make them known and very clear to save the headache.
33. Gather your music/sound...put it on once device and make sure you have the tracks listed in the script that you give to the tech people at the venue...this will help them know when to play a particular song.
34. It may be beneficial to get a sponsor...someone with a 501c3.  You can rent the venue for a slightly more reasonable price.  But if not, don't let that deter you...it may only save you a small amount of money.
35. After the show, do a meet and greet in the lobby...often times the audience want to meet the actors and get their autograph!
36. Prepare your programs (to include  for example, actors bios, scene titles, background information, upcoming productions, photos, etc.)
37.  How will you open the show (have in mind who you want to MC and write out come cue cards for them, will a singer or poet open the show.
38. Prepare your curtain call
39. Will you need a uhaul? (for the set/props/furniture)
40. Have in mind the manpower you will need so setup/cleanup takes no time.
41. The night of the show it is always helpful to have a scene breakdown so the cast will know what scene is up and what will be next
41. Remember to have fun.  The moment you are not having fun or any member of your cast is not having fun, you need to make some changes.

After your first play...
1. Stay encouraged you may sell out or not...who God intends on being at your production will be there.  We've been doing this for 14+ years and we've sold out shows and then we've had shows where only 6 people have showed up.  This can be discouraging if we let it...but don't.  Keep pressing!
2. Everyone (actors) may not stay with you...they may fall away.  That's okay.  Just like He sent them, He will send another!
3. Continue producing your stage plays
4. It's not about getting rich...at this stage you just want to keep your name out there and build a following
5. Everyone will have an opinion.  If you believe in your work...keep at it, despite the naysayers.
6. In terms of finances...sometimes you may break even while other times you may end up in the red...that's ok...its about sacrifice and as my mom says, "Scared money doesn't get you a thing..."  Your hard work will pay off in God's perfect timing!

I've researched how to make certain things happen (movies, plays, published books, etc) and ended up at places/website where I had to purchase a book in order to get the answer.  You should invest in yourself.  However, let's keep it real, sometimes funds are just tight.  You may not have the money for that purchase or to cover consulting fee's.  This is another reason I wanted to post this blog...to pass on the knowledge I've gained through several years of producing stage plays...free of charge!  I feel like this...God doesn't charge me any consulting fees when I ask Him for help...this is a time I feel I need to do the same.  I don't want to sell my self short either...so for a nominal fee, if you plan on venturing out and producing a stage play, I will offer further, more clear assistance than this rather lengthy blog! :)

Though this blog is long, I'm sure there is something I'm leaving out, but I hope this at least gives you a jump start.  Like I said, this has worked for me...I'm sure there are things listed that I should do, should not do, could do better, etc.  So before doing anything listed here, I encourage you to consult God first,  do your own research.  Perhaps you can use this as a checklist as you move forward to produce your very first stage play!

 I wish you much success on your first stage play!

Blessings,
Ade' Knight

Monday, January 30, 2012

Drama in the workplace

                                                   

Are you one of those people who go to work on time?  Do you do your job in the spirit of excellence?  Are you only there to do your work?   Do you steer clear of office politics?  Do simply not bother anybody?  Are you the one who don't engage in gossip with co-workers...this means not even listenining to it?  Do you go the extra mile to get your work done...this may include putting in overtime when it's needed?  Are you pleasant/mannerable/cordial to those aroung you? Are you a team player? Do you really enjoy doing your job?

If you possess these quailities, but drama still seems to find you and people seem to always have your name in their mouth, I'm here to tell you this:  No matter where you go in the workplace, there often times there is always a thorn in your side.  Pray for and about them...God has a way of moving the mountain out of your way.  Whether its moving them or even better God just may promote you and move you! 

Keep up the good work!

Be careful how you treat people

I've heard of women who treat they significant others any old kind of way simply because they think no one else will want him.  However, I'm here to warn you, just as sure as you want that guy, somebody else does!  That is all.

                                                        

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Random

My friends sister is here visiting from Germany.  Her sister is looking for Mr. Right.  We all go out the other day and there were a lot of people around so to get a feel of what she's looking for I say to my friend, "Ask your sister what kind of guys does she like, blondes, brunettes, tall, short?"  They exchange some words in German and my friend says, "Oh, she likes black men." *long behind blank stare* Sistahs, are you feeling me?