Photo by Debra Lopez
Disclaimer: This post is for artists who want to make their own work and use that vehicle to move them into film, TV or broadway. If those aren't your goals, the goals deep down in your heart that you want and are willing to take the criticism to achieve, then don't read any further.
When you're making your own work, that is the perfect time to use the work as a vehicle to get you seen by industry folks. Folks like casting directors, agents and managers. Folks who can change the direction of your career.
Not only that, but when you make your own work and it gets produced, you're earning two paychecks: one as actor, one as writer. And that's is very good indeed.
Who Should See Your Work & When
Now if you want to do a reading of your work, a play, solo show or screenplay just to get feedback, I strongly suggest you do that in a private setting with invited guests. Or out of town where decision-makers are not likely to see your work too soon and gossip about it not being ready.
Oh, yes, theatre people in power do gossip about work, especially when it's not good. Those invited guests should be fellow playwrights who are produced and successful. Those are really the only folks who can give you meaningful feedback that will get your show produced. Everybody else just has opinions. Established writers can help solve problems.
Here's why you should keep your work under wraps until it's ready:
You only get one shot with producers, artistic directors to show them your work. If it's developmental and not ready, that's the impression they leave with about your work: developmental, green and not ready. This is especially true of first time playwrights.
How can people who have never been where you want to be, help get your closer to your goals?
Who's your creative team? If the goal for making your own work is to get produced in a regional theatre or off broadway, then as a first time actor/writer/producer, you can be the only newbie on the team. Your director, dramaturg, sound, lighting team should be composed of folks who have substantial credits, awards, nominations and essentially are very successful in the mediums that you are trying to break into.
Get Decision-Makers to See Your Show
Now, once you have a production-ready script, that's the time to do a huge public reading and strategically invite industry folks. And before you do any inviting, you must have a clean, sophisticated web presence in place. One place folks can go to see your headshot/resume/reel and buy tix to your show that you're producing. If they got to click to a bunch of pages, they ain't doing it.
Remember: You're a newbie, you're not a hit name yet, but you want to be. So make it easy for people to make you a star. Make it easy for them to get access to your. Fellow actors who are your level, can't help you, that's not who your target audience is for your show. Your target audience are people who can't take you where you want to be . Date up, not down.
Once your web presence is in place, snail mail invitations should go out at least 3 months in advance. You should be doing a bi-weekly newsletter with 3 bullet points about you and/or your show. You have to keep your work foremost in the minds of industry people to create heat. That's what puts important people in seats: agents, managers, network casting directors and artistic directors.
As one very famous playwright once told me:
"You have to make them want to fuck you to get produced. So make create some heat. Make yourself hot & fuckable."
About 8 weeks out, you should follow-up the snail mail with a postcard, then 2 weeks later an email, then two weeks after that, pick up the phone and call the office. Be prepared to have two tickets ready for each office you invite. And don't let it discourage you if they only send assistants. Assistants are agents, casting directors or artistic directors in training.
If you don't give industry folks lots of advance notice, you will not get them to your show in large numbers. Remember: industry folks are reading New York Times reviews and going to hit shows in town every night. They book at least 6-8 weeks out.
Don't Show Your Show Until It's Ready
Lots of folks will argue with me about this, but I believe the reason plays stay in development for umpteen million years is because writers share the work with people who cannot really help them as writers. So they're just getting random peoples' opinions way before they know what it is that they're writing. And these random opinions are coming from people who have never written a play like the one you're writing. So how can they possibly help you fix writing problems? That's crae crae.
Find a writing mentor or teacher. SOMEONE WHO HAD DONE WHAT YOU WANT TO DO. You're throwing good money after bad, paying someone who has never been produced regionally and off broadway to teach you how to write. Unless, you're writing just to do it...then go right ahead.
But if you're writing to get produced, get great reviews, nominations, then you have to get feedback from someone who is successfully in the game.
Find a writing mentor or teacher. Make sure they are seriously bad=assed and make sure they can also speak to you about how to market your work to get it produced. Those are two separate skills and equally important. There are lots of genius writers who can't get produced...
I had tons of writing mentors. Each playwright whose work I had done as an actor were my "go-to" resources in getting my first play produced. A first-time writer who is also an actor getting her play produced off broadway is pretty much fricking unheard of. The only reason my first play got produced is because I followed all of the steps outlined in this blog. Tanya Barfield, Lynn Nottage, Kia Corthron, Marcus Gardley, Seret Scott and Jessica Blank were my writing mentors. They were all doing the kind of work I wanted to do and at the level that I wanted to do it at. So date up, not down.
And one vital thing: use developmental labs. But use them strategically. The folks that see your work in prestigious developmental labs become champions of your work. But only share a script that s production-ready or almost there, so you can get new eyes. Remember, you only get one shot when showing your work, make sure it's a full representation of your talent.
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April Yvette Thompson