How to produce your own work – part 4: Building your team

 

Image by Uitleg & Tekst via Flickr Commons
Image by Uitleg & Tekst via Flickr Commons

 Kimberley Andrews continues her series on producing her own show.  In her fourth post, she talks about how to build your team, what to expect from a director and the benefits of bringing other people on board…

So, by this point, I had material, a venue and I had figured out that putting my show on wasn’t likely to leave me hungry and destitute. All I needed now was a team of people to make the show happen: a director, actors and a technical team – and I’d have this producing malarkey in the bag.  As a theatre graduate and writers’ group regular I assumed (or perhaps naively hoped) that finding a group of super talented and wonderful people would just be a matter of making a few calls. I mean, I was only looking for people to give up their evenings and weekends to work on a show by an unknown writer for free…not much to ask, right?

Well, it’s true that depending on how well connected you are – say, if you’re fresh out of drama school and have loads of mates who are just itching to make some theatre – finding people to work on your show might be no problem at all; but I’d graduated a few years back and most of my old course mates were busy trying to build their own careers, many of them busy working in full time jobs to pay the bills.  Finding the right people who were free and up for working on the project actually turned out to be quite a challenge.

Things to do before you try and get people on board…

To-do list book by Justin See via Flickr Commons
To-do list book by Justin See via Flickr Commons
  1. 1. Make your play as bloody brilliant as it can and should be. If you’re unsure of it, potential directors and actors will be too. Have someone read your work and then polish it to perfection before trying to get people on board.

2. Be organised! While you don’t need to have planned your rehearsal schedule minute for minute (in fact, it’s great to be a bit flexible so that you can work around people’s availability), it’s worth having some idea of how many rehearsals you have in mind and where you might rehearse (I’ll be covering pulling this sort of stuff together later in the series).

3. Adopt a flexible approach. I know, it’s hard to resist the temptation of visualising your performance down to every last detail; but when you get a director on board, they’ll have ideas of their own. If you’re disagreeable about everything, they won’t want to work with you and you’ll come across as a bit of a loon, which is bad. Try to bear in mind that if a theatre ever produces your work, you’ll be handing over your script to a team of people for their interpretation so it’s worth getting used to it before you hit the big time.

Image by Driek via Flickr Commons
Image by Driek via Flickr Commons

What next? Well, I should say here that since my piece was a one-off show on a pitiful budget, my technical team didn’t need to be anything more than a couple of friends willing to earn a pint by turning on the CD player and the lights. So for me, that bit was simple. As a producer of a small scale show like this, you’ll most likely take on the job of sorting out costume, marketing and some of the stage manager duties (although the venue itself will have a manager who will be involved up to a point). Of course, if you’re planning something more elaborate, then you’ll need to hire the relevant people. If you don’t have anyone in mind, I’d suggest asking the venue for recommendations or waiting until you’ve got a director and actors on board so you can ask them for any contacts they might have.

Really, my first big job was to find a director. I would always do this before trying to cast your piece because a) lots of directors prefer to do the casting themselves and b) at the very least, they’ll probably know a fair few actors and save you a lot of stress. It’s definitely worth chatting to the director to agree some creative boundaries before you start. Do you want to be involved with rehearsals? Do you have some actors in mind? How do you feel about the director making cuts to your script? Getting these kind of things out in the open before you start can save you a lot of hassle later – there is nothing more awkward than a battle of wills between the director and the writer in the rehearsal room and a bad atmosphere is never going to make your show better.

Image by Jakub Hlavaty
Image by Jakub Hlavaty

If you really hate the idea of someone else putting their mark on your show and you’re sure you haven’t become corrupted by the overwhelming power of becoming a producer, think about directing it yourself – if you think you’ve got what it takes. Personally, I haven’t got a directorial bone in my body and the thought of running rehearsals scares the living daylights out of me, so this just wasn’t an option. Plus, dare I say it – I think having another person’s input can make your show better. For instance, I pictured my protagonist as a slightly chubby biker, bursting out of his leather jacket; but when the director brought on a tall, skinny guy, it brought a new awkwardness to the character that I hadn’t anticipated – and it made things a whole lot funnier. As it happened, my director was a friend, and we agreed to cast the piece together – but it was more about sharing the workload than me wanting to have creative control.

Image by Michele via Flickr Commons
Image by Michele via Flickr Commons

So, what if you don’t have any director friends? Well, ask around: are any of your friends making theatre? Did you study with any budding directors? Are you a director? If you genuinely don’t know anyone who might know someone who might just be able to put you in touch with someone else who knows a director then perhaps it’s worth taking a step back before you decide to produce your own show. Do a course, join a writers’ group, apply for opportunities (like the ones you find on this site!), go to friends’ shows, mingle, and widen your network before you start. And if this thought genuinely horrifies you, consider finding a social butterfly to co-produce with you.

While it’s possible to find a director through advertising on sites such as Arts Jobs, in my experience, emerging directors are usually very busy folk; they tend to gain their experience by working as assistant directors so they are pretty much worked to the bone. Sure, they might be happy at the opportunity to take the directorial reins for themselves, but it takes a huge leap of faith for them to offer their time to a complete stranger, unless you have some sort of connection (or you’re famous).

Do’s and Don’ts…

  • DO set boundaries before you start.
  • DON’T fib – if someone interpreting your work in a different way is going send you in to a fit of despair, don’t pretend to be as cool as a cucumber just to get a director on board.
  • DON’T be a control freak, and try to be open to new ideas.

In the next post, I’ll be shedding some light on casting and sharing my tips on how to find actors.

Previous Posts: Part 1: Getting Started, Part 2: Finding a venue, Part 3: Budget & Profit

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