I am delighted to be your guest blogger for the week. I have decided to explore a topic close to my heart and often on my mind- Wearing More than One Hat: Artists as Producers: I have put together a few questions and assembled a panel of distinguished Off-Off Broadway Artists-Producers. We will be hearing from Matthew J. Nichols (Actor, Director and Co-Artistic Director of Zootopia Theatre Company), Liz Vacco (Performer, Choreographer and Founding Member/Managing Director of Immediate Medium), Kevin Doyle (Playwright, Director, and Artistic Director of Sponsored By Nobody), and I, too, will also weigh in on the subject.
So,...to get the ball rolling--I'lll go first.
# 1. What was the first show you produced? What was the most important lesson you learned?
The first show I produced was Sam Shepard's A Lie of the Mind with White Horse Theater back in 2003. I was brought onboard to direct the company's first production of True West the year before and things just clicked. When one of the founding members left I stepped in as Co-Artistic Director and things just went from there. It was a very ambitious production for a young company with very limited resources. The most important lesson I took away from this experience is never cut corners in the technical department. We did not put the necessary time and care into finding the right tech team for the show. We also did not pay enough attention to the type of equipment we had to work with when booking the theater space. With very limited tech time, these challenges proved costly. On opening night lights were popping on and off all over the place and sound was missing from crucial scene changes. If these technical details are missing it can really have an adverse effect on the show.
# 2. How do you define your role as producer? What do you enjoy most?
In the beginning I shared the producing responsibilities with actor Rod Sweitzer-the other White Horse Co-Artistic Director. As producers we would make the show happen from start to finish. From selecting the script and obtaining the rights to booking the right theater, raising funds (and in the beginning most of the money came from our own pockets), acquiring rehearsal space, selecting the right production team and finally casting the show. At first we would divide these tasks, but eventually I started taking on more of the producing role. I found myself actually enjoying the producing duties. As a director, it just felt like an organic part of the artistic process. From finding the right theater to work with my vision for the show, to selecting the right art to market it-the producing role seemed like a natural extension of my artistic responsibilities.
# 3. What are some of the benefits to producing your own work?
You have complete artistic and managerial control. You can select the material you want to work on, do it on your own terms and with the people you want to work with. It really is the ultimate artistic experience. I always refer to the work I do with White Horse as my "passion projects." It allows me to establish a unified tone for the artistic process and ensure that every decision made serves the best interest of the show. A well-produced play will benefit artistically. I have been involved in too many off-off experiences where the shows and artists suffered because they were poorly produced. Often the artists involved end up taking on many of the managerial responsibilities anyway (without receiving any credit for it) because the real producer falls short of giving the show what it needs. If we want props at the start of rehearsals I make sure that they're there. If I want to delegate a larger portion of the budget to the set I can do that. I also have the ability to set the rehearsal schedule so that it works with my day job. If anything goes wrong in the process I only have myself to blame and I have the power to fix the problem as well.
# 4. What are the unique challenges to wearing more than one hat? How do you deal with them?
Of course the major challenge in wearing more than one hat is finding the time to tackle all production aspects and give them each the attention they need. I find it very helpful to create a production timeline and start preparing about a year before the production date. I try to take care of as many of the producing responsibilities as possible before going into the rehearsal process, so that I can really focus on directing the play and not be overwhelmed worrying about all the managerial tasks that need to get done. Of course unforeseen emergencies do happen and this can be very stressful and distract me from the work. The more flexible I can be in approaching these issues the better and I take great care to bring very efficient and responsible people onboard the production who I know I can fully trust to help get the job done.
# 5. Any words of wisdom for artists who want to produce their own work?
Go for it. Don't wait for someone to hire you to do the work you really want to do. Take the bull by the horns. If your passion for the work is there you will find a way to make it happen. Take your time and do it right. Time will allow you to find the right resources to fit within your budget. Build a support network and do not be afraid to ask for help. Respect the people working with you and give them a rewarding experience. Keep at it. With each project you will learn more and be able to apply your knowledge to the next one.