Contributed by Guest Blogger of the week Mark Armstrong.
It's hard to believe that it's been six years since we started The Production Company -- and even harder still to think that we've made it this long. One of the things I did when we started out was to do a "coffee tour" of New York and ask advice from everyone who would talk with me. In the spirit of community and shared knowledge, I'll pass some of it along here.
Beth Blickers from Abrams Artists was wonderful to me, sitting and talking for a few hours. Her suggestion that I reach out to playwrights I admired and ask them to write a short play. This suggestion became the basis for The Australia Project, in which an unbelievable group of US playwrights created short plays inspired by Australia. Looking back, it was incredibly generous of these off-Broadway and Broadway writers to fire off a new play for us. Invariably, people asked me how I was able to get all these acclaimed writers to write for my new company. My response was simple: I asked them.
Carl Forsman from Keen Company sat with me until I had literally run out of questions. (I should have had more, by the way. Anyone who's looking to build and grow a small company in New York City needs to look at what Keen has done.) Two pieces of advice he gave me were invaluable. The first was to forget about grants in the early years and focus on corporate matching donations. The kind of grants available to New York companies in their early years, he noted, were so small that the investment of time might be better used elsewhere -- put simply, he advised us not to kill ourselves working on a $500 grant application that would maybe pay for 1/6 of one week's theater rental! But if an employee working for a corporation with a matching program donates $2000, that's $4000 right away!
Carl's second piece of good advice for us was to move to the AEA Seasonal Showcase as soon as possible. The additional pay for actors, although it might sound like a lot, wasn't that large a commitment in the scheme of things and the additional flexibility (higher ticket prices, more performances) paid off immediately. (For anyone who's not aware, the AEA Seasonal Showcase is for companies that have their own 501(c)3 status, produce two shows per year and pay actors a set percentage of their income.)
On that subject: often, I hear generalized complaints about AEA from the Off-Off-Broadway community, which sometimes come from people that aren't familiar with the whole complement of agreements on offer. In addition to the Basic Showcase, both the Seasonal Showcase and the Transition Contract are designed to help small companies grow. Certainly, it's possible to raise concerns about these agreements, but it's best to do some from a position of understanding and experience, rather than repeating urban legends. (No, AEA will not stand in the way of you paying a press agent.) Carl's additional advice was to speak with representatives at AEA about our desire to grow and find ways that they would work with us, which we did and they were happy to do.
Another piece of advice I got, but regretted following: a well-meaning advisor suggested that we forego having a press agent for our first show. His rationale was that since we didn't have a body of work for a press rep to be excited about, they might not represent us well. Fair enough, but we also didn't get in any press and wound up having to commandeer someone at the last minute to try to rescue us. It's a terrible feeling to throw everything you have into your first show and realize that the press doesn't just show up. (In other cities, they actually do!) Hire a press agent and get them what they need to do their job well.
NEXT: Advice I'll Give