Thursday, October 14, 2010

Advice I'll Give


Contributed by Guest Blogger of the week Mark Armstrong.

Yesterday, I wrote about some of the advice I got when starting The Production Company. Six years later, I have some suggestions of my own to pass along. Take them with a grain of salt if you'd like, since everyone knows what opinions are like. Here are some of mine:

(1) If you're just starting your New York City theater company, don't feel like you have to do a full 16-performance run right away. I did, and our first year we played to some sparse houses for many of the performances. Over the next few years, I watched how my friend Isaac Butler build some buzz for short-run shows like In Public (with theatre minima), The Honest-to-God True Story of the Atheist and MilkMilkLemonade -- they had fewer performances, but the seats were always full.

(2) If you're working in New York, you have to show people something new. Do NOT do another low-budget revival of plays like The House of Yes, The Shape of Things or Two Rooms. Audiences in New York have seen those plays in expensive productions with great actors -- or, they've seen the films that two of those plays were made into. Seriously, get out and find something else to do. (If you're still reading this and thinking "yeah, but Mark doesn't know my super-special CONCEPT for The House of Yes, then I can't do any more for you.)

(3) If you're waiting for plays to be published before finding out what's new, you're way behind the curve. All the new playwrights you like have new material that's circulating and looking for a home. Here's how you get it. Find out who their agent is -- is very helpful, though not always perfect, in assisting with this -- and call their office. You don't need the agent; you need the assistant. That person has new scripts on their hard drive and they sit at their desk all day emailing them to people. Make friends with the assistants for literary agents and you can get your hands on the latest scripts by your favorites. Invariably, some of these plays will be looking for a home and, if you make the right pitch, you'd be surprised.

(4) Invite people you'd like to work with to see your work. In between trying desperately to get Ben Brantley there, spend some time inviting your favorite actors and playwrights to see work you're proud of. Facebook makes this really easy. Down the road, that may prove just as helpful.

(5) When you see work that you really respond to, send a note to the artists whose work you liked. Again, the age of Facebook is your friend here.

(6) New York is different now. There's one large theater artistic director who I love, but every time I hear him talk, he tells us all how lucky we are that we have the Fringe Festival, which wasn't here when he was starting out. I always want to respond "Yeah, but when you were building your company, renting a halfway-decent theater in Manhattan didn't cost at least $4000 per week!" The real estate thing is harder than it used to be, which is why finding ways to collaborate creatively with other companies and venues is important.

(7) On the venue thing: I always try to use venues that I feel like people have positive associations with -- i.e. when they go there, they associate the space with good work. There are some spaces that just hearing the name of puts me off going there. (You all know the ones I mean.)

(8) Be "at the party." (This is another of Beth Blickers' tips.) If you like new plays, there are lots of free readings and other events to attend all over the city. Hang out at New Dramatists, read the plays in their library and show up when they have parties.

(9) Sounds like schmoozing? Think that's gross? I once interviewed Carey Perloff from ACT and she set me straight on that point. Yes, she offered, there will come a point in your career where you feel that everything is about who you know and it's so nepotistic and blah-blah. Another way of looking at it, she said, is that theater is about relationships. Since what we do in the creative process is build relationships, it's perhaps only natural that theater people would build their careers in a social, relational way. Ignore the schmooze at your own peril.

(10) The Off-Off-Broadway community is awesome, but don't avoid creative relationships with artists from the off-Broadway and Broadway scene. What I love about New York theater is that Broadway folks can come downtown to see their veteran pals experiment with new stuff, while we can all go to the big houses and cheer one of our friends who lands a big gig. Off-Off-Broadway is a great creative engine for the American theater, but it shouldn't be a ghetto.

NEXT: More on #10



  1. Thanks so much for this, Mark! Very helpful stuff. Re #9: one of the best pieces of advice I ever got was, "Networking often is just making friends." And making friends needn't be gross at all.

  2. Thanks again Mark.

    Re: #1. What do YOU do to build buzz?