Tuesday, January 17, 2012

What is your smell?

Contributed by Guest Blogger of the Week, Sean Williams.

Oh, we never take the advice of our long-toothed wizened elders, do we? When I decided to stop pursuing a career as an actor, I joked to my friend Mac, "If only someone had told me it would be so *difficult*…" We are told many of the same things, over and over again, but we just don't want to listen. And yet, it's the curse of the elders that we Just Can't Stop ourselves from desperately trying to run interference, to stop you youngins from making the same mistakes we did.

And so, here I go. Another guy who tossled his grey hair this morning and cast his memories back to Gerald Ford, who has decided that you, the fair producers of innovative theater, need to know what I think I know. They gave me a week, so I'm gonna give you some guidelines that will help you in your pursuit of that elusive 99-Seat monster success you just *know* you're gonna score.

1) Be Who You Are.
I really feel worst for the poor kids who come limping out of their 20s and into their early 30s with their Equity cards and their MFAs, finding themselves determined to create a theater company of "like minded artists" who are committed to "thought-provoking theater" which will "leave audiences talking". Of course you are, my darlings. But who are you? Write down everything you are, write down your dreams and ambitions, and then CROSS OUT *EVERYTHING* that could apply to ANY OTHER THEATER COMPANY.

I'll give you an example. When The Vampire Cowboys sit down to try to tell someone who they are, do they have an answer? Yes, of course. And is *part* of that answer to expand their audience, to tell thought-provoking stories, to create more opportunity for grants and funding, to secure reviews from leading arts magazines and to better support their artistic team? Yes. That's totally part of it. But do you think that's the part that *ANYONE* talks about? Of course not.

I just wrote to Qui and asked him what VC does, and he wrote back -

"We create action infused comic book style geek theatre… for geeks… which we think is everyone."

Qui and Robert Ross Parker stuck their noses in their armpits, breathed deep their own funk and then raised their heads and said, "yyyyyYYYes! THIS IS WHAT WE SMELL LIKE!!!"

You should do this because it will separate you from the rest of the pulsing pile of humanity that is exhaling theater all over the city, and it will also give you clarity when the productions you initially wanted to do are now done, and you have to move on to what is next. If you know how you smell, then you'll know the stink of your next project from a ways away.

But… there's a more important reason. See, you can't just worry about failure, you also have to worry about success. If you look around and say "A ha. It seems that plays about frogs are very successful, so let me find a frog play!" And then you produce it. And everyone comes. And everyone thinks it's great!

But then you have to look at yourself and say, "That was awesome! TOTALLY AWESOME! Man!… So. That was… Um… I wonder if there are any more frog plays out there… Or, maybe, uh… maybe I should start doing, y'know, *amphibians* of some sort, but still basically frogs, y'know, still frogs, just… Wait! I don't know anything about frogs!…. I don't actually care about frogs AT ALL…"

If you do plays that smell like you, and everyone hates the smell, then that's fine. Maybe you have a condition or something. But if you do plays that smell like someone else, and everyone loves them, then you'll never know how to sniff out your next play. And, the most devastating of all, you do a play that smells like someone else, and everyone hates it, and you find yourself sniffing and saying "Yeah! I know! I don't like the smell either! WHY DID I DO THAT?"

But there is no finer feeling when you greet people at the door of the theater and are able to say, "This play? This is me. This is me and my friends, this is what we want to say, and how we want to say it. In a perfect world, you will love it, but even if you don't, all I ask is that you hear who we are." As a producer, this has to be your only goal, every time, and every other decision you make has to be made in service to this ideal.

In summation, get with like-minded people and look at who you actually *are* and then boldly believe that who you are is worth it for 90 people to spend $18 a night. I'm gonna talk about money and marketing and personnel and all that, but this is the most important thing, the first thing you need to do.

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