Tuesday, April 24, 2012

How a Playwright Caught the Webseries Bug & Created Off Off

Contributed by Stephen Bittrich.

So I was lying in the Critical Care Unit at Lenox Hill Hospital in October having just suffered a massive pulmonary embolism.  (That is blood clots traveling from your extremities, in this case the legs, up through your heart and into your lungs blocking your airways.  Rapper Heavy D died from one in December.)

And I thought to myself, “Okay, maybe I could die.  Possibly.  Hopefully we’ll get this under control, but there it is … my mortality staring me in the face.  What do you want to DO, Stephen?”

Webseries might seem like an odd thing to top one’s personal bucket list.  Others might choose jumping from a plane, climbing a mountain, or feeding the hungry in some impoverished corner of the globe.

I’d been developing an idea for about a year, a webseries about 4 guys in their 40’s running an Off-Off-Broadway theatre, and it seemed everywhere I went I had people telling me why I couldn’t do it, shouldn’t do it, or how I needed to change it.

We playwrights are often times beholden to someone else saying, “Yes, you are worthy.  We’ll produce you” or “We’ll read your play” or “We’ll develop this writing.”  That can be frustrating when you’re not in a groove.

And even after you are in a groove, you’re sometimes surprised at the response when you say, “I want to spread my wings … since we’re all doing this for little or no money.  I want to try something different.”  Surprised by a response like, “No, no, don’t spread your wings.  We don’t see you that way.  Keep doing what we already know you can do.” 

At least that’s what I was getting.  It was time to take charge of my own destiny!

I’m now going to give my friend, Michael Cyril Creighton a plug because he’s the reason I thought I could do it.  In mid-2009 Michael started a webseries called Jack in a Box about a bitter, snarky actor who works in a box office.  He happened to work in a box office in real life at the time.  I have no idea how bitter he really is.  He’s a pretty nice guy.  I became aware of his series about episode 6 or so, and I liked it so much I went back to watch the first, and I was amazed that at the time the pilot had about 3,000 views (it’s now closer to 34,000).

I started thinking about all the plays I’d done in 50-99 seat theatres over the years.  Had I even reached 3000 people?  I did the math.  Yes, I probably had, but it must have taken me a decade to reach that many people.

Now Michael’s case is unique.  He’s clearly got the mojo going now – just got nominated for a WGA Award for “New Media.”  I wasn’t under the impression that I’d get 3000 hits over night, but he inspired me to stop listening to the no’s and maybe’s.

By now my own series Off Off is not just talk anymore.  We’ve shot and posted our pilot episode and a behind the scenes look at the making of the pilot.  Saturday we’re shooting episode 2 and a mini-episode.  How did we make it happen?  That I will tell you in my next blog.

Will I stop writing plays and doing theatre now?  Of course not.  Nothing can replace the love of that live experience.

But I’ve really been enjoying working on Off Off.  It has been a lot of work, and it’s difficult sometimes to inspire the troupes, but probably not any harder than inspiring them to perform for free in an Off-Off-Broadway venue! 

No comments:

Post a Comment