By Jerome A. Parker, member of the 2011 Emerging Writers Group
Recently I sat with a director friend and producer friend over dinner as we performed the ritual of a post-mortem for a show we put up together in New Paltz, NY. This show had a very healthy rehearsal period, though a very short run, and featured talent from actors and designers from Off-Broadway and Broadway. Everyone involved was paid... Let me say that again - everyone involved was PAID for their time and work. When will we be able to do something like this again together? I hope soon. Because we ended our dinner with a HUGE feeling of accomplishment and pride at what can be achieved when you have ambitious and talented people in your corner.
And in this business, which depends upon a lot of waiting – waiting for an “in”, waiting for an artistic director to schedule your play in their season, waiting for a space to open up - it IS very possible to create your own opportunities and have your play produced with quality now.
There are some things you can't get around. A producer IS necessary - especially if you want your artists and artisans to get paid. The good news is – playwrights can make good producers. As an artist who has self-produced a lot in the past, I've also been lucky enough to work with some great up-and-coming producers. Andre Lancaster who recently headed the production in New Paltz, went above and beyond the responsibilities of a producer - raising money, organizing, booking spaces, hiring crew, artistic staff, getting press, etc... – to help bring my three character play to life and share it with a community starving to see black characters on their stage.
Though he’s young, Andre is a veteran and self-made man in this industry. He’s not only the founder, artistic director and manager of Freedom Train Productions, but he also just finished interning in the literary offices of the Public and is now at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival for a spell. This past fall, as he finished his degree, he wanted to bring a story to the SUNY, New Paltz campus that would respond to racially charged incidences that occurred there.
Working under the guidelines of union rules, and starting the process with the intention to honor all the artists monetarily for their work and time, the amount of money that needed to be raised seemed astronomical. Still, Andre pressed forward and saw us all through to the end. It was his vision and hard work throughout that carried us.
New York is filled with the Andre's of the world, who are not only passionate about their theater and giving with their time once they find something to get behind, but also creative with solutions to the problems that come with the territory of producing.
I was so excited to see the emergence of not only the New Black Fest, but also the igniting of the Harlem 9, and the continued growth of the Fire This Time Festival. Each of these entities is composed of creative producers who find the time, energy and money to invest in the plays and artists they believe in. They are a blessing in that they show us what is possible when we take our artistic destinies into our own hands.
I challenge you, playwrights and fellow theater makers, to seek out these rogue producers. Andre is one. Our very own Pia Wilson and Jesse Cameron Alick, both playwrights, also belong to this bunch. As a Public Theater EWG alum, Pia runs the Ghostlights, a semi-annual festival of plays by EWG members; and Jesse, an Artistic Associate at the Public, heads the Subjective Theater Company. So, you may find these independent producers inside more established places like the Public, Roundabout or at Arena Stage. But you may also find them at your local church or bar, people ready for a more independent model of putting on plays. You may find them at a young, emerging theater company in your neighborhood whose rules and methods are created as they create.
But I challenge you to not only see that play (it may or may not be your own) come to life but to also have an active role in making it happen. Have the audacity to demand means and the tenacity to raise those means. Seek out non-traditional spaces/venues and make the effort to find audiences to fill those spaces. Take your art into your own hands. Occupy your own space as a theater maker and set high standards for yourself and for those in your circles. See your play as it was meant to be seen.
Jerome A. Parker is an award-winning playwright, a lyricist, and a member of the Public Theater's EWG 2011. Upcoming: DIG (with the Fire This Time Festival), BLISS, STRANGE FELLOWE, SUITES FOR SAD MEN, THE DINAH SESSIONS and MIRACLE ON MONROE.
This post is part of a weekly series from the Emerging Writers Group community of playwrights. The EWG is two-year playwriting fellowship at The Public Theater seeking to target playwrights at the earliest stages of their careers. In so doing, The Public hopes to create an artistic home for a diverse and exceptionally talented group of up-and-coming playwrights.