So you have an idea for a show and you wanna get it on its feet? Well, unless you’re already plugged into a company and have the ability to utilize their resources to make it happen, you’re gonna have to do it yourself.
While a challenging process, the most joy and fulfillment I’ve experienced as an artist is creating and producing original work. There’s something so uniquely satisfying about getting to be in touch with every step of the process and then to see that process come to fruition. It’s getting to dream up a detailed, complex world and then watching that dream be fully realized in your waking life.
Self-producing also taught me so much about acting because there’s nothing like getting to act in something that you know in your bones. It allows you to feel a sense of ownership over the words that maybe you hadn’t experienced before. Because they’re yours.
While there are many, many steps to producing your own work, whether it’s a full length play, ten minute play, short film, feature film, cabaret, musical (I could go on but you get the idea), here are five key stages that I’ve found makes the process smoother, done in this order.
1. Make a schedule
Making a schedule is my least favorite thing to do but I have found that it’s the most important thing to do first because time is our most important asset. So once you know what you want to produce, get a calendar out. It can be helpful to go to Staples and buy one of those big paper calendars you can write on. It helps me to visualize it that way. Then start at the end. When do you wanna do your show? When do you want to have your project completed? Put those dates on the calendar first and then work backwards. How many performances will there be? How many shoot days do you need? Do you need to schedule a tech rehearsal? When are your other rehearsals or meetings? Are you going to host auditions or callbacks? Think through ever step and find a date for it.
2. Make a budget
If scheduling is my least favorite thing to do, then creating a budget is my second least favorite thing but it’s so important to be up-front with yourself about the financial component of wanting to create something. Like my Dad likes to say, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” Making your own art is going to cost you something. The most important thing I’ve learned about budgeting though is bigger does not equal better. The most fun I’ve ever had producing was working on shows created for less than $100. When you’re creating original work without much financial backing, it’s really important to get creative. Instead of trying to book a venue that cost $1500 a week, maybe try to find a smaller, indie venue that’ll do a house split. There are bars and restaurants who might want to strike up a partnership, give you access to their back room so you bring in a crowd. Part of the fun, and definitely the challenge, of making your own art is figuring out how you’re going to do it as affordably as possible.
3. Find the money
So now that you know how much cash it’s going to take, you’ve gotta find the money. If you’ve found a way to do it on the cheap, fantastic you can skip this step. If you need to raise a few bucks, crowdfunding is a route you can take. Starting an Indiegogo campaign is a good way to showcase what you’re trying to do for people that might want to support you. Every time I’ve been a part of a crowdfunding campaign, I am always amazed at the people who come out of the woodwork to throw the project I’m working on a few bucks. People really do want to help! You should put some hours into making content for the campaign like a video, writing copy, including a clear budget, really show that you know what you want to do. Asking for money to make your art is a skill we build over time but it’s super necessary if you want to make your own work.
4. Find the venue
Now that you know when you’re going to do your project, you know how much money you have (or will eventually have once you’ve finished fundraising), it’s time to find where you’re going to perform. If you have a big budget, you’ll have a lot more options. Popular venues in Chicago like The Den, Raven Theatre, The Atheneum, The Edge, Theater Wit, often book out six-eight months in advance so if you have a larger budget for your venue you want to start this process sooner rather than later. If you’re working on a shoestring, it’s time to find a space that’ll welcome you in for a percentage of your donations or ticket sales like the backroom of a restaurant or a church basement. We’re also starting to host more shows in our studio at Green Shirt if you’re interested in working with us!
5. Assemble your team
Nothing worthwhile is created alone so we need other people to help us create. Even if you’re performing a one person show, you’re going to need someone to turn the lights off and on, you probably want a director or someone to help you with the staging, someone at the box office to handle tickets. When producing your own art, it’s really important to reach out and connect with people that want to contribute to the story you want to tell. These are often friends, family, maybe people you met in an acting class. It’s helpful to do all the steps above first so when asking people to join you in your project you can tell them when it’s happening, how much money you have to offer them for their time, and where it’s happening.
These 5 steps are by no means comprehensive but I do think it’s a helpful framework to start thinking about bringing your ideas into reality. If you ever want to talk about self-producing, or have any questions about the steps listed above, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d be happy to help!