How to Get a Show Produced
All right, heroes, the fact that I am writing this with a shot of white whiskey (basically moonshine) by my keyboard means it’s time for things to get SERIOUS. We are rolling into November, which many of you know as National Novel Writing Month, and everyone on the Heroes Must Die team is taking part and trying to accomplish something grand in the month. Patrick (fellow writer) and I are going to do story flowcharts for the whole damn game, for example.
I was going to write about the (successful!) workshop of the theatrical version first, but I thought I’d take a step back and talk about how I actually got to be a produced playwright who could regularly get his works performed, sometimes for money. That has to be of interest to at least some people. Poor writers, I imagine. Aspiring artists of any kind, I would hope. Though this will be specifically about playwrighting, the path is generically applicable to any field. So, without further ado, here is how you go from writing plots for next weekend’s D&D game to writing shows lots of people see.
To be a writer (or artist, designer, etc.) you’ll need some minimum level of competency established. The best way to do this is practice, practice, practice. Just keep doing what you do in any as many venues as possible. But we’ll get to that in more detail later. Here are some things you should bring to the table before you expect to get anywhere:
• An education – School is great, but being a voracious consumer of your medium, reader of how-to guides and blogs, etc. can be just as good. Learn your craft!
• A good attitude – Seriously. Don’t be a dick. You have to be a true genius to get away with being an asshole and having people still work with you. There are very few true geniuses living among us, and possibly none in your city.
• Commitment – You need to work at what you do constantly. Keep at it. The truth is, a good idea is worth almost nothing. It’s all about execution. If you can’t get up every day and make things happen, if you can’t lead at least by example in your commitment, your ideas will go nowhere.
• Confidence – Trust your good ideas. Know that what you’re doing is worthwhile and interesting to at least someone. Take constructive criticism and don’t let it get you down. Don’t be shy about talking about yourself, marketing your idea, sharing it with anyone who will listen.
Here are some other things that are nice to have:
• Incredible charm – Hey, it helps to be liked.
• Supremely talented friends – A gift I am thankful for and have relied on in everything I do. Of course, the things above help attract these people to you.
• Supreme, ridiculous, borderline delusional confidence – This has always served me well. The key is to not slip over into fully delusional.
Working Your Way Up
Apart from being a straight, white male aged 18-35 (a nice hand to be dealt), I had no particular starting help. No money, no connections, no industry relations, etc. Which means I started like most people do, GMing games, writing short stories for school, inventing board games at home, filming movies in my back yard. My first chance at production came in high school, where a traditional event allowed the students to write one show every year, a comedy starring the teachers of the school where you could do a no-holds-barred mockery of everything you lived for the past four years. It turned out great and I got some proof that I had a real knack for the stuff.
After film school, I was eager to get some things out there. A work friend of mine, a fantastic actress and Star Trek fashion writer, encouraged me to try playwrighting, because it was kind of like movies but hey, the audience is right there, and you love that interactive stuff. So I did. Here is the path I followed, with each step leading to the next:
• Write one-minute plays that were performed in a bar. It was a small experiment and all writers were welcome. Mine were funny, so the same theater company invited me to:
• Write for their 24 hour theater event. I had proven myself a bit so moved up to a bigger, albeit still small, avenue of legitimate production. I did that for a couple years (while working on other things), including winning the competitive version. That success allowed me to:
• Pitch a play to that theater for their full season. Note I specifically sought a community theater that had a good reputation and accepted original scripts. It’s important to do your research on that and find out where to submit your stuff to.
• That play did smashingly well, selling out and winning awards, so we submitted it to the New York International Fringe Festival, and it was accepted. It did well there, as well.
• At this time I moved across the country. In a new city, I knocked on the door of every theater I could and met lots of great folk, including some who invited me to do a similar 24 hour theater thing. The combination of that show being awesome (it was a 70s kungfu version of Hamlet) and me having just came back from having a show in New York got me some notice, so I was able to:
• Submit a script to yet another theater that took originals (again did my research). That play was accepted and also did incredibly well. I also submitted a show to a city arts festival, which did not get accepted. However, the combination of the two mean that next year:
• I was invited to be a commissioned artist for the arts festival and create a very large show for the city.
All of this, plus my work as a game designer and general networking, meant that when it was time to pitch Heroes Must Die, I had enough connections, credibility, portfolio pieces, recognition, and examples of success that I was able to make it happen.
So Now I am Having Another Shot of Whiskey
Much like doing shots, getting established is a process best taken one step at a time. I always volunteered, put myself out there, networked, and made friends. I always did my research and found places that would work with new artists and matched my style. And dammit I ALWAYS delivered the best possible script I could in any circumstance.
So that’s how I became a playwright. No secret sauce, just hard work and persistence. Though in my case I add a little more shameless self-promotion than most people do, which I think is as important as talent. Keep at it and show people you can execute, and you will get chances to have goofy-ass pictures of yourself in newspapers. I'll do a similar post down the line on game design and have my other game-maker friends and team members contribute. For now, feel free to ask me any questions or share your own stories!