It's so tempting for playwrights to want to self-produce in this day and age. This series seeks to show people how to run a theatre company into the ground so that they can learn from my mistakes.
Quick, think of the most important thing to do every time you do something related to your production. If I had asked myself that a few years ago, I would have said something about scheduling, taking notes, or something. Now I know that the most important thing that I didn’t do enough of while I was starting out was taking photos and videos. I had some, but I never took enough.
Photos are very important when you’re self-producing. Not only can you add these things to your portfolio on top of posting them on social media, but also provide proof that you did the show. Imagine what would have happened if there were no pictures of Robert Patrick’s work at Caffe Cino. What if no one with a camera was around during the formative years of La MaMa? In new works, we’re doing a lot of productions in little holes in the wall that won’t be around in a few years like the O'Neill or the Kennedy Center. The production that you produce right now is a historic event, and it’s up to you to make sure that this little piece of history is preserved.
This becomes even more important when you’re producing the work of other playwrights. It's not enough to just give them a production in front of an audience. Theatre is here today and gone tomorrow. Any pictures, videos, programs, posters, and flyers you keep help prove to other artists that their show was done somewhere.
Just imagine that your fellow playwright was in court and they’re on the stand. Now imagine that the prosecutor tells them, “If you prove to us that you had a production on June the third, then we’ll believe you.” The playwright can show them a resume with your production on it. She can bring you in as a corroborating witness. You can tell the whole story about how the show was done. See, your word isn’t as ironclad as you thought.
But pictures tell a thousand words. You can just as easily open up a binder with a myriad of pictures, reviews in the newspaper, photocopies of set and costume designs, and even a video of the production. The pictures show that you had people there and that you devoted resources to the production. An archival video shows you that actors said these words and that an audience laughed, cried, and applauded. Newspaper clippings show people that reporters came and thought this show was important enough to review and print. The ongoing theme is when it’s just your word, the show doesn’t have a lot of value. Photos and video footage add value and elevate the story of the production, and consequently elevate your fellow playwright in return.
I was taking a lot of pictures when I was producing my own work. I also had a lot of friends in the cast who fancied themselves as photographers. I was even taking video of every performance. But I took it all for granted and didn’t try to make it a regular occurrence. That meant that the one time that I needed to send pictures and video to a very wonderful playwright after we worked hard on her show, I didn’t have any of good quality. Also most of the time I was taking video just for my own personal use on an old Mini DV camera. When it came time to send video of a production off to someone else, I had no way of converting the tapes to a digital format and sending it off.
The key theme to this is that I didn't think any of this through. Once the show was over, I figured that my obligation to anyone was over. That is completely wrong. One of your biggest post- production responsibilities is to make sure that the people you did this show for get all their goodies and bragging rights. Actors deserve to take a poster home and have photos of their work for their portfolio. Directors and designers have portfolios too. Most importantly, all playwrights need as complete a historical record of their first production as they can get. If there are no pictures, the show might as well never have happened.