Producing Advice from the Company that Named Themselves “Team Awesome Robot”
The beauty of live theatre, for me anyway, is in its ephemeral nature. It's dependent on the audience being in the room at the precise moment it exists and when it's over, poof! These disposable communities are exclusive by design, so it should come as no surprise that you probably don't know anything about me or my company, Team Awesome Robot. This series is about chronicling our journey as artists-turned-independent-theatre-producers as we put up our next show, in the hopes that you may find some applicable value in it. Whether you're staring down a monster project with a bank account that begins with "zero" or you're a super successful producer interested in seeing how we do the thing at our size, we want to share our experience with you.
Over the next few months, Team Awesome Robot will be sharing our process with the HowlRound community as we produce our second official production in the hopes that y’all may glean something useful to your own endeavors. Or at least, learn from our mistakes.
This is what Team Awesome Robot is all about! We're interested in extending the collaborative spirit of our work to the audience. We develop and produce new plays in New York City from a place of generosity; offering ourselves in service of the play as it exists with an audience. Managing Director Yvonne Hartung and I have been operating unofficially as an artistic partnership for over three years and bring nearly a decade of “do it yourself” producing experience to the table. It got to a point where we acknowledged both the good thing we had going together and our exhaustion of working for people who weren’t supportive of our ethos. So we formed Team Awesome Robot, took our time, gathered our people, gathered our resources, and produced a solid production of the play Rush by Callie Kimball in October of 2015. Now we’re planning our next play!
Over the next few months, Team Awesome Robot will be sharing our process with the HowlRound community as we produce our second official production in the hopes that y’all may glean something useful to your own endeavors. Or at least, learn from our mistakes. This is the beginning, people! Let us begin by where we, Team Awesome Robot, began.
A redundant list of needs to produce a budget to produce a play:
- Content: A script; a concept; a message; an experiment. Whatever it is, you need one.
- A location: A theatre; a park; an apartment; a van down by the river. A place for the content to exist and a place for the audience to be while witnessing it.
- Collaborators: They say “no man is an island,” and they’re wrong, but those islands are generally really, really stressful to visit, so ask for help, OK?
- An Ethos: Know what you’re asking of your collaborators before you ask them to sign on and lay out those expectations from day one. I cannot stress the importance of this bullet point enough.
So where are we right now?
It’s early June, 2016, at the time of this writing, and here’s what we’ve done:
We have a play, sort of. In this case, a collaborator with an idea: Daniel John Kelley has always wanted to write a play about Lorenzo DaPonte, the Italian poet best known as the librettist for Mozart’s big three operas, The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, and Cosi Fan Tutti. But this guy lived a crazy life, born an Italian Jew in a Ghetto of Venice and died a Catholic Priest and the first Chair of Italian Studies at Columbia University in New York City. He is one of the original Self-Made-Men that lived what we now call the American Dream…with a little help from his servants along the way. The idea to explore this person’s life resonated with us for reasons that will no-doubt be explored over the course of this blog series.
Built a budget. We know how much our last play cost to produce (about $11,000), how much we made on ticket sales (about $4,500), how much we were able to raise through crowdfunding (about $5,000), and how we want to implement changes based on lessons learned.
Developed a production timeline. Based on our script development, fundraising goals, location scheduling (both production and rehearsal), and our own personal lives, this puts us at a year-long process. Take the time to set it up right, friends.
Developed a short-term script development strategy. Our playwright is writing the first draft from our protagonist’s very untrustworthy perspective in four parts: Venice, Vienna, London, and America. We’re holding apartment readings of each part once a month. Then we’re going to start challenging his version of the truth in draft two, come September. We’ve held our first two readings (Venice and Vienna) and will hold our third (London) this month. Next month we’ll read part four (America) and then have a day where we read them all back to back (to back to back).
Identified some key collaborators. We don’t have a play yet so there aren’t too many elements set in stone. That said, it’s a pretty safe bet that we’ll need an actor to play DaPonte, so we’ve nailed down a guy who’s signed on for the long haul.
Started planning a fundraiser. We’re asking some of our friends who are more well-known in the theatre community to go on stage and play Dungeons and Dragons in front of an audience. We will be providing this audience with alcohol and incentives to donate to the company. Our playwright is going to be the Game Master. We’ve already started writing and testing the adventure. Next, we’re looking to nail down a location for August, then set a date, then confirm the players, then market the crap out of it. Yep, we are really, really fun nerds.
Reaffirmed our commitment to collaboration. This is our ethos when it comes to approaching the play-making process. “The play’s the thing,” someone once said, and we’re all working towards that as a group. We don’t have the money to pay everyone who works on our projects a living wage yet, but we can find the money to make sure everyone gets paid at least an equity showcase code stipend. At this time, payment is an acknowledgment of equity among our collaborators, of respect for the quality of their craft, and that the truest payment must come from our mutual commitment to why we are doing this in the first place. Answering in the affirmative the question, “Would I choose to work on this project with these people simply because it brings me joy to do so?”
That’s where we’re at! Yvonne and I met recently to go over logistics for the fundraiser and talk making the jump to registering as a 501c3 so we can take tax-deductible donations and apply for grants. But more on that in the next installment of this series! We’ll catch up in August where I hope to discuss the following:
- A successful fundraiser!
- A script that is in phase two of its development!
- Becoming a registered 501c3 organization!
- Our upcoming development retreat!
- Locating and securing performance and rehearsal space!
- Identifying collaborators!
- And other things that happened that cannot be foreseen!