Yesterday I sat through an Open Source Brainstorm session with a diverse group of indie artists, producers, directors, venue owners, and some representatives from medium to large sized theatres to discuss the challenges facing indie producers and artists today.
While thoroughly impressed and inspired by some of the ideas, I also felt a little frustrated by some of the comments. The pattern that stuck out the most was that indie producers want to be given databases, given budget templates, given ideas for fundraising… given everything they need essentially. I totally understand that that would make it easier – there would be less “reinventing the wheel” so to speak. But it is not a long term solution to my mind. In an age when Theatre is already fighting tooth and nail with film, television and the convenience of entertainment at home, producing shouldn’t be a paint-by-numbers exercise.
Last year, Crowdfunding really hit its stride with the Toronto indie theatre community. No Porpoise (my theatre collective) used it too. It was a good means to an end. But that’s the point: an end. We did one Kickstarter campaign to get our company off the ground and make our inaugural show an actuality. But when we did show #2, we did not use it again because everyone else was doing the exact same thing. Majority of indie producers on my Facebook did a new campaign for each new project and while people are willing to contribute to the first one, they are less likely to do it the second time, and by the third time they are tired. Or at least I am. I cannot afford to be as philanthropic as I would like. Therefore, my money goes to people I feel obligated to (because they are dear friends or they contributed to my campaign) or people that actually surprise and impress me with their creativity. I appreciate that they made the effort to think outside the box.
Maybe that’s the actual reason I think sharing platforms and databases isn’t necessarily the greatest thing in my mind. Aside from the gut response of “I don’t want to give up my hard-earned supporters to someone else as I might lose them”, I don’t like the idea because it makes producing a fill-in-the-blank type exercise and I don’t believe that makes for successful producers.
In indie theatre, producers are often also artists. You have to be because frequently you are wearing more than one proverbial hat. The choices you make as a producer need to be as inspired and creative as the ones made by directors or actors because competition is fierce. Are you a producer because you like producing? Are you a producer because you don’t trust anyone else to do it? Are you a producer because nobody else wants to deal with your work (in which case, that might also explain why you have no audience)? I actually really like producing because it still exercises my creative brain and a large part of that is because I have to think for myself to solve problems – there isn’t a pre-made list of solutions.
In Fall 2013, I was up to my eyeballs in Alice, trying to figure out how to be a producer, building an identity for our collective when we were still in beta mode, trying to be both playwright and actor in the rehearsal studio, looking for a new job, etc. I did not need more make-work projects.
I was writing a script for A Christmas Carol Comedy and I thought that having a public reading of it before Christmas would be a chance to get people excited for it as a full production the following Christmas (really advanced planning here) and it would also be a great way to tell a whole different audience about Alice coming up that February. Cross-promotion of my own work, you see. We ended up doing two readings of CCC – the bigger one being at my parents’ church in my hometown – we got laughs, built community relations, gave away two tickets to Alice (which was a great way to advertise) and I had found a solution for audience outreach that made sense to me and my collective.
It does make a lot of “extra” work. I do spend a lot of hours on Google and even more hours just sorting through my own thoughts. I really wish I had a mentor that I could call whenever (and my blog post asking for any interested parties turned up nothing…). There are databases that would make it much easier – the ones listing rehearsal spaces are pretty handy! However, databases built on my own brainwaves and personal relationships I am a lot less likely to hand over. In fact, their effectiveness as a solution would lessen with each use. In the same way that theatre is not stagnant, I think producing – especially for indie productions – needs to be adaptive and moving as well. Roll with the punches and ride that bull…
Perhaps that may all sound very lone wolf of me. I actually don’t like producing alone because I am most effective when I have other people to bounce ideas off of. As I said, it is still a creative exercise for me.
It shouldn’t be about databases, it should be about discovery. Picking a brain rather than picking names off a list. There are people whose work I follow on Facebook and I am in awe and so curious. I wish I could sit in on their production meetings. They present an aura of a cool cucumber who has got everything under control. If I were to make a producer resolution right now, it would be make it a priority to sit down with these producers, artistic directors, and artists to see how they have made things work for themselves and their companies. I want to see how producing and theatre-making makes sense to their brains. Not because I want to copy it exactly, but I want to see how their thinking might inspire mine and vice versa.
This is all very tangent-y. Perhaps I am even totally off the mark about what the other people meant by databases or what they wanted to use them for, but this is where my brain went and this blog is about me and my thoughts. So here they are.
If you are interested in reading notes from the discussion, they are available here: