Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Building the 2006 Season - a long entry

posted by brad at 10:01 AM
Choosing Plays. "How do you do it?" We get that question a lot. Partly I guess because people are genuinely interested in the process and probably in part because people are wondering "why" we chose or "where we found" a certain play. First things first - we read, a lot. Plays, articles, reviews, etc. There are lots of different ways to find information about new plays, then we just have to find the ones that fit - those plays that are "Furious."

We have always tried to choose boldly when selecting plays. We look for stories that stir something up inside us when we read them. High stakes, strong characters and narrative, and theatrically interesting. Those criteria usually make up what we would call a "Furious" play. We want to offer compelling and challenging stories. Nothing too easy. So, sometimes we have to look far and wide to find the "right" stories for our company to tell.

Recently, we have been focusing on finding new American plays and writers to present. We have produced several plays by British writers and some people think that's "what we do." Produce British plays. It's not. It just so happens that we have done several British plays because we really liked the writing and the stories and we had an easier time getting the rights. Some people also think we're political. Not really.

However we will do a political play if we really like the script and we will also continue to work with British writers, when the time is right again (looking into the possibility of a World Premiere for 2007 from one of our writer connections in London - more on that later). But for now, we will focus on producing new American plays for the next few years. We've always had the goal of becoming a major producer/presenter of new American plays, but as a smaller company, sometimes it has been difficult to secure rights to the American plays we're interested in.

See, it is not just about choosing the right plays. You then have to negotiate/request/secure the licensing rights to produce those play(s) you've spent months/years choosing. Many times, this part of the process is harder than the ulcer-inducing task of selecting the "right" plays. When you are a small theatre, like us, you have less seats to sell. Less seats to sell means the less box office receipts you can earn. Lesser box office earnings means less commission(s) for the playwright and the agency representing them. Business is business, even here, in "the arts."

A lot of times small companies are declined the rights because writers or agents are holding out for larger theatres to pick up the play, earning them more money as well as (hopefully) more recognition, leading to advancement of the writer's work and career.

In LA it is especially difficult because there are so many (I would have linked here to a comprehensive list of all active LA/County based theatre companies, but I can't really find a good list - anybody got one?) people competing for the same scripts. All understood. Unfortunately though, many times the bigger theatres can initiate interest in a large amount of plays for their season consideration, which then ties up the decision on licensing those plays to someone else until the larger theatre decides to produce it or not. We've seen this first hand. A few times. Not to blame the larger theatres, we'd probably do it too if we had that kind of leverage. However, it can be terribly nerve-wracking if you're on the wrong end of that power struggle, sitting and waiting, sweating, fingers crossed, hoping they will say no and you'll get your shot.

So, many times, actually "getting the rights" turns out to be the biggest challenge of all, not necessarily the time intensive process of choosing a great season of material. I also want to be clear that this dilemma is mostly the same for all theatres, not just us. It is just something we felt compelled to writing about now because we have recently been going through a very long selection and rights process ourselves - to build our 2006 mini season (more on why it is a "mini" season later - but don't worry).

After deciding to pursue a new play by a pretty hot writer (for the West Coast premiere of a new American play by a writer we had produced before) we were told by the Agency that we were in the running. In fact, we were told that there was a bigger theatre interested and if they said no, we would get it. You can see a recurring theme here...

We started playing the waiting game, making follow up calls and after a few weeks we were declined the rights because a larger theatre chose the play for their 06-07 season. We were pretty disappointed. We were very happy for the writer (whom we really like) that a larger theatre would be producing what we thought was a really important/challenging/daring new play, but disappointed nonetheless. We'll now have to buy a ticket.

The silver lining: Over the past six months the company has been quietly working to establish relationships with a few substantial literary agencies who represent some very talented young/emerging American playwrights. A major goal coming out of our retreat last summer. Build new relationships with young American writers. This focus has proven extremely beneficial to us and has given us the opportunity to read and consider many new plays that are not even published yet. Sent to us from the agencies - it was working.

Through one of these newly established agency relationships we were able to find and garner the rights to two powerful new plays by dynamic and new American playwrights that we will present in 2006. We're certainly learning the benefits of getting in the game early and making strong connections to get the "rights" you want. Seems obvious, but sometimes making the real connections takes a lot of time and patience. Sometimes it simply boils down to past history with the agency, a playwright, etc whether or not you can get their next play.

In the end, you still have to do your homework, know your writers, be totally committed to what you want and then of course, be willing to change at a moment's notice. That play we didn't get led us to the two we did get.

So, what's the name of the two plays we now have the rights to and will produce this year? That's a whole other entry. Check back in a few days for the big announcement. In the meantime, Be Furious.


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