Staging Your Own Work: Two Guys and a Play
It's good to be back with my blog. After some mind-expanding travel abroad, I've been immersed in rehearsals for a new play called The Table Scene, a farce about a big budget sci-fi film gone haplessly awry. Born of the imagination of playwright/director MacAdam Smith, and brought to the stage by Nicholas Ward Productions, the play is giving me a madcap role to play -- and a real-time lesson in the necessity of creating and staging new work (not to mention bruises that will take weeks to go away, check it out and you'll see why).
I sat down with Smith (an adjunct professor in CCNY's English department), and Ward, for the inside scoop on producing a passion project. They bring years of work experience on regional and off (and off-off) Broadway productions. Now these two fine gents (along with a rockin' cast and a superb tech team) have put their hearts into The Table Scene (at Urban Stages through May 12).
BCG: Is creating, staging and financing your own play the future of New York theater?
NW: I think it's the present! It's highly competitive to attract the attention of bigger theater organizations. Why wait? We have a lot of talented friends who believe in the work and have joined to make it come together.
MS: The internet has been a boon to facilitating art, too. A lot of what we did in development - drafts, video, photography - took place in major creative download exchanges over the Internet.
BCG: You both started as actors. Why did you shift to writing and producing?
NW: I realized I loved every aspect of theater. And as a producer, I get to call the shots on the whole battlefield.
MS: I've always written plays and acted, but I enjoy writing more. Acting requires such sacrifice that makes it hard to do a lot else. Writing is more flexible; you can set aside times to write.
BCG: Why a Sci-Fi farce? Are you nerds at heart?
MAC: Sci-Fi's utter ridiculousness makes it an easy genre to spoof. It grew out of the late 19th century romantic era from the notion that literature should be inclusive, not just the domain of upper-class literary audiences. The plots are so far removed from real-life experience, yet the stories elicit emotions common to all. Bad Sci-Fi is usually sillier - and funnier than bad dramas or comedies.
BCG: What are the hurdles in bringing a play to the stage?
NW: Funding is a big barrier. We're two guys who loved this play and wanted to put it up; usually a larger group of like-minded people come together, which ultimately leads to a more formalized structure - and division of labor. We asked a lot of talented people to sacrifice time and energy for little if any payment. Everyone did what it takes to make it work.
MS: The play was purposely written with a bare bones set (a table and two directors chairs). I was nervous it would look like a cheaply done production. It doesn't, thanks to the combination of great tech people, lights, sound, costumes, talented actors and a professional theater stage.
BCG: My last blog was about the importance of building a community of artists. How has a "community" helped you to realize this production?
MS: Knowing good people is huge. We're lucky that we've been working in the industry long enough that we know people in creative chains. We called in a lot of favors. The things we struggled with were the connections we didn't have, like a stage manager.
NW: It took a dozen of us to put the play together: five terrific actors, and five great tech people who brought in a few others to help out. That's a community.
BCG: Any advice to others thinking about putting up their own shows?
NW & MS: 1) Call your friends! It takes a village. 2) Be generous in paying it forward in the future, your talents will surely be needed at some point. 3) Keep your sense of humor (BCG: this particular show is farce, after all). 4) Think beyond one show. Forming a company - however small - would have afforded us benefits beyond what two guys could pull off. 5) Tell the actors when they're doing great work. 6) Make your own opportunities. You can!
I can't help but get giddy over the community I've been creating over the past year. Have I formed a company of my own? No. But every day, I am getting closer to passionate people who share an exciting vision for what they want from this crazy business. For me, that means a future of exciting possibilities.
And my thanks to Nick and Mac for including me in this community of artists.