*Originally published as a three part series on HowlRound.
This is the final installment of the blog series in which we, Team Awesome Robot, chronicle our production timeline.
We are in rehearsals for our production of That True Phoenix and there is a lot going on right now! I’m sure you all know the feeling of eating/sleeping/breathing a play in preparation for opening night; like us, you’re probably addicted to it and need it to live. We work really hard as producers to get to this point right here, so let’s take a quick second to go over what it took before we look forward at what still needs to be done.
There are a lot of spinning plates leading up to a production and the more organized one can be moving into it, the better. It’s like we said in our first blog: Take the time to do it right.
One year ago, in April 2016, we completed the following checklist:
We spent the next six months focusing primarily on developing the content (That True Phoenix), identifying a theatre within our budget, and holding our first fundraiser: Drinking and Dragons with Team Awesome Robot. During this time we shared our enthusiasm about the play with anyone who would listen. Then it was on to phase two of our production calendar.
Six months ago, in October 2016, we completed the following checklist, using personal funds and the money raised by our Drinking and Dragons fundraiser (about $2,000):
In November of 2016, we planned our last development reading of the script. Up until this point, all of the development work had been done in my apartment, with wine and a rotating cast of actors who are kind enough to make silly voices in exchange for drinking said wine. It’s important to note that, because we spent such a long time not really knowing what we’d need in terms of casting (besides Da Ponte), we strove never to give the impression that any of these readings were doubling as auditions. So, this final reading would serve a dual purpose: a last chance to hear the play before a giving audience, and a celebration of the journey we’d all taken. We secured a space (thank you, Access Theater!) invited our past collaborators, our fiercest supporters, some designers we were interested in working with, and put together a cast.
The other thing that happened in November was Election Night. This isn’t the space for a political diatribe, but the effects that the election had on our audience cannot be overlooked. As theatremakers, we build worlds for an audience to experience a story and in building that world, we must respect where they’re coming from or risk alienating them. So we revisited the tough questions of our content again: Why are we doing this play, at this time, for this audience? Our answers helped guide the final script changes.
In December of 2016, we held that reading (hooray!), navigated the holidays (phew!), and set up meetings with potential designers and production staff. We also sent out an end-of-the-year appeal letter to our past donors in the hopes that they’d include us in their annual charitable gifts. This garnered us enough funds to cover the rest of the remaining deposits for our performance space.
In January of 2017 we searched for our production team collaborators. Given our ethos of paying everyone the same stipend, this is one of the most challenging aspects of our production process. For a variety of reasons, Stage Managers and Designers tend to start making their living off of theatre a lot earlier in their careers than actors, directors, and producers, so finding ones who are willing to take on a passion project is more of a challenge. Our approach to this is always by virtue of the play we’re working on; these are artists, after all. If the piece appeals to their artistic sensibilities then we’re halfway there.
Here’s what we accomplished in January:
Which catches us up to present-day. Our final crowdfunding campaign is currently online where we are raising $5,000 to cover the cost of our design budget, collaborator stipends, and other incidentals. We had our first rehearsal this week and are hard at work building the world together. The show will open on Friday, April 21. If you happen to join us, please be sure to introduce yourselves!
We thank you for sharing this space with us and truly hope the detailing of our process has been beneficial to you. We encourage you all to comment and share with your friends. Let’s keep the conversation going—open communication and transparency about how the work happens helps our entire theatrical community to thrive.
*Originally published as part of a three part series on Howlround.
This is the second installment of the blog series in which we, Team Awesome Robot, chronicle our production timeline. The first part was published a few months ago and contains useful bits of information about us and our process. You can find that post here, because we’re not spending too much time recapping in this installment. Onwards!
Hey there! How was your summer? Hot, productive, full of terrifying political events? Us too! Let’s go over what’s happened since we last spoke in June.
We held a fundraiser! Drinking and Dragons with Team Awesome Robot was a success! Our threshold for “success” being not losing too much money and everyone having fun, we were pleasantly surprised to make money! Not enough to negate the need for further fundraising, but some! And people definitely had enough fun to warrant us making this an annual event.
In producing, ‘Audience’ is synonymous with ‘Target Demographic.’ Our target demographic is not comprised of wealthy individuals looking for a tax write-off or a prestigious title to put on their resume. We can’t really cater to that demographic. Rather, the people who support Team Awesome Robot are a lot like us: artists, family, and friends who find value in spending time in the communities we attract.
So what did we do and how and why? We followed the same formula for our shows: content, location, collaborators, ethos, and a fifth part of the formula we neglected earlier: audience. We had a cool idea (get a diverse group of indie theatre names to play live Dungeons and Dragons with booze), we found a reasonably priced location (Gene Frankel Theatre), and asked a million of our friends to help us because, frankly, Dungeons and Dragons is really fun.
That all sounds great, but I want to focus on a particular aspect of this process that I believe directly contributed to the success of this event: We talked about it a lot for a long time. We started kicking the idea around in February, held our first of four playtests for the adventure in April, secured our space in June, locked down our players by the beginning of July, and held the event July 30th. We took the time to do it right, but the whole time we talked about it with our friends as a thing that we were genuinely excited to be making. Because enthusiasm begets either ambivalence (valid) or shared enthusiasm, we found our audience. That’s a really important part of producing that I neglected to mention in the first installment of this series: Identify your audience. Sometimes that’s as easy as saying, “We made a new play so the people who like new plays will be our audience.” Other times, it takes recognizing that not everyone who liked our last play will be all that into drinking...or dragons.
Audience Identification is why we wanted to do this kind of fundraiser. In producing, “Audience” is synonymous with “Target Demographic.” Our target demographic is not comprised of wealthy individuals looking for a tax write-off or a prestigious title to put on their resume. We can’t really cater to that demographic. Rather, the people who support Team Awesome Robot are a lot like us: artists, family, and friends who find value in spending time in the communities we attract. What sort of incentives do they want?
They want a good story, and maybe the opportunity to affect that story. So in addition to the $20 ticket price and alcohol with suggested donation prices, we also offered them the chance to purchase in-game items. Along with potions of healing and potions of fire-breath, they bought a Dagger of Kind Rejection for player Jesse Alick, Literary Manager at the Public Theater. Eventually they even gave us enough money to transform the useless prop sword at the beginning of the game into the Fundraising Sword of Awesome, which slew the dragon at the end.
All in all, the fundraiser cost us $769.79, and we were able to raise $1,875.08, with an additional $250 in the form of a matching gift (that sword, remember?). Next time, we’ll be sure to reach out to local breweries and wineries with a bit more notice in the hopes of getting our alcohol as tax-deductible donations. We’ll also seek out a space that can hold more people, because the demand was higher than anticipated. Lessons learned.
Now, on to the updates:
We have secured a performance space and dates! In New York City, at our budget level, that’s usually best done six months in advance. We did a lot of research on spaces within our budget before even going on site visits so we didn’t have to go on too many to know what was out there. It helps that both of us have worked in a lot of venues (and have friends who have worked in even more venues) in New York City, so we already had a sense of what kind of space we need for this project. The Access Theatre is a pillar in the New York independent theatre community, and we’re really excited to be working with them. The space is $2,300/week and we’ll be doing a twelve-performance run over three weeks from April 21 through May 7. We discussed renting the space a week earlier so we had more time to rehearse there, but ultimately decided we just aren’t at that level yet financially. It’s also worth noting that starting our rental a week early on April 10 would put Tech in conflict with Passover and our opening weekend in conflict with Good Friday and Easter, which would not be the wisest scheduling decision both for collaborators and audience.
As I’m sure you can imagine, this is a big step. Having production dates means we can build a basic rehearsal schedule, which means we can start looking at booking rehearsal space. So now we have actual numbers to plug into our budget, which helps us plan for fundraising. That’s coming soon, friends, and will likely be the subject of our next post at the end of the year—that and publicity which often goes hand-in-hand with fundraising.
It occurs to us that this section threatens to become much more about marketing our production than helping you produce yours, which is not what we’re trying to do here. It’s important to note that even if we were working with an existing script our timeline would not change terribly drastically up to this point. In future installments of this series, we’ll document our process separately and will provide links for those who are interested. For now, here’s an update:
When we last checked in, we were in what we’re now calling Development Stage One: in which Daniel Kelley writes Da Ponte’s life using only the autobiography as source material and allowing the character to dictate the narrative. Written in four parts, that final draft came out to two hundred ninety pages. Five hours of some of the most entertaining and ridiculous storytelling we’ve been a part of. After taking stock of what we liked, we put that behemoth to the side and asked the following questions:
Stage Three: We traveled to the Dragons Egg Studio in Mystic, Connecticut, with five actors to read over the latest draft which not only addresses Da Ponte’s chosen narrative, but what we’re interested in learning from him as well. I promise it won’t be five hours long. It was incredibly beneficial, providing us with a clear idea of what shape this play will have. Now it’s about identifying the needs of a production and meeting them as best we can. Wish us luck!
*Originally published as a three part installment on HowlRound.
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:
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: