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This is the Captain Speaking…

At the midway point in the post-mortem I want to address a few things.

I have written countless times here and on your blogs about institutional memory and how critical it is for theatre start-ups to bridge the lack of access to That Which Went Before. Which is why I’m putting our post-mortem in public. These are mistakes we made, maybe you can avoid them.

There has been some comment about the negative tone of these post-mortem posts. I warned you about the tone when I was beginning them but I’ll quote myself here: “The tone of these posts will be vaguely negative. Don’t read into that, I’m trying to break down what DIDN’T work so we don’t repeat it. The goal, as always, is to improve.

I’m not trying to beat myself up or fish for compliments and I don’t think I’ve cast aspersions on anyone else involved. It was a largely successful show, what success it had was largely from other players and rumor has it that Will will add a post-mortem post from the writer/director perspective later which is where the bulk of the success of this project lies.

Third and lastly here at recess I want to address a comment made by writer (and now director!) Dan Solomon on post mortem #2.

Dan says:

I do have one concern, though –

We would have lost money on this show anyway because we’re soft and chose to pay our performers despite the budget cut at the beginning of the process

I know we’ve talked about this a little bit, but there’s still something that I find troubling about identifying paying the actors as a -choice-, just because it’s likely they’d have agreed to work for free if you’d told them there was no money to pay them. There’s no talk of being a big softy by choosing to pay the venue instead of asking them to provide it for free, or deciding to pay the bill to Rock N Roll Rentals or Home Depot or wherever various technical equipment and hardware came from.

I’m glad the actors were paid – I thought the benefit night idea was a neat one, and from what I gather, it seemed to work out pretty well. So don’t take this as, like, calling you out – I’m just conscious of the way creative types are often told that just the opportunity to do what they love ought to be reward enough, and I think it’s important that people who don’t share that idea work to make sure that it’s not reinforced. I totally approve of the fact that your actions speak loudly on this front, though.

In response to Dan I say: You are absolutely right.

But.

Will and I are committed to compensating our performers and artistic staff. That isn’t going to change. But where do we draw the line?

Do we say that we won’t produce anything unless we can pay the performers? What level of pay gives a green light? What percentage of my budget should that be? (Stipends were about 20% of Orestes budget with the set designer, technical director, construction crew, stage manager, director, writer, and one cast slot being unpaid positions)

And let me ask the official devil’s advocate (i.e. asshole) question(s) for a moment:


We agree that actors shouldn’t be expected to “do it for the love”, nor for “the opportunity”, but if we’re all waiting for sufficient budgets to pay them appropriately (even for an indie level) there will BE no Austin indie theatre scene and the simple truth is that they ARE willing to work for free for a long ways up the talent chain. Why should I as a producer with very limited discretionary funds (and Rock & Roll Rentals and Home Depot are ALSO discretionary expenditures, space is a discretionary decision but with very real production effects that weigh toward it being a hard cost) not see the performers salaries as the soft cost that it is in the real world?

Why am I responsible for the actor’s being professional and treating themselves that way? All actors need to do to change the mindset of producers is to not show up to calls for unpaid gigs and the talent drop off would force a change.


Mr. Solomon knows that’s not my real life position, but to avoid letter bombs let me reinforce that here:
I support compensating our performers and artistic staff wholeheartedly and support ending a culture in which paying them is optional. If that means for now running the Benefit night in lieu of hard contractual dollars until we are better established so be it. But let’s not infantilize our performers, they have a choice to not work for free as readily as I have the choice to pay them or not.

Food Chain : Orestes Post Mortem #2

The food chain goes one way. You are predator or you are prey. Unless it’s Cambiare Productions during Orestes. There was no top of the food chain when roles up and down the nutritional pyramid are filled by the same people.

The producer role for us comes down to:

  • Money. Providing and managing. This includes grant writing and managing. Fundraising. Check writing. Purchase approving, and bean counting.
  • Public Relations and Marketing.
  • Hiring. Artistic staff
  • Providing of needs: Space, both rehearsal and performance.
  • Quality Control.
  • Stopper of the Buck.

IMG_1672Normally this would be one person’s role. This got a little muddy during Orestes as Will and I split the cost. This made financial decision making more fluid (not a good thing) and made budget control harder. It also made artistic decisions that should have been reigned in by budget constraints  more awkward (“Well it’s his money”).

Will also provided the space (rehearsal and performance) and the angel funding. The artistic staff we split i.e. I hired the TD, set designer and lighting designer, he hired the sound designer and costume designer.

Muddiness aside, as the AD of the company and the listed producer, no matter how the tasks shook out I was responsible for them. To review:

  1. Money
    Easily the worst we have ever handled our money. The first time split of financing meant we didn’t talk enough about it and as it got awkward we let it slide. We overspent our budget by about oh, 50%. Without one pocket controlling the decision making (“yes we have enough left for that”) the answer was always yes. 

    We would have lost money on this show anyway because we’re soft and chose to pay our performers despite the budget cut at the beginning of the process (the City not being able to provide an auxiliary grant for the space) meaning that that line item had been cut. We were right but the numbers still look bad.

    Restraint would have meant that we would have minimized our loses and I don’t think it would have meant a compromised product.

    We need to improve our communication around financial issues and not cave in to ourselves when we want shiny shiny toys.

  2. Public Relations and marketing
    We actually did pretty well here. Will’s poster design and publicity shots were top notch and they were on the desk of just about everyone with a keyboard. We had 4 features and a radio interview and were reviewed by five outlets in town. There really isn’t much more we could have done outside of landing a tv spot, and frankly I’m not sure that would have helped us.

    Ultimately word of mouth sells seats in this town and an undercooked first week and a love it/hate it show meant that word of mouth was mixed. There were also 3.7 million other shows open in town, limiting our theatre-people attendance which is always the bedrock of these sorts of productions. We remain stalled out at about 280-290 attendance.

    We also need to improve our book keeping.
    Money and attendance.

  3. Artistic Staff
    We hired the right people save one, and we had hired him for a specific reason – he just didn’t do his job. But more on the set designer later.

    The only real failure here was getting caught flat footed when our original costume designer became unavailable. We weren’t prepared with a list of names to go to when we needed to, which meant that one department was short shrifted timewise.

  4. Space
    Great rehearsal space at a great price.

    The right performance space at a reasonable price. We shot ourselves in the foot contractually, shorting ourselves a day on load-in (we had no Sunday) and a day for strike.

    That will never happen again.

    We also forgot to adequately provide slack both in design and time for the inherent difficulties of the space. That will not happen again.

  5. and 6. Quality Control and Buck stopping.
    Here is where I failed in this position.

    I try very hard to stay out of Will’s way once rehearsals start. Directing a play, a new play,  a new play that you wrote… is difficult enough without getting questioned on every little nut and bolt. It also makes a relationship tense, the feeling that every move is going to be questioned. But it means that I didn’t question things that I wasn’t pleased with in terms of the show that I assumed where choices that were in fact gaps.

    We are going to strive to find a balance in the future, because I let too many things that I was unhappy with linger until postmortem and because of my giving him TOO much space I wasn’t supporting Will in the best way possible.