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.

  • Travis, thank you for this post. I must say it's rare to read a post-mortem that is as forensic and honest as this one is.

    Clearly you were resource-poor on the production – and as I read through your report, it occurred to me that what was missing here was a general or line manager for the production. So my humble suggestion is that you consider appointing someone to this position next time. This third person, who should not be given any other tasks, takes the strain off the key partners in this duopoly model, and becomes responsible for managing the wider production resources (the budget, the personnel – including the AD and the Director – and generally being responsible for the health of the enterprise). We're all wise after the events I guess.

    Thanks again. This is a courageous post and one to learn from.

  • Thank you for that. There are two more coming. (I can't complain about there being no institutional memory in indie theatre and then not leave a record)

    We agreed with you in our real life postmortem and the line producer will be me from here on in. I will not be performing in any more Cambiare shows. At least not until the point where I've found (and can afford) someone I trust more than me to be the line producer.

    It isn't the perfect solution because I'm sure I will have other tasks on the show, but I will have one True Job on any production and that should go a ways toward clearing up the waters a bit.

  • josh Meyer

    thanks for laying it all out there. fascinating…

  • dansolomon

    These are neat posts, definitely.

    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.

    –d

  • cjmoore

    Travis – This is a fascinating exercise and one that I applaud. It is rare (in my experience) for artists to be willing to expose their processes to the cold light of analysis. I would suggest that another role to be filled in a production of new work is that of dramaturg. Sometimes the director can fill this role, but obviously not if he is also the writer. Having a voice advocating for the play and asking questions about the choices that are made and why, can help prevent those “gaps”.

  • malachywalsh

    Great post. Thanks.

  • This was actually ALSO a victim of too many hats. Our stage manager Amanda served as dramaturg throughout the culling and writing process, but that fell away as she had to focus on her primary job.

    It's part of the pride issue I mentioned to Ms. Catmull in the next post, something I struggle with. I have a very hard time asking professional folks to volunteer. I made Rule #8 of Cambiare “Let them say no, don't do it for them. Always ask.” specifically because I'm terrible at it.

    I really should have listed “Ask for help” in my things we forgot this time post.

  • Derek Kolluri

    You didn't have to ask, it was offered. “Say yes to help.”

  • This was actually ALSO a victim of too many hats. Our stage manager Amanda served as dramaturg throughout the culling and writing process, but that fell away as she had to focus on her primary job.

    It's part of the pride issue I mentioned to Ms. Catmull in the next post, something I struggle with. I have a very hard time asking professional folks to volunteer. I made Rule #8 of Cambiare “Let them say no, don't do it for them. Always ask.” specifically because I'm terrible at it.

    I really should have listed “Ask for help” in my things we forgot this time post.

  • Derek Kolluri

    You didn't have to ask, it was offered. “Say yes to help.”