"oh what a tangled interweb we weave..."

Monday, February 1, 2010

Producing: A How-To.

Hello and Happy February!

First off, this is not a how-to. I lied in the title. Consider me an unreliable narrator. But I believe there is no such thing as a how-to in producing theater. If there is one, a truly accurate version, someone please send it my way...

Dictionary.com: Producer: a person responsible for the financial and administrative aspects of a stage, film, television, or radio production; the person who exercises general supervision of a production and is responsible chiefly for raising money, hiring technicians and artists, etc., required to stage a play, make a motion picture, or the like.

Pretty cut and dry.

And yet, there is a reason that I have mentors that I have pop quizzed on several occasions, "How do I do what you do??" The answers are never simple. Never cut and dry. And I never stop asking. I am grateful for their patience.

I remember several occasions where I've been introduced as a young aspiring producer, and the reactions were always disheartening. Mostly they were met with questions about money -- "You like raising money?" "You know a lot of rich people?" "Do you have a lot of money?" MONEY MONEY MONEY. I've even been met with very crude responses about how it's all about pleasing people -- but in much more inappropriate ways. Again - disheartening. But this couldn't be what it was all about...?

Then I tried to answer what producing really is to me vs. what people think it is. I've been approached myself by people wanting to learn more about off-Broadway and off-off-Broadway producing. I found that my answers were much like my mentors' -- mostly questions about background and what specifically the person wants to do. A lot of times people come to me with very scattered backgrounds and experience in every aspect of theater or some applicable skill-set. But because they've never "produced" they don't think they can.

The truth is...most people who think they can't, can. That's the secret. Producing is taking everything you've ever learned, and knowing when and how to apply it. Sounds like life. So by kelcie's transitive property, Producing is Life.

My personal definition of producing is fully supporting a creative team so that all they have to worry about is creative decisions and concerns. If a director is more worried about where they are going to rehearse than what they are going to rehearse, I'm not doing my job. But also, as a producer I can't align myself with something I'm not passionate about. Especially the stage of producing I'm in, where often times it's unpaid, if I wasn't creatively excited or truly believe in it, I would never be able to find the patience and drive necessary to see a project into full fruition.

Producing is intimidating because it's amorphous. Which sounds counter intuitive since some people see producers as organized, rigid, schedule hounds, micro-managers, etc. And you definitely have some of those traits, but at the same time those traits are perfectly balanced with flexibility to take things as they come. It's being able to predict the unpredictable, using logic and instinct to put out fires before and after they start. And knowing that your job never ends.

A producer is everything to everyone and no one at the same time. If no one is looking for you, then you're also doing something right. It's only when the sh*t hits the fan that they come for you...

For myself, the main thing about producing is having the confidence to believe you know what you're doing, but at the same time knowing that you don't - always keeping yourself on your toes. I get a strange feeling sometimes where I feel like I'm treading water and I'm not getting anywhere. But that's never true. It's not always about giant leaps forward, it's about chipping away and brushing aside the dust until the beautiful product that is a Show reveals itself.

While the definition of producer is easily understood, the true application and feel of what a producer embodies is best summed up below - at least the type of producer I strive to be:

“I think only people in the theater know what a producer is.
The public does not know.
It knows a writer writes, and an actor acts,
and a director tells them what to do.
A producer raises money.
Well, he does, and in some cases thats all he does.
But the workers in the theater know that this is not the real thing.
A producer is a rare, paradoxical genius –
hard-headed, soft-hearted, cautious, reckless,
a hopeful innocent in fair weather,
a stern pilot in stormy weather,
a mathematician who prefers to ignore the laws of mathematics and trust intuition,
an idealist, a realist, a practical dreamer,
a sophisticated gambler, a stage-struck child.
That’s a producer.”

Oscar Hammerstein II

There's so much more to it. And I'll tell you when I figure it out.



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