Returning the Favor and other Slices of Life

Returning the Favor
Returning the Favor
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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Returning to normalcy

Last night was a little odd. After the past several months of running around like a chicken with my head cut off between writing, working and rehearsing/performing, last night after work I...went home. And had dinner with my wife. And worked in the yard for a few minutes. And watched tv. And went to bed early.

Suzy remarked that I seemed a little distant, and I told her that it would just take me a few days to get adjusted to actually being at home and not having a ton of things hanging over my head. I have a few weeks before I'll start work on my next theatre design project, and there's not a whole lot going on that requires my writing talents (but if anyone's hiring, I'm really available for August).

Shakespeare Carolina's second season went better than we could have imagined, and it's pretty official that my role will be reduced in season three. This year kicked my ass, so I'm going to step aside and let someone else direct next summer. I may act, or may not, depending on my writing schedule. If it looks like I'm covering the WSOP again, I won't take a major role in either show, and I'll use my skills on the production side to make sure we have good technicians, stage management and promotion.

We were all amazed at how well we did financially, and the shows turned out well, too. Those two things, while not mutually exclusive, do not necessarily go hand in hand, either. We did about triple the ticket sales this year that we did last year, and I remarked that more people saw Twelfth Night in one performance (125 at our high-water mark) than saw all the performances of Hamlet last summer. That's a bit of an exaggeration, but I do think that we beat Hamlet's run in two performances of Twelfth Night. If we can figure out what happened to cause the growth in audience and keep that going for next year, we will suddenly find ourselves as a viable entity. We're already in good financial shape, as we started this season with about $2500 in the bank, and we'll finish the season with about double that.

Yeah - we just managed to produce two fully staged productions for $2500. Here's how you do that in a few easy steps -

1) Find a venue that will take a cut of the gate instead of cash for rent. When Off-Tryon closed I had a bunch of lights left over that I didn't want to sell. So I went to Theatre Charlotte and cut a deal where my lights would be on permanent loan to TC for as long as Shakespeare Carolina was in residence. Add to that a revenue split on ticket sales, and Theatre Charlotte got a couple dozen expensive lighting instruments and some more dimmers, and Shakespeare Carolina got a summer home.

2) Produce royalty-free shows - Shakespeare's been dead a long time and he doesn't have an agent, so we don't have to pay the fees associated with producing a contemporary play. This cuts at least $1,000 off the cost of doing theatre.

3) Find a bunch of people who will work for free. In Charlotte, actors sadly don't expect to get paid, because most companies historically haven't been able to pay them. So we can get great actors who will work for free. Toss in a lighting designer who hasn't had a lot of exposure around town and will work for free just to get her name out there, and a couple of lunatic directors who will work for free just to have the freedom to do whatever they want, and you get a pretty dramatically reduced salary situation.

4) Go for super-simple sets. We used just a few platforms and a shitload of black paint. Next year we'll probably work on improving our production values, but that wasn't where our priorities lay this year. And it might not be next year, either. But we made some money this summer, so we can afford to do a few things better next year.

So that's how we did theatre on the super-cheap, and became pretty damn profitable along the way. We'll see if we can keep the momentum going now.

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