How to Produce an Off-Broadway Show for $1.50

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Click on the flyer for more info on the show.

I ain’t got NO money, honey. I mean zip. At this very moment, I have a car with no brakes and a suspended license I can’t afford to pay off. As many of you know I am on permanent disability, which, if you read Facebook, means that I’m luxuriating in mountains of free cash while smoking crack and talking on my brand new I-Phone. Yeah, not so much.

What the HELL am I doing producing an Off-Broadway show?

The short answer: as much as I can without spending a dime.

Way back when when I first started playwrighting, I wrote a play called Everything’s Coming Up Roses that took place on an AIDS ward. I had written a couple of monologues for an Art for AIDS benefit and one of the members asked me to find a play to produce to fill a two-hour slot. I looked at a bunch of AIDS plays, but couldn’t find one I liked. So, being young and stupid, I decided I’d write one.

Against all odds it ended up being pretty good. It was a long one act with strong characters and believe it or not it was funny. I remember being up in the balcony running lights in the Poughkeepsie theater where we debuted the show. I held my breath at the first laugh line. I was both shocked and thrilled when the audience responded. It was a heady experience.

Not that comedy was the point—the play took place in an AIDS ward, after all. But at the center of the ensemble play was a flamboyant character named Sidney J. Stein, who provided many of the one-liners, sang inappropriate showtunes and filled the stage with life. Or it was the actor, Jimmy Pillmeier, imbuing the character with his boundless energy. Script, actor, actor, script. When it works you don’t know where one ends and the other begins.

There have been five incarnations of Roses, and Jimmy played Sidney in each one, from Poughkeepsie to the Village to Brooklyn. My first full-length play was a prequel to Roses called Before the Parade Passes By, which focused on Sidney’s troubled family at his abusive father’s funeral. Jimmy was in the show we debuted at Bard, and then again when it had a limited run in New York. In short, Jimmy has been Sidney on stage whenever there’s been a Sidney to be seen.

jimmy

Needless to say, after my first two plays dealt very specifically with AIDS and gay characters, I gained a bit of a local reputation as “Orange County’s Foremost Gay Playwright” (that’s Orange County, NY—in California I wouldn’t have been in the top 20). The fact that I was actually straight seemed not to matter much, which I chose to take as a compliment. If the plays had sucked, the gays would have dropped me like last Spring’s fashions!

Since that time I have written a range of characters, from my own Irish uncle to a German boxer to a Polish Holocaust survivor to my wife’s grandmother. It is a particular freedom playwrighters enjoy, to be able to create characters who are often very different from themselves. As long as the characters are true, not false. False will be ferreted out before the end of the first scene, if it takes that long.

Which is all an effort to explain how I came back to the beginning by writing a new play called The Love Song of Sidney J. Stein. I will soon be embarking on a one-man PR blitzkrieg in an attempt to make everyone in the metro New York area (and everyone else I know) aware that this play will be going on in New York this July. Which is not the point of this blog, but I thought I’d mention it anyway. They say you have to put a message in front of potential “customers” 20 times before it has the desired effect of having them notice it. One down, 19 to go!

The idea of seeing where Sidney might be at this stage of his life was immensely appealing to me. He never really went away as far as I was concerned, but it had been quite a while since anyone else had heard from him. He has changed in some ways, like we all do as we mature and age. He works at a halfway house now, trying to help the new generation of runaways and hustlers who always seem to repopulate themselves. He is still himself—still snide, still funny—but more than himself at the same time. And somehow he’s alive, as many folks who are HIV positive have recently found themselves.

And as luck would have it, Jimmy returned from his theater job in Maine around the same time! Kismet!

So when I saw that there was going to be a “Fresh Fruit Festival” in New York featuring LGBT-centric plays, I knew Sidney, Jimmy and me had a date with destiny. I entered the play for consideration, letting Jim know of the possibility, and waited. I can’t say I had no plan about what I would do if the play was accepted—I have done the self-producing merry-go-round before—but I can safely say it wasn’t completely thought out. Of course we got in, and I beat the bushes looking for a producer. No dice. So…I borrowed the refundable deposit from my Dad and we’re embarking on the $1.50 version of Sidney.

What does this mean? OK, first of all I can’t hire a publicist, which means I have to make up my own press release and send it out to the oh, two thousand media outlets in and around Manhattan. Request reviews, follow up with pictures, pursue contacts. I started that this week, and I will probably keep doing it until we open. Good thing I don’t have a job, although the Cadillac shopping does slow me down some.

It also means niceties like costumes and set pieces are probably going to be necessarily expendable. Neither will a stage manager nor a light/sound tech be affordable. It’ll be me, me and me, and my two cast members, and however many of our friends or strangers we can convince to come.

And you know what? So what. There’s no helicopter landing, or chandelier falling from the roof in act two. There’s no multi-media, no light show, no puppets. It’s a two-person character-driven play that we would do with flashlights if we had to. Because it is important to us and we need to show it. I’d like it to become a huge, runaway success that warrants a twenty-thousand dollar budget, or a two-hundred thousand dollar budget, with a lighting director and a costume mistress and a paid producer. Hell I’d take 200 bucks to defray travel costs. But no multiple of twenty is going to make the show itself any better. The right actors, with the right script. You should be able to stage it at the bottom of a well.

So this is how you produce an Off-Broadway play for $1.50, if you’re ever in the mood. Write a script you have the passion to get out no matter what. Cast talented people, preferable ones you’ve worked with before so you know what they are capable of. Rehearse the hell out of it. In your living-room. Send a LOT of persistent emails. Bother everyone you know to come see it. Carpool down to New York. Find out where the “lights up” switch is on the board and tell the actors to project. Try to enjoy every second, because the opportunity does not come around as often as you’d like it to.

Or you can find a producer, but what fun would that be?

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  1. As usual I love it. I believe that the reason you are the great writer that you are is your pure PASSION.

    • fabou3
    • May 12th, 2013

    Brian, Had no idea that you wrote that!! Saw it twice. Am always a big HIV/AIDS advocate. Congrats!!! And did read Sister, but everytime I try to write a review on Amazon, it gets kicked! Try, try again! You will ALWAYS be my #1 Gay playwrite no matter where you live!!

  2. That was me, James! Small world. By all means, come to NY to see where Sidney’s been! I think you had to have bought something from Amazon in order to post a review. If you can’t get it post it, put it up on FB–it’ll do just as well to spread the word there. And thank you for taking the time.

      • fabou3
      • May 12th, 2013

      If I get a flight that lays over in that time frame will for sure see it!! And yea, I did buy it from amazon, wanted to give you that whole nickel!! So now you have $1.55!!

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