As you all know KJ and I had to cancel our show this summer. Our theatre company, Live Out Loud Theatre, has been producing shows and workshops since 2008 in Sask and Alberta. We have produced 6 shows. This one would have been our 7th. We have always held true to 3 basic principles: 1 Have great content 2: have that content be something we as artists enjoy doing and 3: have that content be financially viable.
Live Out Loud Theatre is a brain child of my wife and I. We have always been aware that the theatre business can be a slave driving force, and one that must be at times almost begged at the feet of, in order for it to provide a steady, livable wage. Live Out Loud Theatre is a direct rebuttal of this concept. We self produce in order to be less reliant on other people and/or companies for steady work. There are also times when the role we have been offered is not as great as the ones we were dreaming of playing. I have talked with many people in this business that have had to compromise themselves and their casting, all for the security of a job. I know this happens in every field in the world. I understand that this compromise is just sometimes part of the way the world works, but in our business we have to get up in front of hundreds of people, night after night, and show them we love our compromises. This is why, you may hear of some obscure play being done in some warehouse somewhere, by people you may have heard of (probably not), and you think to yourself, artists are weird, why would anyone go to that shit? It’s because we have to, or else we will go insane.
Now, I have to say Producing is not easy. Exciting… thrilling… challenging, yes, but not easy. We control the content, the design, the staging, the lighting, the sound, the props, the sets, the costumes, the style, the advertising, the promotion, the exposure, the money, we decide who to hire, why we hire them, and we decide who to direct, stage-manage, musically direct, choreograph, and who will be our technical team. Now you throw in venue, rehearsal space, and if you are writing your own piece…….workshopping, editing, copywriting. Self producing is not a light job, or one with only one set of duties. Self producing any venture takes some balls and some money.
I have always believed that if you have a great show people will want to see it. Yes and no. If no one knows about my show no one will go. This is why new works are so much harder to produce. I have to create the buzz. Sing out Louise! This is why I love advertising and promotion. I do love asking for money, and coming up with honest ways of selling our shows. Titles are important if you are writing an original. So is design, posters, online content, rack cards, TV, ect. I always believe in letting our advertising tell a story. I have always believed in our show’s content. They are funny and specific, and are difficult to pull off well. Just the kind of challenge I love. I enjoy the idea of people coming to the theatre and having a good time. I also like to have theatre be an experience rather than a passive observance. I like to hear an audience move, shift, and breath. Light, colour, air, smell, sound, and sometimes touch. I love it.
I am telling the truth when I say, that the more people love what they are doing on stage, the more you will enjoy watching them. I understand this is an easy concept, but I am telling you there are many performers that are not having fun at all. There is a difference between Musical Theatre and straight Theatre. The main difference is that it seems to take longer for Musical Theatre performers to become jaded. Just go to an opening night of Drowsy Chaperone, and see the people who say maybe two words on stage, and dance at the back of a few numbers… they are the happiest people you will ever meet. Go to an opening of Henry V, and watch the guards that maybe say two words, and battle in a few scenes….they are subdued and solemn. I know, I have seen it time and time again. You might say: NOOOO you can’t say that! I don’t know anyone that would give up their job just because the role isn’t big enough! I didn’t say that. I am just saying that there are some fantastic artists that have been given roles that are less artistically fulfilling, in companies that do not foster choices that are brave or fascinating. On broadway right now, if the leads all died in a sudden plane crash (yes, they all fly together) anyone from the chorus, or ensemble, could step into their roles, they are all that good. I know I am not on broadway right now, but the same theory applies in regional Canadian Theatre, or at least that is what you should expect. If you have people who really want to be there, and are inspired by a director that lets them feel essential, I guarantee you will see a masterpiece. I love what I do, and have been very fortunate to feel inspired. I have always really enjoyed being in our Live Out Loud Theatre shows, and have always felt directed beautifully. That is why I want to produce more, despite the bumps on the road.
The show must be financially viable. If you are using someone else’s money there will always be less of a drive to succeed. If you are taking money from your own bank, there is an immeasurable instinct to succeed. For profit, not for profit…..okay. I don’t like the not-for-profit model because I want my product to be limitless and I feel that is not possible in that model. In a for profit venture the market is my guide, if no one comes to my show, it’s because no one wants to. It is complicated because the questions are: 1. is the product known? 2. is the product entertaining? (definition varies) 3. is the product desired? I feel these basic questions are essential when balanced against a budget that is well thought out, say… 18%. Our show this summer “GET HAPPY” was well thought out financially. We had spent a great deal of money and time letting people know about our show, we started early getting the word out educating our audience base. 1930’s, vaudeville, musical, love story, locally relevant, KJ and Leon, married couple, professional artists, etc. The city was starting to remember, curiosity was building, all good things. Next, we blitzed the online world, touting our own genuine enjoyment of the show, videos, radio, vlogs, blogs, and just talked with people, all that jazz. Sharing the laughter that was coming out of the creation of our show with as many people as we could think of. Finally we kept taking the temperature of our city, ask people: are you excited for the show? will you still be coming? have you got your tickets? Hey big organizing committees, do you still think this is a good idea? Are the dates still good?
The truth is our show was good. Really good. Unfortunately, our advanced tickets sales were not. This is because of many factors. 1. our opening dates were in conflict with a major event in the city. Now, ordinarily this would not be a factor because I believed in joining that day’s entertainment, and niching my product to fit the event. We would have taken a hit but a negligible one. 2. The city where I live is known for lazy advanced ticket sales, and big walk-ups. Hard I know. 3. This city is also known for being cautious of new things, ideas, people, etc. There is a very well-known teacher in this city that has produced a play, and a musical every year in their high school, and every year ticket sales are the same. Opening night is the lowest attendance, second night is the highest attendance. Every year, 17 years. Wow. Even then he was still relying on word of mouth. These factors are tough to tackle, but to be honest, a fun risk. I do believe in this city, and I know there is a huge market for quality shows, it just has to be massaged. The real hit came all within a week.
My wife and I own property in various ares and we received a surprise tax levy. This was a burden and though not a crazy amount it was still going to cost us a couple grand. The next thing that happened was one of our corporate buyers had to cancel on us for internal reasons and withdraw. This made us itch. Though we had another buyer that had purchased 1/2 house, this meant we had to go back to one ticket at a time selling to make up for this loss. Finally the last straw was something we didn’t really expect anyway. My wife and I were recommended by friends to contact the arts board and ask about a creation grant. We had explained that we were a for profit company and that we were self producing. We cautiously reminded the administration that years previously we had applied and were denied any grants. (this was a factor for us to prefer for-profit models). In fact we had been told by people on the jury that the reason we were denied from our previous attempt was because our show was too commercially viable, and did not need any help. Unbelievable, considering it was an original work. So we told the administer our story and was assured that our show was exactly the kind of show that the arts board loves to help with. They said that the arts board is very interested in helping artist who want to transition into more of a producing role, as well as to help upcoming original pieces, written by Saskatchewan artists, to find an audience. So, they told us to apply. We thought why not? So, the grant we applied for was for the creation of our show, specifically the writing, workshopping, and editing process. I have received grants in my past for unique arts projects that really would never have survived in an open market, but these are projects have had a lasting impact on the small number of individuals that experienced them. So on we went applying for this grant not really thinking we would be getting much, or any, but as these other financial hardships stared happening, that grant was starting to look like a lighthouse on a dark sea.
In the end, we received zero grant dollars.
The biggest part about being a producer is knowing when to run with an idea, and when to cut your losses. At least we have the show, it is ours and we can shop it around. Our original idea was to tour it anyway so maybe “GET HAPPY” , a 1930’s romantic comedy music revue, will find its life one day.