Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Fringe 2005 - How Not To Produce A Fringe Show - part 2: Corpses

The only good playwright is a dead playwright.

Many producers and directors love Shakespeare because, well, his plays are brilliant.

But there are some producers who like Shakespeare because he's dead. They can do anything they want to his plays, and best of all they don't have to pay him for the privilege.

This is, I'll grant you, so far as I can tell, a minority we're talking about.

But, just like with actors, there seems to be a blind spot some people have about playwrights.

I'm biased. I'm a playwright. And I'm still alive, thank goodness.

Writers tend to be more devalued in film. That I was ready for. When working on an option agreement for a screenplay of mine, my lawyer thought the amount the wannabe producers were offering was, at best, laughable, and at worst, insulting. The primary excuse was they wanted all the money they raised to show up on the screen, they wanted to insure good production values. That seemed reasonable. "If a good script isn't primary among the production values, what are you going to end up with?" noted the lawyer. This also seemed reasonable. As things sometimes to do, funding fell through, the project never came to fruition. But I did get a laughable/insulting payment or two out of it at least.

In theater, I've almost never had this problem, thankfully. But there have been notable exceptions.

One first-time producer was referred to me, read a couple of my scripts, fell in love with one, and then was surprised when I asked how we were going to work out royalties. The producer was committed to going ahead with the project because they were really taken with the script, but they said, in all honesty, "If I'd have known you wanted to be paid for the script before I read them, I'd have never considered them in the first place."

This, from someone who had originally planned to do an older script, by a more established author, fully realizing that this would require royalties. "Yeah, but that play was on Broadway. They made it into a movie."

How does anyone think writers get established? At a certain point, you stop doing it just for love and experience, and you have to start insisting that you be paid, if not what you know you're worth, then at least *something*

I passed that point about nine years ago now. It would have to be a pretty amazing opportunity coming down the pike to make me even consider backtracking.

For many people, this turning point in their careers is the Fringe.

The Fringe provides the infrastructure which minimizes risks so artists can feel free to take some risks.

When my two fellow playwright friends and I designed the Fast Fringe last year, we were giving some writers their first full production. And they were chipping in a small fee for the privilege. And while the show didn't do as well as we'd often hoped and believed it would, it did do well enough that we were able to refund that fee to everyone who paid it to us. So essentially they got a full production for nothing. My fellow producers and I decided to forgo getting paid so that the writers and actors could split the pot.

Now that's not feasible for everyone. And I'm not adovcating for producers to go without any more than any of the other collaborators. They take a sizable risk to make the whole thing possible in the first place. Producers are the driving force that brings a Fringe show into being. Many times, the same person wears many hats - writer/producers, actor/producers, director/producers. Some shows lose money. But if your show makes money, consider sharing it with the people who provided the foundation on which you built the structure of your production.

In other forms of the performing arts, maybe there's not a writer. Maybe it's a choreographer, a puppet-builder. You see what I'm driving at.

If you're trying to make money by riding on someone else's back, the least you can do is pay them for the privilege.

No artist should have to be dead before they earn a little respect for what they do. If the Fringe is about nothing else, it should be that - respect for your fellow artists.

(For more of my writing - plays, past blog entries and more - visit www.matthewaeverett.com)

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