After The Implosion

Since the good people behind 13P imploded their long-running production group, they have been taking a well-deserved victory lap. Now that they've run out of plays to produce, Rob Handel and his cronies are bragging how they engineered their crowd-pleasing success story.

That I've been grimacing a bit at all the self-congratulation is due strictly to the toxic cocktail of jealousy and regret that is the preferred drink of every playwright, no matter how successful. I am bitter because other people are producing plays that aren't mine, that I missed all of their thirteen plays besides  the rather lousy Have You Seen Steve Steven, in 2007, and that I didn't make an effort to go to their implosion party, which was by all accounts a good time. 

But more than that, I feel the sting that hits whenever I see playwrights finding success producing their own work. It's akin to the twinge of irritation that comes when I meet people who speak lots of languages. They possess a special knowledge that I lack, and it bugs me. I could learn what they know, of course, but learning is hard, and I am a lazyboy. 

All that jealousy drained out this afternoon, and not because I drilled a hole in the back of my skull. (That didn't help at all.) After seven years of hard-fought success, 13P is doing more than telling their own story—they're giving advice. It's strong advice, too. Not the marshmallow fluff playwrights are usually forced to subsist on—platitudes about writing from the heart and being true to a story. Such tips are useful when writing—how useful I'll moan about another time—but give little help when trying to make a sale.

The audio clips and PDF documents posted today on the 13P website don't make self-producing seem easy, because it isn't. One glance at the sample grants calendar was enough to make want to lie down and fantasize about having an easier career path, like prizefighting. But this wide array of technical advice does make self-producing seem possible. I remain a lazy bum, but if that changes, I know to whom I should look.

Because today was a slowish theater news day—except this OHMYGOD!—I'll end the afternoon with a few highlights from the Raising The Money section of 13P's lovely How-To. There's lots more on the site about what to do with that money, but I'll save that for another rainy day. 

The best advice, courtesy of Mr. Handel, is that you can't get money if you don't ask for it, and asking once is not enough. Anyone afraid of picking up the phone and playing the whore needs to find a different racket. (He says it a bit more delicately, of course.) Besides balls, it's useful to have a good reason to want the money. Boilerplate about a committment to producing new plays is not enough—you need to use a grant proposal to tell your story. A mission statement that sounds like a mission statement is useless. You're an artist. Be interesting.

"If you can start every proposal with what makes you different," Handel says, "you've got it made." He cites companies like The Civilians and Vampire Cowboys—boy, do I love Vampire Cowboys—as "companies who can't be confused with any other company." 

"That's what makes them leap to the top of the pile."

To identify organizations who have money to throw around, look at companies who do what you want to do. Scan their programs and tax returns, or just ask them, for information about who's keeping their lights on. Resources like The Foundation Center are invaluable. 

And, finally, give away beer. How do you get beer? Ask beer companies. For wine, ask wine companies. And ask anybody else you can think of for nifty theater objets to auction off. Where do you give away all this beer? 13P found success throwing parties that were "glamorous in an insdery theater kind of way." Throwing benefits at places like Joe's Pub, they drew big name theaterfolk who would never bother to go see one of their plays, but were happy to throw a little money around in support of a gogetting company. At a certain point, people would rather donate money than time. Take advantage of that. 

"We were trading effort for money," Mr. Handel says, "and all the money could go to making plays."