For My Fellow Theatre Artists: A Story of Perseverance

We’re at the end of the run of the world premiere of Falling In Time, and I’m exhausted. The journey from pre-production to rehearsals to production has been a three-months-long process, usually working twelve-hour days, seven days a week.

But in actuality the journey has been much, much longer.

I won’t go into the whys and hows of writing Falling In Time–that’s navel-gazing.

Rather, I want to talk about the long, arduous, sweat- and tear-stained struggle to get this damn play produced. It’s a story of perserverance that I think fellow playwrights and theatre artists can learn something from.

After two years worth of play-development workshops in Toronto and Vancouver, both my agent and I felt it was time to shop the play around. The first company we approached was the one both of us had viewed as the hottest lead. Alas, the Artistic Director said no–well, they never actually said no, but rather that it was something they would be happy “to consider in future seasons,” though not this one. I read between the lines, shed a few tears. Because this Artistic Director was not only a mentor but a friend, the rejection hurt me deeply, and it took me a long while to recover from it.

But my agent forced me back on my feet and gave me a pep talk over the phone: “This play is too good to not find a producer–you just have to be patient.” I’m constitutionally deficient in patience, but meditation and therapy proved helpful–particularly as months went by and producers weren’t biting. “It’s a great play, but too risky for us,” went the bittersweet refrain. So I moved on, put it on the back-burner, started working on other projects.

Then, in the summer of 2008, Sean Cummings, a film and theatre artist who had directed two of my previous plays, took over the helm of Screaming Weenie Productions, Vancouver’s professional Queer theatre company. He had directed a workshop of Falling In Time in 2007 and had voiced interest in directing a full production, were it ever to happen. Now that he’d officially become a gatekeeper, he was in the position to program my play. And, shortly upon assuming the leadership of the company, that’s exactly what he did. And this is the story of how most plays are produced in Canada–through longstanding relationships playwrights have with artistic directors. To put it bluntly, it is, to an extent, who you know.

But the journey to production faced a huge hurdle when the funding cuts came down in 2009. Screaming Weenie, like many similarly sized arts companies, lost all its operating funding. So there would be no guaranteed start-up money for Falling In Time. Nose, meet grindstone. And prayers every night to the granting gods.

Except we knew that prayers alone wouldn’t help us raise the necessary funds; to paraphrase only slightly the maxim most of our mothers fed us, the gods help those who help themselves. So, two years out of the planned production dates, we made a list of all the project grants we were eligible for and began crafting the verbiage for the applications.  We went through about ten drafts of it, re-read it about a hundred times over, and asked colleagues, including ones from Toronto, to read it over and offer ruthless feedback.

Fittingly, just a few weeks before Christmas 2010, came our first notifications. Yes from Canada Council. Yes from the City of Vancouver. A small company–Meta.for Theatre–and a big one–the Vancouver Playhouse–both agreed to be associate producers. In the new year, more yeses: from the BC Arts Council, the City of Vancouver (again), the Hamber Foundation, the Granville Island Cultural Society, the Arch and Bruce Foundation (a foundation in the States that funds gay-themed theatre and film projects) and finally, another yes from the BC Arts Council.

In short, we did our homework. We hung in there. We persevered.

Vindication? Feelings of “so there!” to those who rejected this play? Surprisingly little. The only thing I’m really feeling right now is gratitude. Just gratitude.

Producing theatre is not for the weak-stomached or faint-hearted. To borrow a phrase from Tennessee Williams, it calls for Spartan endurance. Theatre is of the moment, and as theatre artists and producers we need to live and operate in the moment. And that means knowing that whether something is going horribly or going well, it is indeed only of the moment and that the next moment can go in a totally different direction, and that every moment is an opportunity to improvise, test your character, and learn.

2 Responses to “For My Fellow Theatre Artists: A Story of Perseverance”

  1. Sean Devine Says:

    What? That’s it?! Tell more! Maybe because I’m a fellow producer (and new playwright) u find this to be an exciting behind-the-scenes read. It’s not that widely known on the other side of the curtain just how arduous, challenging, demanding and LONG a journey it is to go from genesis to opening night. Congrats for getting your project realized.

  2. thanks sean! i could write a whole book about it, but right now my mind is THIS small.

    congrats on your play as well–i wish our two plays weren’t running at the same time, i would have loved to have seen it.

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