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January 06, 2010


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Don Hall


Welcome aboard, my brother.

To be clear, it's not that I don't find it scandalous, I just don't find it outrageous any more than the fact that musicals make more money than plays and Broadway is a bloated whore. Facts are facts.

From years of personal experience, I'd suggest, rather than taking an extended break, just do what you want to do without concern for making money doing it (WNEP is essentially me own means of self production although I act as producer for the work of all the WNEP artists cuz I like it that way...)

Keep the faith.



Further? It will make you a BETTER director.

And if you have a bent for theatre and the theatrical? Interacting with the world on its terms isn't time off, it's a fallow period to recharge.


Can't believe I'm saying this, but I agree with Don. I think self producing is a real viable option for people who (like you) have a legit reputation and the respect of a lot of people in the industry. If that only means you self produce 5 plays in 10 years, excellent, as long as you love the plays you put up.

Steve Patterson

Thanks for this. I've been wondering when the study was going to come out. Waiting for it to arrive has kind of like been waiting for your biopsy results. -- Steve

Ian Thal

Maybe it's my background as an art-punk (and yes, I was just listening to that song) but it seems to me that the only way to even get a foot in the door is to self-produce.



Exactly. Once you have demonstrated your own ability to create, get an audience, etc. then you can engage the institution on your terms . . . or not.

It's cliche as hell but true, we are all free agents, we are all entreprenuers, no matter who signs (or who you want to sign) your paycheck. Self producing is a great way to embrace that free agent spirit.


guess what i'm saying, Ian, is i used to approach self-producing (and any other thing) as a way to get a foot in the door. Now i'm saying: I don't want a foot in that door.


I believe you're referring to the flying elbow drop. Or the People's Elbow Drop, which is basically just what they call a normal elbow drop when the Rock does it.


I don't wanna ignite an us/them controversy here, but Isaac, when you talk about the brick wall between "aspiring theatre artist" and "professional full time artist", I can't help but think that the wall has a name - New York City.

I know a bunch of professional full time artists living comfortable, non-starving-artist lives (I'm one.) - and none of them are in NYC.


Ha! let me avoid us vs. themism by saying this:
(1) i actually do like living in new york, you know. there's a weird thing out there like the only reason someone would live in new york is because of ambition. but i love my neighborhood. i love everything about it other than the price it costs to live there. there are very very few other cities that i have much desire to live in (portland, oregon is top of that list). i'm not saying that was what you were saying, i just want to make it clear: i do live in new york by choice, not out of a feeling of necessity.

(2) The interesting thing to me is... in many ways, what you have built actually exists completely outside of the larger national theatre system perpetuated by large theaters. You have built an elsewhere that enables you to live how you want.

But I also (and i forgot to include this in the earlier post) don't really want to build my own mini-theater company that i draw a regular pay check from. As much as I totally admire the Theatreforte folks, or Scott at Third Rail or any of the other people doing it, I thought that's what i wanted to do, but I don't actually want to do that. I want to work on a more project by project basis. I think that will make my (Dare i say it) happier and it's where my skills lie more.

working Group

What's a mini-theater?


i meant to write "mini-institution" by which i meant a theater that is pretty much like a larger lort theater (season based etc.) but on a smaller more local level.


Well, sure I get that, I would also have preferred not to run an organization if I believed I could have accomplished my goals otherwise. Somehow, though, it seemed logical to me that I could actually become a full-time, traveling, project-based director faster by building an organization first. I guess that's just the state of things.

Josh James

Great, great post.

Echo it, one reason I decided to focus on screenwriting and fiction two years ago is because I wanted to make a living that felt fulfilling, rather than working at a job so I could make enough money to self produce a few showcases every year ... not that there's anything wrong with producing showcases of one's work (I enjoyed it) but that myself, personally, I wanted something more ...

loved theatre, loved writing plays ... hope to be able to do it again, too ... but didn't love ramming my elbow again and again against the brick wall ... it's the kinda thing that's fun when you're young and full of piss and beans, I guess ... less fun after ten years of it ...

But things always change, so I hope they'll change for the better.

patrick shearer

I need to buy you a beer, soon.

Huzzah, brother.

Ben TS

Wow. Nothing to really contribute. That pretty much just sums it all up. Awesome.

Dennis Baker

Good stuff Isaac. I am feeling the same way as an actor.

Ian Thal

Just to clarify, Isaac: the only doors I'm trying to get my foot through are ones where the people on the other side actually think that I'm serious about my work, not necessarily institutional doors.

I've been at this long enough already know that I'm not going to be taken seriously as an artist if I play by /institutional/ rules-- and there are far too many reasons I can list for why that's the case.

But self-production has certainly brought me allies who want to help me bring my vision to fruition in the artistic sense.

Kris Vire

The interesting thing to me is... in many ways, what you have built actually exists completely outside of the larger national theatre system perpetuated by large theaters.

I'm also only partway through Outrageous Fortune myself, so I'm holding out hope that other models will be addressed, but so far what I keep thinking while reading it is, "Well sure, if you're only interested in the institutions." I feel like any study done by the likes of TDF or TCG isn't telling the real story of what's gong on in a city like Chicago, because they're only really looking at the three or four biggest institutions and not the 200+ other producing entities. One statistic in Chapter 1 cited a count of the country's professional theaters as those with budgets above $75,000. I thought, There go half of the companies on this list.

As one of the commenters at 99 mentioned, the "forming your own band" model seems to be the more common solution here in Chicago. File a 501(c)3 and give your band a name so you can apply for grants, if you so wish, but otherwise just get out there and DIY instead of asking for permission. The institutions might help by providing a venue, as Steppenwolf does with its visiting company initiative, or even more commonly by providing a day job.


Though there's much we could, and perhaps will, discuss over a beer, here, I want to focus on this:

"We have to redefine success on a more individual basis."

This is exactly what I've been trying to get across in this blizzard of blogging and tweeting that's overcome me with the New Year.

For me, personally, I began to define success as "creating the environment and circumstances for theater artists to get where they wanted to go." Sometimes I do that as a director, though less in the past three years than at any time in the previous twenty. But these days, when I'm not doing that, I'm building the environment within this institution that is Arena, which in so doing might possibly affect the environment that is the institutional theater, which might affect the environment for theater artists in general. Big dream, and probably total hubris, but it makes sense to ME-- every day when I get up I know exactly why I'm going back to work at it. And what I know is that, particularly if we view this whole thing through the lens of the diversity discussion and the orchard vs. rainforest analogy, the more people who define success for themselves independently of how the world would define success FOR them, the healthier the whole environment is going to be. Some people will focus on place, which I did for nearly twenty years. Some people will focus on infrastructure. Some people will focus on money. Some people will focus on self-promotion. Some will focus on social change.

Find your obsessions. Use your skills. Fuel it with your passion. Build your elsewhere. Sometimes it will be in a rehearsal studio. Sometimes it will be in a journal. Sometimes it will be in an audience, an office, a think tank, wherever, however, what ever. But where ever it is, you'll be home.

Happy New Year!


great comment, David! Pulls it all together as a single model, inspiring and plausible, happy new year indeed.


I love for more folks to blog more about their passions and less about where to find more money


There's another bit to the 'making money from play royalties' problem that will only get worse in the future: Keeping companies compliant.

If a play's short, someone can copy it/scan it and distribute it to a production team almost instantaneously. That team can mount a production and show it to the public faster than any rights organization can follow it -- and if we continue to live in the journalistic environment we've got, there'll be damn little notice to follow.

That means playwrights have to become cops, too, hoping for snitches to tell us that we got our words out there, when no producer let us know?

Must we take on that role of enforcer, when the system is so broken that even if we win in court or settlement, we won't get much? Even if our words are violated and rewritten, who will be on our side -- the producers who say they're entitled to be creative, too? The official advocates who say we were stupid to place our work on the Internet, in the first place? That big-time LORT AD who decides against contacting us, because that unauthorized production stunk on ice?

If we rise to face that Creative Commons dawn, what will protect us from the eventual sunburn and skin cancer of non-compensation?

Ian Thal

Yes, cgeye, playwrights do have to play the role of cops.

One technique I use is that I have a Google Alert set on my name, and say the URL of my blog, so I generally know if somebody has posted something about me anywhere on the web.

And sometimes that alerts me to a situation where I do have to say "either start negotiating with me or stop."


I've tussled a bit with Ian over this, but I think there's another role to look forward to: entrepreneur. Cut out some of the middlemen and have people come directly to you for performance rights. Relax a little bit about some of these rights issues, because, let's face it, you're not going to be getting a lot of money from performance rights anyway and that's only in a perfect world. Rather than be Metallica, be David Byrne or David Bowie. Be Radiohead. Build a personal revenue model. Who's got time to go around cracking the skulls of college students who like your work? It's not going to work anyway.

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