Tuesday, December 28, 2010

2010 Output

At the end of every year, I add up my inputs/outputs.  I've still got a few more days for inputs (I'm hoping to see some movies this week and finish some books), but I won't get any more writing done until Christmas vacation is over.  So here's how 2010 worked out, output-wise:

  • Did an edit/rewrite of my novel, Moving (A Life in Boxes), cutting about 6,300 words
  • Did a rewrite of my middle-grade novel, Buried Treasure.
  • did some freelance business writing (which helped pay some bills).
  • rewrote some of my play Constant State of Panic, after the production in DC in January
  • Completely rewrote my full-length play about the creation of English Bible, now titled Fire on Earth.  This was a total gut rehab (even changed the title and main characters)
  • Wrote 8 very short audio plays for the Emerging America Festival (one of which was recorded--I Am Not Invisible.)
  • Wrote Escape to Wonderland, a new ten-minute drama, for the T Plays produced by Mill 6 Theatre Collaborative.
  • Wrote a one-act play, The Light Collectors, for the Youth Astronomer Apprenticeship program with MIT and the Central Square Theatre.  This was my first commissioned play.
  • Started a first draft of a new historical novel (I have about 100 pages so far)
  • Wrote a new ten-minute comedy, Curse the Darkness.
  • Wrote a new full-length drama, Flight, based on two of my ten-minute plays.  I'm having a reading of this from Madcap Players in DC in January.
  • A bunch of blog posts on my three different blogs.
This feels like a pretty good list, a nice mix of playwriting and novel writing, as well as first draft writing and rewriting.  If I get this much written again next year, I'll be extremely satisfied.

Production-wise, 2010 wasn't bad.  The year saw dozens of productions by schools, through the various publishers that handle my work.  Productions/readings of my work included:

The Next Big Thing, Confirmed Sighting, Recognition, Schedule-Meisters, and Stick Up for Mars were published by Brooklyn Publishers.  Counting Rita was published in a Best Ten-Minutes Plays anthology by Smith & Kraus.  My one-act, Reassembling Sasha, was published by YouthPlays.

Oh, and I finally found an agent for my novels (and other books to come), which made 2010 a pretty darn good year.  (Now I need 2011 to bring a book deal.)

Overall, a minimum of 7,500 people heard, read, or saw my work performed this year, and I had more than 122 performances of my plays, which is not bad at all.

It's hard to say what 2011 will be like.  I have a production of Escape to Wonderland scheduled for January, but after that the calendar looks pretty empty.  Lots of room for good things to happen.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Two more plays in the Heuer catalog: Tightly Bound and David in Goliath

I just found out that two of my plays are now in the Heuer catalog.  I have a whole bunch of plays published by Brooklyn Publishers, and they were acquired a few years ago by Heuer.  Many of my plays can work for both catalogs (they hit slightly different markets), and are gradually making their way over.  So I was excited today, to discover that my collection of short plays for women, Tightly Bound, is now available from the Heuer site, as is my ten-minute play, David in Goliath.  (Check them out.  Please.  You can read the scripts for free on the site.)

Monday, December 20, 2010

Writing by the Numbers: my audience numbers so far (since 1990)

Those of you who know me will not be surprised to learn that I keep a big spreadsheet that tracks every script and book I've written (62), how many productions each has had, how many people have seen it, and how much money it's earned from both productions and publication.  Since 1990.

Beyond just the basic obsessive/compulsiveness of it, I do it because it helps me gauge the effectiveness of my marketing and writing efforts.  In some fields, you can just look at your salary or your annual review with your boss, and feel like you've been making progress (or not).  But I don't have a boss, and the money is so bad in theatre, that the numbers generally aren't enough to help you want to keep going.  Having a sense that I'm actually reaching people with my work gives me a boost.  And having real numbers helps a lot when it comes to setting goals for marketing at the start of each year.

It'd been at least a year and a half since I fully updated the spreadsheet (it takes a while), but I finally got around to it last week.  Here's where the numbers stand right now:

  • To date, I've had about 300 productions and readings of my work.  300 feels like a good number. 
  • My work has reached more than 84,000 people, and it breaks down like this:
    • More than 9,400 have seen my full-length plays
    • Almost 10,000 have seen my one-act plays
    • More than 41,000 people have seen my ten-minute plays.
    • Altogether, at least 59,000 people have seen my work on stage
    • I'm pretty sure my radio plays have reached more than 23,000 people.
  • 2010 was a pretty good year--my work has been seen/heard/read by over 7,000 people this year.
  • My short play, Christmas Breaks, has been seen by the most people, more than 5,800.  Reading the Mind of God, a full-length play about the astronomers Kepler and Tycho, comes in a close second.
  • My lifetime earnings from writing continue to remain a fairly modest number, especially if you spread it over 20 years .  The amount the scripts have earned varies wildly, from almost nothing to a few thousand dollars (that's counting prizes/fellowships).  2010 was my best year so far, in terms of writing income.
None of these numbers are exact.  Whenever I end up dealing with a theatre who produces my work, I make sure to ask for attendance figures.  But with the productions of published work, that's impossible, so I estimate 40 people per performance, which is safe, but probably on the low side.  With the radio plays, it's hard to guess, but most of the stations are very small, so I estimate conservatively.

There are multiple ways to view these numbers.  In some sense, they pale in comparison with the number of people I'd reach from just one of my scripts being produced for film or television.  Writers whose work appears for long (or medium) runs at larger non-profit or commercial theatres could reach my lifetime audience in less than a year.  The same goes for money--I have friends who have earned many multiples of my lifetime playwriting earnings from just one book deal.

But for scraping and clawing out productions and publications of a bunch of plays (and one novel), almost exclusively in small theatres and schools, these numbers feel good to me.

If you happen to be one of the people who have seen or read my work over the years--thanks!  As you can see, I don't take audiences for granted.  You're a big reason for why I do this.

I'm also curious--do other writers/playwrights keep track of stuff like this?  Let me know if you do.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Samples, samples, samples

I confess that I'm not always good about keeping my web site up-to-date.  There are a million other projects and chores that seem to get in the way (hey, yesterday I finally put together a credenza from IKEA that had been sitting in a box in my office for six months).  For the past few days, I've been steadily adding the ability to read sample pages from my scripts to the web site.  They're all there now--you can read the first acts of my full-length plays, sample pages from all my one-acts (40 of them), and sample pages from my radio plays.

I hope you (and thousands of other people) will check them out. 

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Global Village Construction Set

I don't know if this much to do with writing, but I just think it's cool.  I want to use/build this stuff on my farm some day.  And I really, really like the way they've thought this through, in terms of making it all interchangeable and reasonably simple to construct.  Question--do they include a printing press and a light board in their list of 40 necessary implements to build a small civilization?

Global Village Construction Set in 2 Minutes from Marcin Jakubowski on Vimeo.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Time, Time, Time (tricks I use, part 1)

In some ways, time (as opposed to energy or inspiration) is my biggest stumbling block when it comes to getting enough writing done.  "Enough" is subjective, of course.  In my case, "enough" means writing often and generating a number of pages where it feels like I have some chance of finishing something that can be produced or published.  The rest of life, outside of writing, often conspires (often with my consent) to keep me busy with meetings, projects, and other comings and goings. My writing time is while my kids are in school, 8am-2pm, but that day can disappear pretty quickly. 

People sometimes ask how I manage to get as much written as I do (this year I did major rewrites of two novels, a total rewrite of a full-length play, finished a draft of a new full-length play, and wrote some new short plays).  And then we commiserate about lack of time.  But the truth is, writing comes from sitting your ass in the chair and working.  There's no big secret.  That's how the pages and scenes start to add up.  They might stink, but at least they exist.

It's easy to complain about not getting enough done.  I do it.  Other writers complain to me that they just don't get as much written as they'd like.  There are various tricks I use to make sure I have a little less room for complaining and a little room for actual writing.

The first question to ask is:  how much time do you actually spend writing?  And I'll be a little loose with my definition of writing, in that I don't mean that it only counts if you're actually hitting the keyboard, but I do mean how much time do you spend working on a project at your desk, without checking e-mail, or surfing the internet or Facebook or Twitter?

Since I'm a numbers guy, this year I actually started keeping track.  Using a spreadsheet that I got from one of freelance gigs, I started entering my start and stop time for every writing session.  The times I recorded were for project time, and also journaling and research, not e-mails or internet time (though some research can be done online).

When I started using the time sheet, I discovered a useful trick.  I'd put in my start time as soon as I sat down at my desk and opened up all the various software or notebooks I wanted to use.  But I also wrote down my stop time right I when I started.    So if I planned to write for two hours and sat down at 8, I'd enter 10 as a stop time.  Simple.  But what I found was that the mere act of committing to paper (or bits, really) a concrete stop time, ensured I would sit there at least until 10, and not get up and wander around and get distracted.  Because I'd committed, it'd be painful to go back and edit the entry to show less time.  In fact, I found that not only did I almost always stay until my intended finish time, but I often went over by 15-30 minutes.  Once I'd set my ass in the chair for long enough, I'd generated momentum.

I'd wondered if this would be like a typical workout regiment, and start to evaporate after a few months, but for me, this has continued to work all year.

The nice thing about having a record of my writing time, is that I feel less guilty at the end of a month, and don't have much writing to show for it, because I can look at the spreadsheet, and say, "Hey, what were you expecting?  You didn't have many hours where you were available to actually write something."   Or I might realize that I've allowed myself to become distracted over the past week or so, and if I want to stop feeling ill (I feel a little sick when I don't write), then maybe I'd better cut those distractions out and actually spend some ass in the seat time at my desk.

So, since I started keeping track, in January, I've spent about 417 hours writing.  I don't know if that's good or bad, enough or not enough.  I wrote a lot this year (as I mentioned above) and a lot of the reason is that I spent hundreds of hours actually writing.  I don't have 52 available work weeks a year, but I'd guess that I do have about 40.  So that means I've spent an average of 10 hours per week doing actual writing.  Not even as much as a half time job, but I do a lot of other stuff, too.  And I put a lot of hours into things related to my writing, like meetings, readings, seeing plays, watching movies, reading books, sending out submissions, etc.  In my ideal life, I think I'd probably like to write about 20 hours per week, 4 hours of actual writing time per day, 40 weeks per year, for 800 hours.  For now, I don't know if that's quite within my reach.  I think for next year (we are almost at the season of resolutions, after all), I'd like to be a lot closer to 600 hours of writing time, though I'll be satisfied with anything over 400 hours again.

I recently read an interesting book, The Art of Non-Conformity by Chris Guillebeau, and in it, he mentions author Jim Collins, who wrote From Good to Great.  Collins carefully tracks his working time into three categories—creating and researching, teaching, and other.  His goal is to spend 50% on creating, 30% on teaching, and 20% on everything else.  He tracks all of this obsessively and turns down a lot of offers for speaking gigs, etc.   I like that way of breaking it down.  Something for me to consider.

How many hours per day/week/month/year do you write?  Do you keep track?

Just for kicks, I'll post a blank version of the time sheet that I use (though it's really easy to make your own, of course.  There's nothing remarkable about this, except that it fills in the day of the week by itself).  You can download it here.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Guest Blog Post: New Play Opps in Orlando (from Al Pergande)

I'm still working on expanding my (ad-hoc) survey of American professional theaters, to see how many are actually producing new full-length plays and how many of them are doing writers from their own back yards.  As part of that series, I've invited playwrights from various regions to write guest blog posts to both continue the survey, and to tell us a bit about the climate for new plays (and opportunities) in their necks of the woods.

I'm grateful to fellow playwright and Binge member, Al Pergande, for starting us off with a look at production opportunities for new plays in Orlando:

New Play Production Opportunities in Orlando, FL
By Al Pergande
Orlando, FL

Orlando is a classic post war sprawl city - miles of cul-de-sac subdivision are punctuated with generic strip centers and big box retailers, vestiges of orange groves lurk in back yards along with confused alligators and incipient sinkholes. A light frost can bring the city to its knees, although hurricanes and pronouncement of divine rage for our sins of flying rainbow flags pass nearly unheeded. There's a vibrant and diverse arts community in Orlando, largely driven by the creative types employed by the major theme parks. It's not a bad place to write new plays, and even the budding film maker has good odds of pulling off a hit.

The 800 pound gorilla in town is the "Orlando Shakespeare Theater in partnership with UCF." Their official name is always in flux depending on mysterious forces and portents, so they've sort of thrown in the towel and decided it's OK if we all just call it "The Shakes." I'm not sure that’s really clearer, but at least it's easy to spell. The operation occupies a rambling ex-museum in Loch Haven Park and it forms the defacto center of the Theater District in Orlando. A half a dozen other theaters lie within a five mile radius, and while it's no Leicester Square winos are rare, the location convenient and parking typically not a hassle. Oh, yeah, here's an important Orlando fact:  if you don’t have a car, you're pretty much stuck.

The Shakes hosts "PlayFest! The Harriett Lake Festival of New Plays."  "PlayFest!" began under a slightly different name in 2004 as an attempt to apply a Fringe Festival approach to marketing the play development process as entertainment in itself.  Originally, a number of raw scripts were fed into public workshops allowing the audience to see a show develop. You bought a button (proceeds went to the Festival) and paid a small fee to enter the theatre (that money went to the writer) and you watched the writer try to figure out how to "fix" their play. There's not a large market for that sort of intimate agony, and the focus has shifted to working with the National New Play Network. While it's still possible to get in if you're local, the emphasis is on showcasing higher profile writers with shows that are either beginning New York runs or have just completed them and are undergoing a final tune tune-up process. Theresa Rebeck and Olympia Dukakis have been recent "headliners."

The PlayFest site specifies "full-length plays and musicals based on, or inspired by works of classic literature, or historic events and/or persons and profound advancements in science." In reality, there's some flexibility in what sees the stage, although they really love one man adaptations of public domain works. Biographical pieces and Shakespeare adaptations get attention, and there's often an attempt to squeeze wordy Victorian novels into 90 minutes and still include all the sub plots. The Dickensians live by the mantra "I'm in love with his language" but confuse adaptation with replication.

PlayFest Submissions are free (yeah!) but they get tons of them so competition is tough. You must supply your own cast and director, find rehearsal space and maybe build a set. The Shakes can offer names, or you can hire your friends.  The 2011 festival runs in April (right on top of the Florida Film Festival, another monster event.) You can expect next year's deadline to fall in late summer, but keep an eye on their website.

A much easier path to an Orlando production is through Playwrights' Round Table I'm on the board of directors, so this is plug for my group. PRT is a small writers group that typically does two Ten Minute play festivals each year (Launch and Summer Shorts), often performs at the Orlando Fringe Festival and occasionally does productions of One Acts or Full length plays. In order to be produced you must be a member ($30 annual dues) and Central Florida Playwrights are preferred. One of the Shorts programs is filmed by local public access channel Orange TV, and for this show PRT requires a writer and director for on-air interviews. PRT productions budgets are shoestring, but the writer doesn’t have to handle the casting and production details, although they are encouraged to participate.  To aid the writing process, there are monthly readings open to the public: you can bring a script, and they will read at least part of it. PRT calls for scripts for each production opportunity; a secretive committee reads and selects the best shows for production. I recommend reading scripts for a company like this; you'll soon see how you stack up as a writer. You don’t need to be a member to read or submit, but to get produced you must join. 

While blind submissions of scripts to far-away theatres CAN result in a production, you likely won’t be involved in any of the details, and if you pop for the road trip you may be horribly disappointed by the results. More importantly, you'll miss the feedback from the director about what works or doesn’t work. If you're not getting acceptances on blind submissions but you're committed to seeing your worlds on stage, you'll have to tackle the dread "self production." Short of starting your own community theatre, the easiest way to do that is through a Fringe Festival. The Orlando International Fringe Festival  is currently the oldest and most financially successful fringe in the US. (There are older Fringe Festivals in Canada and England). The Orlando Fringe follows CAFF (Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals) rules, one of which is shows are completely unjuried. That means ANYONE can put in for a slot, and if you get though the lottery you get a space, a tech, a box office, some sort of insurance and a crowd to market into. Cast, sets, publicity, directors and back stage drama is all your responsibility. And there are REALLY great parties, often as not at your house.

There are a 16 US Fringe Festivals as of my last Google search, and not all of them follow CAFF rules. Under CAFF rules it is possible to make money and there are people who work the US and Canada circuit and make money. One artist I know is rumored to live on his Fringe proceeds, although he has a rather monkish lifestyle. It's relatively easy to get in to the US festivals although some of the Canadian ones are nearly impossible. This year Orlando picked 65 shows from 90 applications, give or take. Oddball experimental work is encouraged; nudity acceptable, full length dramas tend to die, and the public attendance and gossip in the beer tent is a brutal indicator of the quality of your work. The down side is you and your team will bust your butts to get the show up, an opening night screw up can be fatal, and you're likely to spend a good bit of your own cash and not make a profit. I highly recommend it if you're serious and not afraid of hard work and ridicules. I'll be staging my third Orlando Fringe show this May.

Outside of these operations, Orlando offers some specialized new play production opportunities. Valencia State College holds an annual Florida Playwright competition that is open to state writers. They select one full length play a year for premiere. The Women's Playwright Initiative does readings and occasional productions, and as the name implies they seek women writers and female themes. Breakthrough Theatre of Winter Park  is an extremely small space that has pulled off some technically ambitious new works by area writers. The manager Wade Hair works with new material on a regular basis, and I've seen some intriguing and some awful material at his late night productions. In past years a restored movie house "The Plaza Theatre" hosted a short lived theatre company and ran some medium profile touring shows, but there seems to have been some financial issues and now it focuses on live concerts. But it can never hurt to ask, and the seats are very comfortable. Finally, the Orlando Shakes occasionally rents out space to producers it trusts for independent productions.

Like many things in life, you start out doing "A" and after a while you find yourself spending more time on doing "B" because you have to just to make "A" happen. After writing plays, I found myself producing them in various capacities - making posters, writing press releases, dealing with backstage romances and sitting in back of a dark room and wincing every time someone doesn't laugh at my carefully crafted jokes. There's no feeling like it.

Al Pergande is a writer, critic, and producer based in Orlando. You can read his commentary on Central Florida Theatre at http://blogs.ink19.com/archikulture/. He has produced shows with PlayFest!, Playwrights Round Table and The Orlando International Fringe Festival. This May he will premier his new comedy "Big Swinging Dick's Topless Bar Presents the Naked Drag Queen Farting" at the Fringe. It's rated PG, bring your mom.