How Come The Stigma of Self Producing doesn’t apply to these people.

I had a consult a few weeks ago with an emerging playwright who was struggling to find someone to put her first play on the boards.

When I suggested that the someone she was looking for might be the same someone who helps her put on her shoes and socks in the morning, she looked at me as if I suggested she perform dental surgery on herself.

“I can’t do that,” she said.  Now, I knew very well she could do that.  She had the ability.  She had the resources.  And I wasn’t talking about her putting the show up at the Palace, but finding a way to get her play up at the showcase, festival or even mini Off Broadway level?  Oh sure, she could do that.  I’ve seen hundreds of people do it before.   She could definitely do that.

But she didn’t want to do that.

“Why?” I asked.

“How would it look?” she countered.

It’s funny, nope, it’s sad that there’s such a stigma attached to self-producing, and taking that first step to attracting others to your work.

Because for some reason, this stigma only applies to the arts.

You’ve heard me call Steve Jobs a producer before.  But when you think about it, wasn’t he a self-producer?

He had an idea.  He figured out a way to execute that idea.  He even had to raise some money, come up with early marketing plans, and do just about everything else that a Producer has to do.  But, he was also the artist that came up with the product (which in my client’s case was a play).

What about the guys that came up with Google in their dorm room?

Or a chef that opens his own restaurant?

Any entrepreneur who starts their own business is no different than any self-producing artist.  In business, we praise these guys for their ability to find an idea, develop it into a product and then bring it to market.

Yet in the arts, that’s somehow taboo.

Well, not anymore. It’s time to inoculate us all from the idea that self-producing is an act of desperation or vanity (as I wrote about in one of my very first blogs here).

“How would it look?” I responded to my client.

I guess it would look like you’re taking charge of your own destiny and not waiting around for someone to give you permission to get your stuff out into the world.

I guess it would look like you were just like Steve Jobs.


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  • Frank says:

    I’m not sure there is a stigma as much an uneasiness to embark down a path that you know nothing about. Sure, it’s easy to say, “Produce it yourself.” but the reality is that not all people are created equal in their ability to create the entirety of a show. In this case, she is a writer and most likely does not consider herself adept at producing. I think you often overestimate the skill set of others.

    If you are good at everything, then you are great at nothing.

    Sometimes specialization is a good thing. While Steve Jobs was the engine that drove the car, he knew his place and allowed those around him to do their jobs. For example, he didn’t program a single line of code. Knowing your limits and allowing other to make up the difference is very important. Especially in a community driven industry like live theater.

    • Any time any theater did one of my plays – they ruined it. Not only do you learn step by step when you produce your own plays, you make a lot more money. And if you don’t believe that you are going to make money from your writing – then why force it on someone else? Happily produced my own plays and have absolutely no regrets. I despise theater owners and their uppity staff and snobbish ways. Cut out the middle man. Do it yourself!

  • Joanne says:

    I think artists may view self-production/promotion as taboo because art in general is more subjective. Way more open to the interpretation of others. The entrepreneurs you mention like Jobs, were introducing a product or idea that was backed up by facts & analysis, or concrete outcomes – more objective. Just my thoughts.

  • Al Lefcowitz says:

    Your blog on self-production compares apples (yes, pun) to oranges.

    The issue is not whether people will think less of you but what you will have when you put all the components into the box? I think the first question is “who vets my play?” Submitting it and submitting it and . . . is a way of testing whether someone not yourself, your mother, your significant is sufficiently struck by your effort to put his effort and dollars into it. I’m not speaking here of readings which are useful as a test of the script and a preparation for revision. Investing a bit of time and money in those can have a huge return for relatively little effort. But a self-production requires a producer. Should the neophyte invest effort into learning all the skills necessary for being a producer or put the effort into the writing.

    One other point. Beware that self-production is not self-deception.

  • Carvanpool says:

    How would it look? Like so many other self-produced shows look. it would be considered a “vanity production”. We’ve all seen too many of those hokey, worthless wastes of time. It’s ruined it for those with real art to showcase, but that’s just how it is. The narcissists have spoiled it for everyone.

  • loreen says:

    I think you’re missing the point. if you have a play or musical, then there are off off broadway, showcases, etc.that you can find to put it on. Get your show put on somewhere and have someone review it. If it’s a good review then send it to a producer.
    By the way, i didn’t say this. Andrew lloyd Webber said it. Pretty good advice.

  • Jamie says:

    Hey Ken, ever heard the old adage that a man who represents himself has a fool for a client? Well the same thing applies to the arts. That’s why there are so many clueless people running around with more dollars than “sense” (see what I did just there?) calling themselves “producers”. Just because someone CAN do something, doesn’t mean that they should. As Carvanpool says above, we’ve all seen too many of those hokey, worthless wastes of time. It’s ruined it for those with real art to showcase.

    Also, I’m PRETTY sure that Steve Jobs hired some other guys to actually file for the patents, handle the incorporation papers, set up the QuickBooks, etc. He didn’t try to do it all by himself.

  • Nancy Paris says:

    I agree with Loreen. You have to get a project onstage to really see what you have. And if you are passionate about something, there are people in your life who will step forward to help you. But first is believing enough in yourself to start the ball rolling. Like they say in Field of Dreams…if you build it, they will come. Trust me, it’s not easy but it’s possible.

  • Leah says:

    Hallelujah! Thank you, Ken! This was exactly what I needed to hear. What you say is so true, so refreshing. Thank you so much for the insight that the stigma/judgment against self-producing is (sadly) unique to the arts and for the encouragement to take a page from Steve Jobs’ book instead and just go for it! Three cheers for making stuff and taking charge of your own destiny! Thanks again. Now back to editing the film I wrote, acted in, co-directed and am in the process of producing…:)

  • Miriam Gardin says:

    When I produced a showcase of 20-minute solo pieces at a small Chicago theatre – pieces which had culminated an undergrad performance art class – my (very wise) undergrad professor, Kestutis Nakas, gave me some good advice. He told this young performer that if I could self-produce, I’d never be out of a job. I suppose it was vanity: we were incredibly proud of our pieces (and had worked very hard on them), and wanted an opportunity to share them with friends and family – a wider audience than just fellow students and faculty at The Chicago College of Performing Arts. But just because that was the impetus doesn’t mean the work was without value. We performed an evening of diverse new voices in theatre, and I learned a lot in the process. If it’s gonna flop, it’s gonna flop no matter who produces it. And the work of producing is an incredible learning experience for any artist. How is self-producing one’s work any more or less vain than creating it to begin with? If you believe in it enough to make it, then you should make it for all the world to see.

  • Beth says:

    This blog could not be more timely. I was at a party last Saturday night and was introduced to a talent agent friend of my director who happened to be at our first reading. After much praise, she asked how things were going with the musical. I told her that the script has since been further developed and now I wait for someone to respond saying that they are dying to workshop the piece. She said, “why wait?” “Why not raise money on GO FUND ME and produce it yourself?” I responded by saying “I feel bad asking people for money for something that doesn’t have to do with something horrible like a health issue”. She then spent the next few minutes explaining why that should not stand in my way especially since the show’s message is worth sharing. I haven’t stopped thinking about her recommendation and spent the past two days contemplating this option. I majored in Marketing in college and have owned businesses, so I understand the importance of marketing when it comes to products and services. Unfortunately, I am also guilty of thinking that there is a negative stigma attached to self-producing my own musical. While I have great faith in the piece and believe that it has a future, I worry if I self-produce, it will seem as though no one was interested and send a red flag to potential future investors/producers.

    Thank you for making this the topic of your blog and for, once again, reading my mind. I will definitely give this option more thought!

    Much love!

    • Jerry K says:

      Honey, nobody cares what you majored in. No-body. I see so many young people say “I majored in this or that and got a degree and so the world owes me a living.” No, it doesn’t.

  • says:

    Great discussion and some thought provoking comments. I have produced other people’s work – so why not my own?
    Getting our work vetted by others is essential, as is reining in our enthusiasm, but if you are raising money from other producers, you will have lots of validation and outside opinions. I’m going to do both – try to get outside producers interested, and if no bites right away, then I will self-produce . Then, armed with the positive audience comments and media exposure, I will attract major producers to take the show to a larger scale.

  • Jerry K says:

    I have a fair amount of capital laying around and a couple of unproduced plays I’d like to get in front of an audience. Can anyone steer me toward some off-off Broadway theaters or showcases? I’m also interested in possibly bankrolling the work of others.

  • Judith Offer says:

    I have produced five of my own plays in Oakland, Ca, including two musicals. I did this partly because I wanted to show my work where I live, and Oakland has no small theatres–none. (Thirteen times other community theatres in East Bay cities have produced something of mine.) At first I was kind of embarrassed but then one day I realized that Shakespeare produced and directed all his plays. But the big problem I found was that critics would usually not come. And the one time one came, he blew the show off with a one-sentence review, although the show had full houses, newspaper columns lauding it, and KCBS giving it free publicity–one minute each hour for a full day. However, the theatre is a pretty closed shop. The people who have power are mostly just interested in (a) keeping newcomers out and (b) finding ways to get money out of playwrights by sort of promising to do something to help.

  • Casey says:

    Great article. I recently decided to self produce a show. So first thing I did was find a director. That director then introduced me to a theatre that decided to co-produce a workshop. Now the show is about to have its first staged performance! Taking the leap of self producing got my show off the ground and I didn’t even end up having to completely self produce it. Best of luck to all who take the leap!

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