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Episode 5

280 AT LAST COUNT . . .

You're in early. Good. I have a project for you. We need to start thinking about a theatre.

"We haven't even got a script yet!"

Speaking of scripts, where did all these plays come from? There isn't room to sit down in here.

"Great isn't it!"

So you did have something to do with it?

"Yup! I figure we've gotten about one play every five minutes for the last three days."

Obviously. But, why?

"I put the word out."

You put what word out?

"That we were looking for plays."

Oh, good Lord. You didn't!

"Well, we are, aren't we?"

Playwrights, not plays.

"Same difference."

You really have no idea of the position you've put us in, do you?

"Okay. What did I do wrong this time?"

Do you have the knowledge and experience necessary to read and evaluate all these plays?

"That's your job."

Yes it is. And do you know how much time it's going to take? Time that we don't have right now.

"We'll just send them back? Who says you have to read them? They'll never know."

I don't do business that way. You have accepted these plays for consideration in my name. You have obligated me to read each one.

"So you read em. What's so hard about that? And I don't appreciate your tone of voice. I'm not a child."

You're right, reading them isn't a problem. But giving each play the time necessary to honestly evaluate its strengths and weaknesses is. And then I must sit down and write letters of rejection.

"See there! You're not thinking. Just write one and I'll get copies made. Easy."

How many scripts do we have here?

"280 at last count."

Do you believe in statistics?

"I guess. My bookie sure does."

Statistics say that 20% of these scripts are junk, written by people who have no concept of what a play is or how to write for the theatre. There may be some justification for using a boilerplate rejection letter with these, even though I don't like to.

"Hey, you're already ahead of the game."

Another 30% aren't really plays yet. They probably have a good basic idea, but they haven't been fully developed. These come from inexperienced playwrights who tend to think their play is ready for production as soon as they finish the first draft. These require a careful and sensitive approach. These rejection letters take time because they need to be written with a great deal of tact.

"Why bother?"

Because we could end up working with one of these playwrights in the future. These plays, if they are rewritten, revise, and refined could turn out to be worth something. You need to be encouraging as possible without seeming to offer any possibility of a production. You usually call these plays promising first efforts.'

"That's half of them."

The next 30% pose a different problem. These plays are well written. They read easily. You can clearly picture them in your mind, on a stage in performance. They work as theatre.

"So these are what we're looking for?"

No! Not if you know what you're doing.

"What? You said they work!"

They do. They work because they've worked before. These are the rip-offs. The sequels. You also get a lot of adaptations in this group. These are the plays written by the playwrights who weren't good enough to write the originals. If the big play from two years ago was a bittersweet comedy about family reconciliations, then you will have 75 plays in this group that, underneath all the superficial changes, are bittersweet comedies dealing with family reconciliations. All of the others will be rewritten Albee or Williams. And none of them will say anything new.

"No need to shout."

I'm sorry. It's just that these plays really irritate me.

"I could tell. Why?"

Because they get done. They use up the limited resources that, in a perfect world, would be devoted to the final 20%.

"Do they make money? Hey!"

I'm sorry. I'm not laughing at you. I didn't expect you to start sounding like a producer. A few of them do eventually payback their original investment. Once in a great while, one of them may even turn a profit.

"So if most of them don't make any money, why do they get done?"

Good question. Probably because, having been done many times before, they are what is called accessible.' The backers feel comfortable investing in a project that reminds them of some other play they liked. And if that play was financially successful, then this one should be too. At least that's the rationale.

"Calm down. What's getting to you?"

Look around. What do you see?

"Your office."

It's a dump.

"Looks fine to me. Maybe a little dusty. . . ."

Do you know why it's a dump?

"No. But I'm sure you're going to tell me."

It's all I can afford after the bankruptcy.

"Do I want to hear this?"

After producing a couple of small, good shows that broke even but not a lot more, I decided to go for the big bucks. I gambled on one of these scripts, knowing full well that it was dreck. I put together a package that couldn't miss. At first I kept telling myself that I believed in the quality of the project, but that was a lie. All I really wanted was a big fat commercial success.

"You're talking about Everyday Lies, aren't you?"


"But you made a fortune on that show."

And lost every penny trying to do it again. Six flops in a row. That's why Neverland is so important to me. In the beginning I didn't make a lot of money, but I didn't hate myself for doing contrived schlock either. I need to see if I can still put together a project the old way. To return, if you will, to happier times.

"A Return to Neverland. I see the connection."

Do you?

"Yes. I'm sorry about the plays. I promise I won't do anything without asking you first."

And I apologize for raising my voice.

"Let's get to work. I'll start reading this pile."

You don't know what you're looking for yet. I'll teach you later. Right now I need you to find a space that can be used for a theatre. You have an appointment with a realtor first thing in the morning.

"We're going to open our own theatre?"

No. But I know people who might if they can find the right space. With off-Broadway theaters as tight as they are, I want an inside track on a suitable house for Neverland. We have to open in two years, and I don't want to be ready to mount the production and not have a theatre available.

"So I'm gonna find the raw space for them?"

That's the idea.

"You're crazy. I don't know what I'm looking for with this, either. What makes a theatre?"

Oh, you played right into this one.

"Another book?"


"And you want me to read it before meeting the realtor tomorrow morning?"

You got it.

"Lots of pictures?"

Will It Make a Theatre? Find, Renovate, & Finance the Non-Traditional Performance Space by Eldon Elder does have lots of pictures. It's a comprehensive practical guide for groups wanting to develop their own performance space. It's great strength is showing how to create a performance facility in a building designed for another purpose, but it also offers guidance for upgrading current spaces and determining priorities for renovations. It includes chapters detailing planning, fund-raising, tax laws, and energy conservation. It also features extensive checklists, sample contracts, architectural drawings, contact resources, as well as examples of successful projects.

Book Image


Will It Make a Theatre? Find, Renovate, & Finance the Non-Traditional Performance Space
by Eldon Elder

List: $26.95
Published by the American Council for the Arts
in cooperation with the Alliance of Residential Theaters/New York, Inc.
ISBN: 1879903024


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