On Agency for Young Theatremakers and Self-Producing Plays

This summer, I was a grateful recipient of an Office of Undergraduate Research Conference Travel Grant (CTG) to produce my short play, Young Women of Valor in New York, at the Samuel French Off Off Broadway Short Play Festival (affectionately called OOB). This is, I imagine, an atypical sort of conference, and producing my OOB play was an experience that make me unequivocally grateful for the Office of Undergraduate Research’s support for artists and for the humanities.

To say self-producing was radically educational would be an understatement, and having a CTG made self-producing my play in New York possible.

OOB was not my first producing experience. Prior to the festival, I had produced a special event at Northwestern (a one-minute play festival in celebration of WAVE Productions’ 30th Birthday). I was also lucky to be working with a director with extensive New York producing experience, who was game to help out and educate. Producing my own work was difficult and occasionally stressful, mostly because the skills of a producer were completely new to me, and I juggled many roles: playwright, dramaturg, pronunciation coach, costume designer, props designer, and producer. Also, there were problems, because there always are problems. Props and costumes were left on the Metro North. To accommodate everyone’s schedules, we had late night rehearsals, after which, due to summer subway construction, there weren’t always trains. Producing in New York is incredibly expensive, and the cost of a rehearsal space ate up lots of the budget, even though we had a discount at the rehearsal studio. I could go on…

(rehearsal, in a space I booked, because you sometimes book spaces when you’re self-producing)

That being said, bumbling through self-producing empowered me like nothing else. In my experience, young, early career playwrights in cities where art-making is both vibrant and costly can often feel disempowered. Getting produced by a theater takes a long time. Self-producing introduced me to the logistical skills and forms of delegation that have undoubtedly made me a better, more well-rounded theatre maker. Self-producing gave me agency. I sometimes find that my scripts are often better rehearsal process leaders than I am. Self-producing challenged me to lead a process, using my voice off of the page.

While I’m not planning on becoming a producer just yet, I think producing is an incredibly valuable experience for playwrights. After producing Young Women of Valor, I have an even deeper appreciation of the skill sets of those who seek out producing, production management, or stage management as life paths.

(Tech. Edit credits to Isabel Cade)

The looming specter of graduation has somewhat haunted me this summer. Taking ownership over my work by self-producing helped quell some of my fear about the uncertain life of an early career artist. I learned that the only things really getting in the way of young artists are time, space, and money. These are big things, of course, but not insurmountable obstacles.

Many, many thanks to the Office of Undergraduate Research for both helping me learn to to empower myself and providing the invaluable financial support necessary to check “NYC premiere” off of my bucket list!

(me and my director, being cute).

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