Waiting for Guffman

I was recently approached by a small, fairly new theatre company out in the ‘burbs. Possibly the ‘burbs of the ‘burbs. I couldn’t really tell you. I tend to rarely leave the city, and when I do get past the inner ring things quickly look all too much the same and I feel lost. I had been recommended to them as a director. They were apparently looking for new blood and fresh ideas.

That all seems fine, but upon re-reading the email I received I became wary. Started seeing flags. And became a bit annoyed. In the email I was asked to respond with my interest, resume (and apparently any scripts I’d like to direct for them) by four days from now, because in five days there’s going to be a board meeting and this person would like to come prepared.

I don’t think I’ll respond, but if I did it might be with a bunch of questions, rather than with my curriculum vitae (as requested) and my analysis and vision of Streetcar or Virginia Woolf.

It might include….

You’ve done three productions in the past year? Great! This shows gumption and promise and planning. I noticed you pointed out that you’ve discovered the need to produce things that people in your community will want to come out and see.

Really? It took you three productions to realize this little fact?

OK…moving on….

You want to get away from doing shows whose rights are held by a certain publishing company (a company I’ve not heard of before, and that’s fine) because, as you claim, the quality of the scripts available are below the caliber for which you’re aiming, but are the least expensive you could find.

Umm….what?

I wonder what exactly it was that made you choose the scripts you had? Least expensive and….what? Most relevant to your audience? No, doesn’t sound like it. Most relevant to our times? No…not that either. Just what was it that made you choose the lousy sounding schlock that I saw on your “website” (which was not impressive, although I realize that’s redundant of me to point out in the context of this note.)

However, kudos to you for trying to improve the quality of your work. I admire anyone or any group who strives to do better. Except….

You tell me you’re looking for input from directors? Fine, but you’re contacting people who are not necessarily familiar with your audience or your community. I’m not so sure that’s the way to go about improving things. Yes, I realize that you’ve identified “plays people have heard of” as being a criteria for things you choose, and I’ve probably “heard of” more scripts than you and may even have an inkling of what your townsfolk have “heard of” but….I guess while I could come up with a suggestion list of productions that might work (in a community I’m not familiar with) they’re likely not the shows I’m even interested in directing.

How about Genet’s The Balcony?

oh…never mind.

Also, thank you for pointing out that the only director who was paid in your last season (or at least only was implied) was someone who was a “board member” and was paid because you had received a grant  and who has agreed to direct again for free (thus implying you don’t have another grant.) I notice you don’t mention any fee, salary, stipend or other verbiage that indicates payment.

And….remind me why you started a theatre company out there in…where is it again? Can you [even remotely] explain your vision to me, or just why it is that you thought a theatre was warranted, desired or the right thing to fill the void in your life, er I mean your town’s cultural milieu? And after you explain that, tell me why you think I, or those other directors you’ve contacted, who has never been to your town (as I suspect the others may be) are the right people to take you in a new direction? It’s probably because someone said to you, “Oh, so-and-so is really talented and works all the time and you should contact him about shows you should do or people to get involved” and you did that.

So-and-so is a dear friend who wouldn’t go near you with a 10-foot pole and said to himself, “Well I don’t want to get involved, but maybe these people do” and hence you ended up with my email address.

Honestly, I was tempted because turning down opportunities is not easy.

Then I saw the red flags and remembered the last time I ignored red flags. So…thanks, but no thanks.

Good luck, and have a pleasant day.

PS: This response sounds sort of nasty and sarcastic. That’s why you haven’t actually been sent it. Want my advice? Find scripts and stories that speak to the people in your town, and that are of the caliber and quality you desire, and do them. Raise some money, pick your scripts, hire..ahem, hire your directors and crew and actors, and take a risk. If your town has a need for a theatre the people will come, and you’ll build your audience.

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