Often I hear artistic directors of companies talking about how amazing it is to work together on a project and encourage collaboration. I also love collaboration, and am embarking on my largest collaborative effort to date, but I also think that if you want to go into producing you should go in with your eyes wide open so here we go:
YOU ARE GOING TO FIGHT.
There. I said it. I don't care if you're going into this process with your best friend, your girlfriend, or your mom. Artists disagree and truth be told most of us are pretty stubborn.
So I'm sure you're wondering if this is going to be a huge ranting post. It's actually not. I want to acknowledge some of the mistakes I've made in the past and hopefully give you some things to think about before your next endeavor. So here are my top five mistakes and what I've learned from them.
#5. Paying money on a space before a contract was signed- I lost 15k over this one. My partner at the time had promised me that money was coming in donations, then when that money didn't come, I was promised we'd sell out, then when that didn't happen, I wasn't promised anything else. I was just left with an apology and 15k in debt. Moral of the story, if you're going to pay anything out of pocket make sure there's an agreement in place.
#4. Asking too few questions at the beginning- I once got involved with a show because I saw dollar signs. I was going to get paid to produce something! I asked very few questions, glanced over my contract and was ushered into a production that seemed born out of the mouth of hell. The show had so many producing problems that the actors even threatened to quit. My partner in that situation damaged my reputation and made that one of the worst months of my life. Moral here: Find out everything that's expected of you up front and get it in writing, that way when something does go wrong, it's clearly defined who's at fault.
#3 Ignoring your gut- If you have a bad feeling about a show, odds are it's probably right. If I had listened to my gut on a number of projects, I probably wouldn't have done them. It offered me a lot of great learning experiences, but now whenever I'm planning on taking a show on, I think first about how I feel about the project and if my gut's telling me it's a no go, I get out of the game. These days, it's absolutely essential.
#2- Thinking problems will go away- I once saw a poster in my dentist's office that read: "Maybe it will go away: The five deadliest words in the English language." I couldn't agree more. A very wise director once said that early mistakes cast long shadows, and I have to agree. One of the dumbest things I ever did was assume that things would change once things started to go wrong. I stuck it out to the end of each of those shows, but had I addressed the issue right away, maybe things may not have ended so badly.
#1. Not seeing the other side- This one gets me even today. As I type this, I'm in a disagreement about one of my projects and i was reminded when I got a response from one of my collaborators, that while I'm upset and feel something was handled poorly, I'm also wrong. That's important. If you can't admit you're wrong when you are, go into another business because it won't work in the theatre world.
So there you have it. I look back at these lessons learned and I know that there are a lot of mistakes I've made and odds are I'll make many more. The best I can do is talk through the process with each of the people I work with and hope we can come to an agreement.
Because at the end of all of this and after the dust has settled, somebody has to choose to move forward.
Feel free to comment on the top five or include your own top five in the comment section.