Ten Things I Learned From Self-Producing a Play

September 18, 2017

Daniel Rashid, author of Fenced, shares 10 bite-sized nuggets of wisdom from his experience self-producing a play.

Last year, my friends and I put up a minimal production of This is Our Youth by Kenneth Lonergan. I had been working on the play in my acting class and wanted to pursue it further, so I called up three friends I enjoy working with (two actors and one director) and asked if they wanted to work on the play for fun. We worked on it casually, meeting once a week for about 4 months, but we finally got to a point where we felt like we needed to share what we had been doing. So we put up two “invited sharings” of our “workshop production” of This is Our Youth. It was an exciting, exhausting and rewarding experience, and here are ten things that I learned:

1) Work with people you like.
Period. If you’re going to be stuck in a theater with them for hours on end, you better enjoy their company. Or at least, you better not hate them. This is assuming they're competant at their job.

2) Be someone you would like to work with.
If you’re going to be stuck in a theater with other people for hours on end, you better make it easy to work with you.

3) Give credit where credit is due. Buy the rights to the play.
The playwright wrote it, you wouldn’t be doing the play if not for them—so give thanks! Theatre is a generous art form; it will not survive if we don’t help each other out.

4) Things WILL fall apart at the most inopportune moment.
I think that it’s important to know and expect this going into every creative experience. Without a doubt, and most often at the worst moment, something important will fall apart. A week before we opened, the couch we were using got destroyed by the theater we were using because it was “taking up too much space.” The night before we opened, the theater we were using told us they had “double-booked” their space and we couldn’t use it the next day (for our invited sharing, which we had 45 people scheduled to attend). But we made it work. We strung three chairs together and covered them with a cloth to make a couch. We called nearly every small theater in Los Angeles to see if we could transport our skin-and-bones production to their space. We found one at the 11th hour and made it work.

5) If you ask—and I mean truly ASK—you will receive. 
Like I said, theatre is a generous art form and it’s a generous community. We needed someone to run our sound and light board. We asked a friend, she came through. We asked to use a theater eight hours before we were scheduled to perform—they let us. We needed to build a makeshift door in that theater—they had a door frame, a drill and a few 2X4s laying around. We made it work. But we couldn’t have done it if we hadn’t asked.

6) Work on material you feel strongly about.
Especially if you’re self-producing it! It’s your time and money, so you better have a reason for telling the story.

7) Story first, production quality next.
I don’t mean to ruffle any feathers here, but if the story is dead, it doesn’t matter how cool the set is or how interesting the lighting is. We come to the theater to see a story. To be transported. And the set and lighting and sound design are very important aspects to telling that story, but the story must come first. As my acting teacher says, “story is king, we all must serve the story.” So before you go out and spend your time and money on an intricate set design, ask yourself: “is this absolutely necessary for us to tell this story? Or would my time best be spent in rehearsal?” If you have the time and the money to afford it, great! We didn’t have much time (or any money) but it didn’t matter that our production design was minimal—we brought our whole hearts to the story.

8) When you sweep the floor, sweep the floor.
You are going to have to wear many different hats when self-producing. One moment you may be acting, the next you may be figuring out the lighting, and the next you may be building a door, three hours before your audience arrives. It’s extremely important—for everyone’s sanity—not to multi-task. You can’t be worrying about the lighting when you’re acting and vice versa—you don’t want to drop a line or a light. That’s why I always try to remind myself to do one thing at a time. When you sweep the floor, sweep the floor.

9) Theatre is HARD.
It’s true. It’s one of the most collaborative, subjective, ephemeral art forms out there. There are so many moving parts, so many egos, so many things that can (and will) go wrong. The most talented and successful theatre artists have all been a part of many duds. It’s a part of making art—not every painting is the Mona Lisa. But we keep creating (don’t ask me why), and every creative experience is an opportunity to learn, play, and grow as an artist. Yes, theatre is HARD, so…

10) Work with people you like.
Can’t say it enough.


Daniel Rashid is an actor, writer and producer in Los Angeles. His ten-minute play Fenced is available from YouthPLAYS—it's also part of our Bullying, Ink. collection. You can keep up to date with him at www.danielrashid.com, or on Instagram @danielrashid or Twitter @danielsrashid.
















Daniel Rashid, Jay Lee, Isaac Jay and Katie Polley after their final performance of This is Our Youth.


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