9/09/2011 Outliers or Outlaws?
In producing the “Quickies” short play festival for the
Vortex in the late 90s I reversed roles.
Up until then my theatrical challenges had been as a writer or
director. Now I was soliciting
scripts, choosing them for a theatrical run, and then finding directors for the
material. This meant that I was
not only in the position of using the carrot and the stick with writers,
coddling and threatening as I saw fit, but ultimately I was the one who had to
deal with how satisfied they were when the show was closed and all the reviews
During the second “Quickies” festival around halfway through
the run the Albuquerque Journal had
covered the plays and printed a notice that explained how one of my directors,
Matt Montano, had set one of the pieces, a young couple having a picnic circa World
War II, inside an insane asylum. This
wasn’t the writer’s intent. He
meant it to take place on a grassy meadow under a tree. He also wanted the woman’s husband to
be dressed as if he were an American soldier, not an attendant in white nurse’s
garb. So when the writer saw the
review, either sent to him by someone he knew in New Mexico or found by
purchasing a paper through a Manhattan news outlet, he exploded.
Now when a writer detonates in New York by the time the
shock waves hit New Mexico they don’t have all the much impact. This is one of the privileges of being
a producer in out in the hinterlands.
Call us outliers or outlaws, when someone from New York leaves us an
abusive phone message, or sends us a threatening letter, we say, “You don’t
like it, come and get me!”
Or at least that’s what I did when the writer of the picnic
ghost play started calling the Vortex demanding that we withdraw his play from
the festival, followed by registered letters full of layman’s legalese accusing
us of “violating the basic
Dramatists Guild agreement.” I was
a member of the Dramatists Guild and for my dues I got a cheap quarterly
publication that featured interviews with self-congratulatory playwrights, a
list of places looking for scripts, and obits of people I’d never heard
of. It was the most feckless
organization on earth. To invoke
the Dramatists Guild as a threatening force was laughable. They didn’t have enough money to pay
people to staple together their newsletter much less file court documents.
And this is the bottom line when it comes to the long hand
of any “Guild” whether they’re dramatists, or screenwriters, or actors, etc.,
viz., do they have the budget to fly someone to Albuquerque to pick a
fight? Who knows what’s in store
for them when they step off the plane?
“That’s right , Mr. Sam French, I heard tell them’s some crazy mother
humpers out there. Save yourself
the fuss and bother and write off that five hundred dollars you feel you’re
owed. It ain’t worth the trip or
A year later when I transformed the “Quickie” festival into
the “Route 66 Playwriting Contest”, I had a writer, this time from L.A., who won
the contest. The deal was that if
your play won first prize you got $500.
However the writer, having talked with her agent, demanded that we pay
her royalties of about $150 a night coming to about fifteen hundred
dollars. I ignored the
request. She had submitted under
our guidelines, had been picked, and her play was in rehearsal.
The next thing I know, I’m getting phone calls from her
agent. Only he isn’t in L.A., he’s
in New York. He’s telling me that
if I don’t cease and desist producing her play he’s going to shut it down. Listening to his message, I ponder how
exactly he’s going to do that. Is
he going to fly out to Albuquerque and—what?—walk on stage during the
performance at the Vortex and tell the audience to go home?
So I call the playwright and leave a message saying that her
show is coming along nicely and that her check for $500 is in the mail. If she doesn’t like the arrangement
either she, or her agent, can come to Albuquerque and do what they have to
do. Either way, flight, car
rental, motel, and food is going to cost them more than what they’re asking
for. And should they appear to
make a scene, I would cancel the $500 that had yet to be mailed, leaving them
further in debt.
No one showed up.
The play had a good run and got good reviews. Like they say, show business is just that; when the costs
exceed the income, no one’s going to shut you down.