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Confessions of a nervous producer

I’m taking another stab here at using this space for more than just pimping out a show. We have one show opening this week and another in two weeks from today (ok, alright – but links aren’t really hard-core pimping …), and as such – my guts start doing this funny thing where they wring up and get caught somewhere between my throat and the valve on the opposite end.

At this point, it’s not entirely about the product – that used to be all I worried about. Of course that’s always a concern, but we’ve been in a groove for the past few years, and I really trust the group of artists I’ve chosen to surround myself with – these folks work their tails off. I’m more concerned now with those intangibles outside the rehearsal space, outside the theater altogether.

Some of my classmates from undergrad and grad school teach high school and college. They’re fairly set when it comes to “makin’ art” – their budgets are rarely tied to sales. Most have a captive audience to be honest. In high schools, you can practically guarantee a minimum of 8 -10 audience members for every cast member, and that’s usually just the immediate family. Universities pump big bucks into their shows and then require that students go see shows then write papers on them.

Others of my friends are just out there busting hump as directors, dancers, choreographers and actors. They’re hired gig-by-gig, or they have a sweet deal someplace where they work continually. Those guys don’t have the easiest of times, but are typically just looking out for number 1. That’s often enough.

Then there’s the smallest sub-set. The “made artists” if you will. Those of us producing on our own, who are accountable to a lot of folks working for us and at the mercy of a myriad of elements wholly outside our control. I’m one of those guys.

I sometimes (and I do mean just sometimes) envy those who have so much more security than me, but I also recognize that security comes with a price – usually a lack of freedom or control. By and large I much prefer the path I’ve chosen.

So, yeah, I’m currently at the most nervous, dare I say vulnerable point in a process as a producer – and it’s a double dose with two shows needing TLC.

I interned at the Hippodrome State Theater before moving to Tampa, and one day their Artistic Director and I were in the empty theater and she looked around and told me something to the effect of “We could only sell 6% of our whole inventory to any given show and we wouldn’t lose money.” I thought that was pretty incredible at the time, and now with practical experience it makes me a little sick. What do you want, jealousy is a bitch.

They were able to boast that because they have solid funding from the NEA, the state and Alachua county. They have pages and pages of donors in their program. They have a legion of businesses that give them free products and services in lieu of cash: apartments, haircuts, massages, movie tickets, vehicles, lumber … They also had 25 years in the game at that point. I’m still envious though.

I’ve been at this now about 8 years. We’re not doing so bad. Not at all. Anyone who has spent half an hour around me knows how proud I am of this company, and how I’m convinced we can step up to the next level if we can start to attract that support I saw while in Gainesville. I do wish somewhere along the way I had a class or a more step-by-step introduction as to how to do what I’m doing. I’m often reproducing what I’ve seen others do, or making it up as I go along.

Right now we are completely at the mercy of the ticket-buying public. We’re at the mercy of the newspapers who can either choose to give us coverage or not. We’re at the mercy of football playoffs, of holidays, of weather – of just about everything.

95%. That’s how much ticket sales account for our total income. That’s a long ways off from 6%, innit? We’ve almost always been two or so tanked shows from going under. Thankfully, that’s never happened and we’ve done some solid fundraising in the past year. However, we can be back at square one in the blink of an eye, and then one or two steps away from disaster once again. That’s never lost on me, and to be honest that keeps me up at night sometimes.

So here I am crossing everything that coverage picks up as Books opens up (perhaps the worst part about not getting the premiere of the show this time around – “we already did a story on that …”), and that we can lock down some more prepress for This is How it Goes as we get closer to that opening. Here’s to self-perpetuating word of mouth and everything else that just makes a show take off on it’s own and allows me to finish out this thing as an artist.

As far as all that other stuff goes – we really do need help. The way we work is a means to an end, not something we can keep doing. If you or someone you know might be interested in helping Jobsite raise money, drop me a line. I’d be sincerely interested in talking with people who want to make a difference. I know a lot of people don’t have money to burn, but may be really good at sniffing money out . If you think you might want to help yourself, check this stuff out.

I can’t stress enough though that the absolute best thing you can ever do for Jobsite is to buy tickets. Come see our shows. If you can, buy a season ticket.

Just writing all this down has already helped purge some of the stormclouds. It behooves me to usually stay tres positive publicly, because almost nothing is unsexier than desperation. I’m also currently a nervous actor as well, and I have a show to open this weekend. It is always so much more enjoyable, and I always feel I’m giving my best when I’m not worried about sales or coverage.

No matter what happens down the road – this blue-collar kid is happy he’s even had this much of a opportunity. I’m still gonna reach though, and if we’re not growing I’m not satisfied.

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