Imagining New Suns: Part IV by Amara Brady
Last, but certainly not least, I want to talk about producing through the lens of collectivism. Just so we’re on the same page, Collectivism is defined as the practice or principle of giving a group priority over each individual in it; but we are defining Collectivism 2.0 as seeing self as a part of community. No one is greater than the whole, but each person does matter. Given these definitions, it may be difficult to imagine the ways producing can, and should, fit into the vision of our new world. Producing can sometimes feel like a very singular experience set apart from the rest of the creative team; and it’s made more singular when artistic producing is not the order of the day, but providing money is. For the record, my hope is that most folks are a combination of artistic, line, and fiscal producer. When the combination of those things is at play it’s a lot easier to imagine how producing fits with collectivism; because producers are a part of that collective.
I was pulled into producing by my efforts to be a better collaborator. I didn’t actively decide to become a producer.. . I started informally producing back in 2018. I produced readings and workshops of my own plays with different small theatres across New York. None of them had any money and I couldn’t in good conscience ask for their time without some form of honorarium or compensation, so I started paying everyone out of my own pocket. I have only ever worked part time so you can imagine how much of a feat this was. Eventually, my contract at one of my arts admin day jobs was up and I no longer had a stable source of income. That was when I happened upon Patreon. I launched and was able to secure $100 per month. I would save up and then provide folks with either food or a little bit of money.
Money is not an easy thing for me to raise and I find the management of people and emotions just as difficult. Producing is a labor of love. I only do it for the work that I absolutely believe in and am positive I can help. I think that shifting how and why producers choose projects is so important. I know quite a few producers whose plan is to attach themselves to something that they think is going to make them a lot of money, regardless of whether or not they believe in the work; and then use that money to fund all of their passion projects.
What if we recreate the norms of our industry, so that we, producers, bet on ourselves and the work that speaks to us first? How would that shift the quality of art?
Imagine investing your time and energy into getting your friend’s weird experimental play in a venue like NYTW Next Door, as opposed to expending resources and energy for something that looks like everything else (that you also likely hate). Producers, especially commercial theatre producers, have become some of our industry's greatest disruptors simply by choosing to work on projects that “suit our taste.” I’d like to start with that...
Buying into the idea that other folks' stories should be told, and in most cases undermining the cultural zeitgeist that the non-profit theatre has created and upheld, is an act of rebellion and can be used as a tool of collectivism if done right. It is often easier for shows to find a home in regional theatres and off-Broadway non-profits when commercial producers are attached. There is leverage in the belief that someone else already believes in the work. No one wants to be the first yes, but the power that gives producers is so valuable.
Similar to what I said about playwrights, another way to look at producing through a lens of collectivism is compensation - making sure folks are paid and treated equitably. For a while now, I’ve heard horror stories of folks who were left unprotected in serious situations because people on the creative team, especially producers, only did the bare minimum to protect them. I personally have seen producers ignore racism and sexual harassment from their overly involved investors because of the money. All people in the creative process should be treated equally. When we prioritize investors and/or the money over the art, we undermine the work we’re trying to do in the room. Cash cannot be king in artistic spaces.
Finally, I think that producers should advocate for members of original productions to receive some percentage of the profits. The actors, designers, tech members, etc. thread their existence into the production.Years later their mark is still on the show. The original members are an integral part of the creative team and should be treated and compensated as such. There is enough money to go around, so we must begin sharing these resources instead of hoarding them.
In conclusion, collectivism might cost you some money and time, but when you’re in touch with the why of your work it’s a small price to pay. Especially given the alternative of a less equitable community and potentially a lot of hurt people. It’s a combination of morals, common sense, and kindness, three very simple virtues that we get further and further from each day we prioritize money over art. Start with the thing you love and the “Why” of doing it in the first place. I hope we move forward with that as our guiding light. In the words of Hunter Bell, “Haters to the left.”
Wherever you feel like your duty begins, get more in touch with it and make it deeper. We are truly all we got. This was in no way an attempt to give exhaustive steps as to how to proceed. This was meant to provide you with a series of ideas and maybe guidelines as to how to proceed for yourself. I hope these ideas are useful; and if they aren’t, at the very least I hope they aren’t harmful. If you’d like to follow up on anything, feel free to email me. Until then, be well and hold each other as best you can.
Amara (She/Her/Hers) is a generative artist & cultural dramaturg from Chicago. At the crux of her artistry is uplifting Black women and connecting underserved communities to theatrical experiences. She’s currently in Residence with Experimental Bitch Presents and The Parsnip Ship and created her own production company (Un)Solicited Productions. As an actor she’s been on stage at The Lark, Joe’s Pub, Barrington Stage Co., NYTW, 54 Below, & others. She’s a member of Joe Iconis’ & family As a writer she has been been a semi-finalist for Space on Ryder Farm, an inaugural member of the Showdogs playwriting collective, The Parsnip Ship’s Radio Roots Writers Group, and a member of SHECreates NYC’s Myths and Legends program. Her work has been staged at The Drama League, The Dramatists Guild, Joe’s Pub, and The Wow Cafe Theatre. As a producer she helped put on Theatre Communications Groups National Conference (2019) and was the Associate Producer of the NYT’s Critic Pick, SKiNFoLK by Jillian Walker. Check out her YouTube Series, ‘Skinny & White’ Aren’t Character Traits. In This Paper I’ll Explain. She wants to remind you to resist, check your privilege, & then give some space to Women of Color & Trans Folx. Ashé to the ancestors. All Power to all people.