Wearing the Producer’s Hat

It’s pointy, like the ones they used to make bad kids wear at school, and it never quite fits right, always slipping down over your eyes at inopportune moments.

Last time I counted, I think I’ve produced 25 shows, only one of which failed to break even. I think that’s a decent track record for a frankly perilous endeavor. The last time around was so completely exhausting and disappointing–in terms of ticket sales, artistically it was excellent, which made the small audiences even more frustrating–that I put the pointy hat on the shelf for five years and concentrated on writing plays and letting others produce them.

Part of the reason, however, that I got into producing was that I just wasn’t seeing certain kinds of plays–strange, unkempt, orignal–being produced in Portland. There’s a lot more work being produced here these days; so much so that it’s hard to see everything one would like. This time, I’m dusting off the pointy hat because I want to produce something that seems like a total blast and an easy sell. In other words, I’m in it for the fun.

That is, next February, my company Pavement Productions is co-producing with Portland’s The Bluestockings three ghost stories I’ve written for the stage: Whitechapel, Wet Paint, and The Body. The whole evening will be called Dead of Winter (going up in February), and every time I tell someone about it, they get that weird sparkle in their eyes that tells me it’s a good idea (and people will come). When you can write the press release in your head, you’re on the right track.

The thing about producing is this: it will take you over. You are the go-to person when things go wrong, when little things need attention, and there are always details that have to be addressed, whether it’s making sure you make press deadlines or procure that goofy little prop no one seems to be able to find. It’s taught me a decent lesson about life, though: when you think you can’t give anymore, push a little harder, and you’ll find you have more to give. It’s an opening to a process bigger than yourself. That’s why it’s tough. That’s why it’s also rewarding. And when the pieces come together and things go right, it’s a wonderful, hard-charging high. As Neil Young sings: “With trunks of memories still to come.”

And there’s always that last moment, when the show is over and the set’s been struck, and you’re done with cleaning up the trash and boxing up the pieces, when you’re alone in the theatre for the last time and have to turn out the lights. That moment belongs to the producer alone. That moment can be worth the journey.

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