Bringing It Back

Have you ever brought your solo show back to your city of residence where the show had its world premiere? So you’ve had to rally a whole new audience because everyone who was bound to support you…already did?

I have, and I’ve got some observations and tips for you along with my own tale of the highs and lows of this experience.

1. Bringing your show back for another run can be rewarding. I performed Alien Citizen: an earth odyssey in Los Angeles again as part of the Solo Queens Festival, which closed a few weeks ago. There were numerous benefits to that experience, but the most valuable were:

  • sharing it with my two brilliant sister solo queens, Kristina Wong and Valerie Hager, whose solidarity and camaraderie were encouraging and steadying.
  • sharing the play itself with new audience, especially adult Third Culture Kids, for whom the show tends to be cathartic and healing. I was warmed through and through to learn that it continues to have that effect on ATCKs and other people who grew up in the intersections of identity like I did, as well as on audience members whose upbringing was very different from mine.
  • giving myself permission to perform the show in new ways that made it fresh and fun and vital for me as the performer, which made it unpredictable and dynamic for the audience. In some ways it felt like a new show…and for me that was priceless.

2. The lines and blocking will come back to you even after a long, long break. It had been 18 months since I last performed my show and I was worried. What if my memory, which of late has been extra special (that’s a euphemism) failed me? What if my back problem forced me to change the blocking so completely that the show lost its spine?

Turns out that if you’ve performed your show regularly over a few years, an 18-month break won’t break your ability to do it again. You just have to ease back into it. Over a month before opening night, I started running lines in chunks. When I got to the point at which I could run the entire script without blanking out, I started putting the show back on its feet, again in chunks.

By opening night I was ready to open.

3. You must practice kind yet strict self-care during the run no matter what…or things could get wonky. I had a few moments of flubbing lines slightly, of getting the timing wrong, of almost doing the wrong blocking (moving my body to get into a certain character’s pose when I was about to play a different character entirely, and having to adjust quickly when I realized my mistake).

And…I made most of these mistakes during the closing matinee. My eighth performance in four weekends. What was going on? I had slept the night before, I had eaten breakfast, I had done my vocal and physical warmups and tongue twisters. So I had no excuse.

Or did I?

I had injured my calf during a performance midway through the run and it hadn’t fully healed by that last show. I had a cough/cold that I had been nursing for 10 days. And I had been working 10-14 hours per day plugging the show via the internet, snail mail, and in person. Not to mention doing run-thrus at home once per week mid-week so I would be warmed up for each weekend of shows.

But…my two performances before the final one were still sharper and fuller, injury and illness and constant self-promotion notwithstanding, than in the last matinee. So I don’t know what happened. Maybe the accumulation of stressors finally got to me?

My point is, we can never become complacent about performing our shows. At least I can’t. It always requires all of me, and if all of me is starting to wear out, it’s going to be a bumpy ride. And the only way to avoid the bumpy ride is to be ruthlessly self nurturing, as I detailed in an earlier post

..which can feel impossible when you’re trying to fill the seats.

4. Just as you suspected, filling seats for a second run is entirely different from filling them for the first run (the world premiere!) in the same city, even if your show has toured internationally in between those two gigs. In 2013, my show premiered in a 32-seat black-box theatre in L.A. for a five-weekend run. I didn’t know if anyone would care enough to come to the show. I didn’t know if anyone would care even if they did come to the show. I didn’t know if I would have to cancel performances and perhaps the run itself due to lack of audience.

To my relief, people came and audiences grew. Then the show toured on three or five (depending on where you were educated) continents*, in six countries, and in 11 states in the USA, plus Washington, DC. So it’s safe to say that it has had a strong trajectory.

However, I couldn’t surf on that trajectory when I brought the show back to L.A. I’m not a celebrity and the majority of my performances have been on college campuses and international schools. The show has garnered wonderful responses and thus more bookings on those circuits, but L.A. theatre-goers tend to attend shows based on reviews, local word of mouth, or knowing someone involved with the production. My show got great word of mouth in 2013 and I’m lucky to know a lot of people in L.A., so everyone who really wanted to see it, saw it. In 2013.

I did get new audience and even some repeat audience from 2013 this time around! But it was hard, hard work to pull them in.

5. Pulling in new audience is exhaustingly difficult and you need to begin far in advance of opening. I spent 10-14 hours per day promoting the show for seven weeks, but that included the four weeks of performance. It wasn’t enough because I didn’t start early enough. My two festival colleagues began promoting their shows a month sooner than I did, and their audiences were much larger. All three of our shows are a Very Worthwhile Time At The Theatre, and each one is unique, so audiences who saw all three shows tended to rave about the entire festival. But I had already had a five-week run in this city, and I started promoting my show weeks later than I should have. (I explain why further down in #7.)

I also chose not to send out my own press release. The theater sent one for all three shows and the festival at large. I was wary of critics because, while I’ve gotten mostly positive reviews and great pull quotes, only one critic has ever actually understood the show. Meanwhile, most audiences have understood it quite well! So this time around, I merely emailed a personal invitation with no PR to a few respected critics, and I wasn’t surprised when they didn’t show since, again, I’m not a celebrity.

Perhaps I should have been more optimistic.

Regardless, I needed audience. So I begged.

I begged on this blog, on my monthly e-newsletter, and all over social media. Check out these stats! In October and November I plugged the show 300 times on Facebook (Pages and Groups), 152 times on Twitter, 46 times on LinkedIn, and 38 times on Instagram. I hawked it in 199 Direct Messages on Facebook; 106 private email messages (to professors and student groups at nearby universities, consuls from the countries I grew up in, the above-mentioned critics, and more); 75 private messages to LinkedIn connections; 16 direct tweets to casting directors (three-four people per tweet); and five e-newsletters to all of my email contacts (starting in August). I plugged it to 174 people who donated to my past online crowdfunding campaigns. I snail-mailed carefully worded professional letters with attached postcards for the show to 49 casting directors (the same ones I tweeted). I sent lovingly crafted personal letters to 28 celebrities who grew up the way I did (globally). I posted invitations on at least seven YahooGroups (remember those?) three times each. I attended two networking events at which I knew no one; I listened to people intently before mentioning my show and handing out postcards.

I invited the Obamas via their website. Same with Anna Deavere Smith, Lin Manuel Miranda, and Yaël Farber. Because why not dream big?

I created and promoted discount codes for five of the eight performances.

I spent $80 on Facebook ads.

It was exhausting.

6. Certain audience-enticing strategies are more effective than others. Would you like to know which ones worked?

  • The 199 Direct Messages on Facebook. Many people actually came because of those, which put 25% of my audience’s butts into seats.
  • The two in-person networking events. I followed up with people I met there via email. A few bought tickets and brought more audience. You may think a few is nothing to crow about, but they were all strangers who praised the show after seeing it. For me, those people were a big deal, because I’m an introvert and it was hard to “sell” my show in person. But I did and it worked.
  • The discount codes. Except for opening night (a Friday), the Sunday matinees were consistently better attended than the evening shows. The last three matinees all had discount codes that I mentioned in my promos.

We know people love to save money. So why did the other two strategies also work?

We know why: we’re all so inundated by social media that it takes a personal touch to actually reach people. You have to communicate privately or in person to get past the noise.

We all know this. I just finally learned it for real.

Also, word to the wise re: Facebook Direct Messages: you have to be willing to hit up every single “Facebook friend” in your city who hasn’t seen the show, including people you’ve not met in real life and people you’ve met but with whom you’ve not had a real conversation and people you haven’t laid eyes on in a decade or longer. Quite a few may come to your show and they are gold.

Other than those three strategies, I don’t know to what extent any of my other promotional efforts worked. At least 50% of the audience were people I didn’t DM who are friends, theatre colleagues, extended family, or workshop participants who were excited to see the show again or for the first time because they somehow missed it in 2013 or we didn’t know one another back then. I’m not sure if they needed to see my numerous social-media posts to be convinced to attend.

You know what they say: 20% of your effort brings results. The other 80% is usually unnecessary.

I’m nonetheless curious about the 25% of audience I didn’t know. How did they hear about the show? Was it through my constant promotional efforts or something else? For instance, did they know someone who worked at the theater or had they heard about the show directly from a friend? I’ll never know.

Regardless, when I open my next show I’ll stick to Facebook DMs and tone the rest way down, because it’s too much work.

I should clarify: despite never selling out the show, people loved it. Overall I got loads of fantastic responses both in person and on the internet. Of course there were folks who didn’t love it—that’s part and parcel of putting one’s work out there—but for the most part the show received powerful, validating praise.

Plus, this theater had 99 seats…so of course it felt emptier even when the larger 2017 audiences were the same size as any of my larger 2013 audiences.

By the last matinee, I was a wreck, as I mentioned in #3. Perhaps if I had spent at least one quarter of my promotional time just resting, journaling, reading for pleasure, strolling outside, and daydreaming, I might have saved myself the injury and onset of illness in the second-to-last weekend of shows, and those peculiar errors in the final performance.

7. If something else is happening for you at the same time as your show, do not be surprised when the former gets neglected and affects the size of your audience for the latter. An enormous thing happened right before my show re-opened. I released the movie of Alien Citizen: an earth odyssey on DVD! It had its world premiere at an intercultural conference in San Diego just one week before my opening night!

The movie was nearly two years in the making. That’s going to be its own blog post, but my point is: I was so overwhelmed by my promotional efforts for the “live” show that I gave short shrift to the huge accomplishment of making, premiering, and distributing a movie. Conversely, I had worked so hard on getting the DVD ready that that cut into the time I ought to have been promoting the “live” show, which is why I started plugging the show a month late.

Oh my, it was such hard work. You can apply “it” to the remounting of the live show in L.A. or to the movie. Either way it’s true…but I want to focus this blog entry on the show.

On the bright side: more people came than I had feared in my lowest moment. A couple of weeks before opening night, I was desperate to bring in 80 audience members total. That would be an average of 10 people per show, which would be 900% more people in the house than on the stage. I could live with that.

I’m happy to report that the average number of people in my audience per performance was markedly higher than 10. Nonetheless, it couldn’t hold a candle to my solo queen colleagues’ audience numbers, which were jaw-droppingly impressive.

Every Monday or Tuesday the theater would send us our ticket sales for the upcoming weekend, and every time I saw my numbers I would go numb. They were invariably abysmal, so there was no question of reducing my promotional efforts, or so I believed.

Fortunately, people came. No shows were canceled. The smallest audience consisted of nine people, which was rough, but they were terribly kind. That was my worst performance—you know how your body and face and voice will do the show, and you’ll channel all your energy into it, but your brain will be over to the side thinking I’m Not In It I’m Not In It It’s On Automatic Help Help Help?

Yep.

Nonetheless, one of the people who came that night bought the DVD of the show, and two others posted high praise on Facebook. This was early in the run, and I finally accepted something very important for a solo show creator and performer:

8. If the show is good, you don’t have to be at your best for it to work for audience members. If the writing, direction, and design elements are good, and you commit your energy to the performance even if your brain feels disconnected from your body, the show will still work.

Granted, there may be theatre pros in the audience who will recognize that you’re not “on fire.” But if your words, face, and body language tell the story clearly, the show’s merits will come through. Of course it’s a shame that it won’t have that spark, that emotional immediacy that an “in tune” performance would give it, but it will still be a solid 80 minutes of theatre. You will not have wasted anyone’s time or money. They’ve never heard your story before, after all.

Meanwhile, I learned a ton from watching my sister solo queens promote their shows.

9. Make your marketing count by making it reflect who you are in your show. Valerie’s posts were often vulnerable and raw. She would tell her followers outright how it felt to do her show in L.A. and that she needed her peeps in the seats. Meanwhile, Kristina’s posts tended to be smart, funny, and non-stop. Their marketing reflected aspects of their stage personas that attract audience.

My marketing…well. I intended to be vulnerable…and a few of my posts were (kind of)…but mostly I just quoted lines from the show and attached production stills or video and mentioned discounts. It took forever to create and schedule those posts on Hootsuite, and post them directly on Facebook Groups, not to mention all the other ways in which I plugged the show, so I believed I was accomplishing a lot with that as I was doing it.

In hindsight, I should have made every post personal. And I should have posted more praise from audience and positive reviews from critics from previous bookings—of course, because people do what other people have done. If I had posted praise every single day, more people might have thought “Well if they liked it maybe I will, too,” and I might have had larger audiences.

10. As long as your show connects with the people who need it the most, you’ve done something good. I’m happy and relieved to say that people who needed to see Alien Citizen: an earth odyssey this time around did so and it helped them. One person came a second time and bought the DVD. Others now want to take my workshop. The people who found validation and understanding in the show are the people for whom I created it in the first place.

I don’t need to do this show for me. I processed and purged every lingering emotion that the stories evoked by the fourth performance in 2013. Since then I’ve done the show for people who need to see themselves reflected on stage. I never know who that will be, but they always show up. It happened again for numerous audience members this time around, and I’m very gladdened by this.

I’m also very glad to have made a movie of my show that is now on DVD and will soon be streamable online, so that people worldwide can see it in their own homes and at their convenience…without my having to rehearse beforehand or beg them to fill seats. (Wink.) Stay tuned for my next blog post about my filmmaking journey!

In the end, I’m pleased to have performed my very first solo show again in the city where it was crafted and where it had its world premiere. I hope you feel the same way about having brought your show back to its “city of origin.” Also, through my mistakes I learned how to market the show for future runs, which is valuable. I hope you were smarter about it than I was, but if not, I hope you’ll apply what you learned to future runs. If you’re still in the planning stage of bringing a show back to a city, I hope this blog entry will be of use.  (Perhaps we should consider sticking to shorter runs (two to three performances) if we want to bring a show to a city where it has already played…)

Whatever the cost, for me the rewards were worthwhile. Plus, we never know where our performances might lead us. A stranger in the audience could become a client, an advocate for our work, and/or a dear friend.

The possibilities are endless.

*If you were taught that North and South America are two different continents and Central America is part of South America,
and
you were also taught that Europe and Asia are two different continents,
then in your mind my show has toured on five continents: North America, Central (which to you means South) America, Europe, Africa, and Asia. Plus the island of Iceland.

If you were taught that America (or The Americas) is one continent because it’s one land mass with sections called North, Central, and South,
and
you were also taught that Eurasia is one continent because it’s one land mass with sections called Europe, the Middle East, and Asia,
then in your mind my show has toured on three continents: America (or The Americas), Eurasia, and Africa. Plus the island of Iceland.

I split the difference and say that the show has toured on four continents.

BONUS: A terrific blog post/rant by a well respected award-winning UK-based performer who ekes out a living via grants and bookings and is very, very tired of being asked to tour and perform for free.

You show me yours… by Bryony Kimmings


Announcement: I’ve got new workshops coming up in the new year. Take a look! Click on “click for more” under “Group Solo Show & Memoir Workshops.”

Thank you for reading my twenty-seventh post! I love your comments! Please feel free to leave one below.

Advertisements

Everything Happens at Once

As I type this, a hurricane from the Pacific and a tropical storm from the Atlantic are wreaking havoc in Costa Rica, where my parents live. The government has declared a state of national emergency. My folks are fortunate: they live on high ground, 5,000 feet above sea level, so they only lost power and internet. Their water might get cut off but they’re ready. Meanwhile, thousands of Costa Ricans have lost their homes to unprecedented flooding from rivers that have risen and raged in a shockingly short amount of time.

There have been deaths.

This is only one of several natural disasters that have befallen the globe recently, on top of national tragedies in the USA and other parts of the world.

One could become numb to it all.

Nevertheless: I assume you know where to donate or volunteer, but if not, the Red Cross and UNICEF are usually good choices.

And now I’m going to talk about my first solo show. This feels grossly uncomfortable since we all know that humans have been through hell this year and a show is just a show.

But solo shows and creativity in general are what this blog is about. So here’s how I justify talking about my show in this month of October 2017:

Alien Citizen: an earth odyssey is the only touring solo show that highlights issues of culture, language, gender, race, religion, and nomadic upbringing in a single performance. It’s funny and poignant and takes the audience through six countries on two continents. The show depicts people in Latin America, North Africa, and the Middle East in prismatic, relatable ways that we rarely see on the American stage. It serves as a bridge between cultures. It also shows what being a girl is like on this planet.

I think the show has worth even (or especially?) in the current state of our terrible, frightening, wondrous, fragile world. I’ve been told it does.

So I’m excited to be performing Alien Citizen: an earth odyssey in the first annual Solo Queens Festival at the Bootleg Theater in Los Angeles, California, USA. Bootleg has a fierce belief in the power of women in Art to create change in the world and this festival will celebrate women and their life experiences.

That’s the plug. But it’s not the only reason that I’m writing this. The main reason is in the title of this post: everything happens at once.

Remember how I was creating the movie of my show? Well, it’s this close to ready. I’m about to drop the data off at the DVD printers to get copies replicated for customers. Copies have already been sold but the thing can’t be shipped until it’s printed!

I had hoped to have the DVD ready by June 2016, but I quickly learned that that was crazy talk. I was the first editor to work on it…while touring the show and leading workshops and pursuing my acting career and learning all I could about growing a small business. So of course the editing took an especially long time. And I’m not a pro editor.

Fortunately, I was able to hire a real editor and he made magic of the final cut, thank goodness.

However, now the movie will be launched right before my show opens…and I can’t worry about the timing anymore. Whether it’s good or bad, the point is: I now have two big products, with one deadline looming and the other already missed.

If you’re wondering why I don’t just wait to deal with the movie until after the show opens:  I’ve been promoting the DVD for months because I predicted that it would be out by September. I put that date on my website. People have bought copies that I need to print and ship. 

Meanwhile, I booked my first TV gig in years back in September, and my first role in a big movie with movie stars shoots next week.

I’m leading workshops because I love to do that work but I also need the income.

All of this is great! I am profoundly lucky to have each one of these opportunities, and to have them all at once is an embarrassment of riches.

And I need an assistant.

Don’t we all.

Three different small-business experts have told me flat out to hire an assistant. I’d love to, but the expense is a large obstacle at the moment and training someone will take time…and I kinda don’t have any left. Not for the “live” show, at least.

So I don’t have an assistant who can contact tons of people and organizations via email and social media, and follow up with them, and help me to fill the house for each performance. I’ve been doing a lot of this myself and will continue to do it, of course, but I will not be able to do everything that could really help to put butts in seats, as they say.

Thus I am reduced to begging on my blog.

Please come to my show if you’re in L.A County or SoCal. My director, Sofie Calderon, did a truly great job with it. Her impeccable guidance has helped me to tell the story so that it has resonated for thousands of audience members around the world. Come see why it made them think and laugh and cry.

If you’re not in L.A., please send your L.A. peeps to it.

I’ll be playing in rep with Kristina Wong’s The Wong Street Journal and Valerie Hager’s Naked in Alaska, October 26 – November 19. Their shows are kickass pieces of theatre.

There will be FREE CHILDCARE during Sunday matinees!

There will also be signature cocktails for every show in the fest! Mine is called An Earth Odyssey. We’re still deciding whether it’ll be a riff on a cosmo, a Singapore Sling, or something else.

Groups of eight get 20% off. If you’d like to get in on that, let me know and I’ll put you in touch with Bootleg’s queen bee Jessica Hanna.

If you’d like to sponsor a low-income person who couldn’t otherwise afford a ticket, give me a holler.

If none of the above applies, and you’d like to see the movie instead, please click here.

So…I’m obviously not giving tips or help in this post. I’m not “adding value” as they say…although I think the show and movie do do that, but this post isn’t doing it in any immediate way that I can see.

I hope you’ll forgive me for that and come see my show or send someone to it. It would mean the world to me.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

And be safe out there.

Love,
Lisa

BONUS: I’ve been practicing some good habits like meditation, gratitude lists, and exercising regularly most of this year. But I can’t seem to kick overworking—been putting in 12-14 hours/day for months. So I’m sharing this link about how to successfully form a new habit, to remind myself and hopefully help my readers (added value! yay!):

The 3 R’s of Habit Change: How To Start New Habits That Actually Stick by James Clear


Thank you for reading my twenty-sixth post! I love your comments! Please feel free to leave one below.

There’s More To You Than You Know

Feeling some lack of confidence lately? A little low on self esteem? Thinking maybe you don’t have what it takes? (To create a good show, attract an audience, do the hard work towards a big goal, withstand rejection, make even a partial living doing what you love, etc.)

I feel ya.

So I recommend the following, which may sound a little scary, but it’s worth it. (Well, it might not scare you, but I confess that I dreaded it and only went through with it because it was a homework assignment for a workshop I was taking.)

  • Ask three to five people in your network to identify the things they believe you are good at and to provide evidence for those things that they identified as your strengths.

“Network” just means People You Know, preferably as More Than Acquaintances.

If this assignment brings up the following fears:

  • Everyone will be too busy
  • No one will want to reply even if they’re not busy
  • Everyone will automatically think of your flaws and this will prevent people from being able to think of a single strength that you have

…consider the possibility that these fears are due to anxiety and not reality. They’re understandable because you’re making yourself vulnerable. But if you make the request of people you care about who you can reasonably suspect care about you, too…then it is not such a presumptuous request and there may be no reason to fear the response.

If you have no fears about making the request, I still think this is a worthy exercise for you.

Give the list makers a deadline of three days, tops. This helps them and you. Your message won’t sit in their In Box or voicemail forever, and you won’t wait and wonder for a long time if they’ll reply.

Also, while you’re waiting for their response, take 10 minutes to write down what you think your strengths are, and provide evidence. This can be helpful toward building or maintaining confidence and healthy self acknowledgment. Always good when you’re working on something new and risky.

When folks start responding, you may be unsurprised by some of the strengths they list—after all, you’ve met you. Nonetheless, be prepared for a strength or two (or more) that you didn’t predict. Or perhaps you didn’t expect a strength to be described in the way that it’s described. Or for the evidence to be something you had completely forgotten. Yet it’s nonetheless true.

Yes, you did do that. Yes, it was admirable and worthy of respect.

I think we need a lot of encouragement as we forge ahead on this loopy, unpredictable path of solo show creation and touring and other creative endeavors. Often there’s no way to know what will happen next, so we keep on submitting the show, or creating a new one, and working on other stuff that fills us, or taking breaks from it all, and we need incentive to believe we’re worthy of our dreams.

A Strengths List can help with this. It’s like the list of compliments from audience members that I mentioned a while back. In your most vulnerable moments, sometimes other people’s words can make all the difference. There’s no shame in that. We’re a social species and we need one another’s validation. We just do. It helps if it comes from people we trust.

Also, when compiling your Strengths List, you may learn that you are more powerful—not just strong but powerful—than you realized. Look at what you’ve accomplished! That took more than determination.

No harm in it, since you’ve been harnessing this power to connect with people and remind them that they, too, are not alone. That’s what storytellers and artists do. Even if a work of art is about unwanted solitude or loneliness (or sadness or rage or jealousy or some other unpleasant emotion), it still acts as an outstretched hand toward anyone who has felt the same. Acknowledgment and recognition are powerful things. The feeling that an artist “gets” us is incomparable.

Honor your power. You’ve probably got more than you know and I’m betting that you’re using it to do good. When you receive your Strengths Lists, remember to thank the people who remind you of your power, for they are gold.

BONUS: This hugely popular TED Talk reminds us that we do this because it’s what we do. (You don’t have to have read or liked her work to enjoy the benefit of this talk.)

Your elusive creative genius by author Elizabeth Gilbert


Announcement: I’ve got new workshops coming up next week. Take a look! Click on “click for more” under “Group Solo Show & Memoir Workshops.”

Thank you for reading my twenty-fifth post! I love your comments! Please feel free to leave one below.

You Never Know What Will Spark You (or: In Which I Humiliate Myself for the Greater Good)

Wondering if any of your creative efforts have been wasted?

Or if your creative impulses are too weird to take seriously?

Fie upon the thoughts, I say!

This is going to be a short entry, but it requires courage to post. I’m resigning myself to embracing the fact that one of my weird compulsions missions in life is to make myself vulnerable in order to help others.

I tend to take one for the team, so to speak.

In January 2012, I had a terrible first full-length draft of my first solo show. I was about to take a six-month-long master class on solo-show creation, during which I would completely dismember and destroy revise that draft into something a paying audience might actually want to watch. I was freaking out a bit since I would be workshopping scenes for classmates who might…you know…hate everything I presented.

Meanwhile, I needed a creative outlet that I kept private and thus safe in order to follow my weirdest impulses, to keep the juices flowing with no connection to the solo show.

Except that they did ultimately connect to the show.

Here’s the first thing I created. I titled it “monster.” Note its abysmal amateur quality.

monster

Feeling better about yourself now? You’re welcome.

Here’s the next thing I created, and I can only hope that this will not come back to haunt me somehow, because its dorkiness is…well, I’ll let you determine that for yourself.

I made two more videos that I shall spare you, and then the workshop and other projects took over my life, and I no longer had time for these ridonkulous spontaneous creative-impulse pursuits.

When I made them I had no idea that they would help my show, but they did. On a lark, I sent the drawing to a couple of friends, and they were amused and kind. That helped me to breathe a bit easier about putting original work out there. I sent the video to a few more friends and one said she laughed until she cried. She may have been the only one who liked it, but one person not hating it or ignoring it or pitying me for it was all I needed.

Plus, the composition/framing ended up being what I used for my show’s poster.

AC_Poster_11x17_generic-1

My director hates the poster, but what can I say, it was my vision at the time. She’s very classy, so I kinda see her point now…but I still love the head peeking in…and I just have an abiding fondness for the whole thing.

You know how it is with certain things. You see the flaws but you feel affection for them nonetheless.

Anyhoo. As random and weird and amateur and dorky and embarrassing as those two works of “art” may be, they were meant just for me and a few friends, and they boosted my courage, which did the trick: I created the show, which is now a movie (almost ready for audiences!). The show’s success also led to my ongoing workshops.

So I feel like a deer in headlights mostly okay about sharing these pieces here because…well, what the heck. I sincerely hope that they assist you with your creative pursuits somehow.

Follow your kooky creative impulses. Keep them all private if you like, but have faith that they’re helping you in ways you may not be able to articulate until five years from now. They’re worth it.

BONUS: Here’s an encouraging article about how walking/strolling can spark creativity:

Want to Be More Creative? Take a Walk by Gretchen Reynolds


Thank you for reading my twenty-fourth post! I love your comments! Please feel free to leave one below.

It Takes a Lot of Rejection and Working on Something Else…and Surrendering

I figured it out: for every Yes there are 100 Nos.

If you’re trying to tour your solo show, that is.

I estimated 50 Nos per 1 Yes in an earlier post, but now I know the truth, thanks to an elaborate spreadsheet. Whenever a campus, conference, organization, festival, or theatre has booked my show (usually as a paid gig-—I can rarely afford to work for free), it has already been rejected by 100 potential bookers. (Silver lining: I count each individual as a potential booker. So if I email 15 people on a particular college campus, each one of them is part of the 100 count, even though they’re at the same “venue.”)

Usually, the rejection comes in the form of…nothing. There’s simply no response to my submission.

Once in a while, I get a cordial “We’re sorry but we have no budget for guest artists” or “There were umpteen applicants and only a handful of spaces for our season/conference/festival/etc.”

Every so often—which is to say, not often—I get a response asking for more information about the show. Out of every 15 venues that express interest, one might actually book the show. “Might” is the key word here.

So I think it’s understandable that I take breaks from pitching. Weeks will go by as I concentrate on other tasks that fill me with hope—and we all need hope as creative folk, especially in discordant times.

For the last year these have been my hope-fueled projects:

The movie has been a slog and a joy and is soooooo close to ready, I can taste it. I’m especially proud of the Tool Kit (digital study guide) that will accompany the version I’ll sell to institutions. It has clips of the show, thought-provoking questions for the viewer, definitions of certain terms, cool quotations, recommended reading and viewing lists, and more.

I’m sharing this because I never planned to make a movie of it while I was writing the show. You never know where your creative endeavor will lead or how it will evolve.

Now, it’s good to have big dreams—sometimes they’re the great motivator—but you must also surrender, with love, to the possibility that the project will not go to exciting uncharted territory. It may remain a solo show that you performed a few times at a Fringe, or in your living room for friends, and that is worthy if you did it with your whole heart.

I sincerely believe that when I surrendered to the possibility that my first show might not have a theatrical premiere and I would have to perform it at home for friends, I released a lot of stress, anxiety, and tension…and that’s what allowed greater possibilities to manifest. The ol’ catch-22: it may come if you let go.

Still, there’s no guarantee, and you have to make your peace with that.

Back to the movie: “Who is going to buy a movie of a solo show by a non-celebrity?” you may wisely ask. My hope is that it will be popular with intercultural people who are unaccustomed to seeing their stories told; counselors; folks who want to create their own shows and would like a template to follow or dissect at their leisure; institutions of higher learning with offices of diversity and inclusion, gender studies, and more; and the 8,000 English-medium international schools that exist on our globe. The “live” show has helped many people come to terms with aspects of their upbringing and identity, and I very much hope that this will be true of the movie as well.

No matter what, I’m so glad I made this movie. It was a finalist for a festival, which means it wasn’t screened, but I took its finalist status with humble gratitude! I don’t know what, if anything, will happen once I make the video available to viewers.

It’s been a great project to work on, regardless of the unpredictable outcome.

My new show is on hold for the moment, but just knowing that it’s sitting in my laptop, waiting for me to tackle it again, causes little sparks to warm my insides. It’s going to be fun workshopping it again and finally producing it, no matter what. I can feel it.

My solo show and memoir workshops take my attention off of me (phew!) and allow me to learn other people’s stories and help them to find the beating heart of the narrative. It’s flabbergasting to witness a short writing exercise evolve into a scene or chapter. It’s uplifting to watch a storyteller reach for their courage. And it’s invigorating to see them make unpredictable connections between scenes and find humor in some of the most wrenching parts.

My participants inspire me to go for broke with my own work.

Thanks to the hope-fueled projects above, each time I start pitching my first show again, I don’t feel depleted and dejected.

Granted, I have something else buoying me when I pitch the show: its trajectory from a tiny black-box theatre in Hollywood to venues all over the US and in Panama, Iceland, Spain, South Africa, and Singapore. However, I did not make any of that happen on my own, and certainly not by simply sending emails. My director gave the show its shape and theatricality and resonance. Several of my family members and friends plugged the heck out of it for me. And a few bookings only happened because hundreds of people donated to my crowdfunding campaigns, which allowed my husband and me to fly to distant lands in order to put on the show. My abject gratitude is due to every person who funded those ventures, and to every person who helped to pique a paying booker’s interest in the show. If the beginning of this paragraph seemed like a brag, I hope I’ve clarified that the show’s trajectory is due to countless people and not my pitching efforts alone—not by a long shot.

And none of it—the show, the movie, the new show, and the workshops—would have happened if my hope for astonishing results had taken precedence over my need to tell the original story. When I honored the latter, with no demands on the future, I think that that made space for a brighter future. I mentioned this concept in an earlier post but I think it’s worth repeating.

If you’ve been pitching your show to everyone and their mother-in-law to no avail, remember that it’s a numbers game. Have you pitched it to 100 individuals yet? If so, have you gotten any nibbles (even if they haven’t been bookings)? If so, take heart. If not, take another look at your proposal and marketing material to see what might need tweaking in order to grab someone’s interest on a gut level.

In either case: make time to work on something else that charges you. If it’s not challenging, exciting, frightening, and hope-inspiring, start working on something that is.

I’ll never stop saying it: we’re here to create and connect. No matter how far your show goes, the time you’ve spent on it was time superbly spent.

BONUS: Go ahead and feel those feelings. A helpful reminder that our emotions can be channeled into great storytelling:

Why Emotional Excess Is Essential to Writing and Creativity per Anaïs Nin, by Maria Popova in Brainpickings.org

[Edited 6/16/17, LL]


Thank you for reading my twenty-third post! I love your comments! Please feel free to leave one below.

You Can Fix It

Did your show get a lackluster response at your first reading for trusted theatre friends?

Or have you not given the reading yet because every time you look at the script all you see are insurmountable problems?

You can fix it.

I’ve watched all four seasons of “Black Sails” over the last year. Season 1 had so many flaws that I literally forced myself to finish it only because someone I trust insisted that the show would improve tremendously in Season 2. It did and continued to do so with each season. It stopped depicting some characters as two-dimensional and disposable and began depicting characters from vastly different backgrounds as complex and recognizably human. No show is perfect but some speeches in this one were uniquely gorgeous. So if a TV show with serious flaws can turn itself around under the pressure of deadlines and ratings and corporate “mainstream” demands, then you can fix your solo show, without a network breathing down your neck and a whole lotta people’s jobs on the line. Thank goodness.

Some tips on how to fix your script:

  1. Do you have a scene that includes a lot of ruminating, opining, venting, etc.? One that reads like a well written journal? Delete that sucker. You can keep the part in which you’re depicting behavior or something active that moves the plot forward or enriches the theme, but remove the part that reads like a…blog. I bet all that writing could be distilled into one narrative sentence or line of dialogue, and your delivery will give it more than enough substance.
  2. Is there a recurring character who comes across as the Bad Guy or the Good Guy? One way to improve any script is by making sure that every character is prismatic or at least unpredictable at one point. That includes the character of you. If you’re a lovable victim or hero throughout your show, you’ve got a problem. Luckily, it’s easy to fix. Add a scene or two in which you’re the most flawed character in the play. Now your audience will believe you.
  3. Work on another script for the sheer fun of it. As I mentioned in a previous post, when I didn’t know how to fix my current script, I started a new one with a goofy premise that made me giggle. It revived my muse and I ultimately realized that I could combine the two scripts, which made all the difference.
  4. Walk away for at least two weeks. It’s okay, you can work on the “fun” script or another creative project that doesn’t fill you with dread/despair in the meantime. It can be tiny: a doodle a day, or a one-line poem, or a single photograph, whatever. You can also take a real break and just absorb other artists’ work. They may inspire you.
    When you come back to your piece after the break, it will be easier to see what can go, what can be enhanced, and what can be restructured. If you decide that only 5% can stay, that’s okay. Every moment you spent on it was valuable because you were making something. Imagine if you’d spent that time destroying something, or doing something you hate, or passively letting your life drift by.
    Naw. We’re here to create. As Martha Graham so famously said, “It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.” That is how we connect, as artists.
  5. Set a timer to work on it for 20 minutes at a time, tops. I’ve fixed entire scenes in less time than that, especially after taking a break from working on the script. You do not have to give up an entire three-day holiday or spend 3-6 hours per day/night on it. Er, unless you’re on a deadline. The good news is: that deadline will arrive no matter what and it’s getting closer every minute…so the crunch will be over soon and then you can go back to 20-minute writing sessions when you revise. Woohoo!

Another tip: keep copies of each daily draft. I rename every single day’s work with the current date, so I can always go back to a previous date to find something I might have deleted or changed. Yes, this means I have a gajillion files for one script, but it also means I never lose anything I write.

You can also turn on the “show markups” option, but I find that that ends up looking too “busy” and confusing.

Do what works for you.

Always remember: your creative work matters. Every moment that you devote to it is productive and good. Better to have spent 10 minutes creating than several hours destroying/wasting/not-even-trying. The world is a better place for it, and I thank you.

BONUS: This talk is encouraging for anyone trying to make something. It also validates my point about spending less time on something while still working on it regularly.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Artists by Andrew Price

[Edited 4/11/17. -EL]


Announcement: I’ve set my workshop schedule for the rest of 2017. Take a look! Click on “click for more” under “Group Solo Show & Memoir Workshops.”

Thank you for reading my twenty-second post! I love your comments! Please feel free to leave one below.

To Commit or Not To Commit

Progress! I gave my first two readings of the new show to trusted theatre friends and they didn’t look pained or embarrassed afterward. On the contrary, more than half were very enthusiastic, and the rest were encouraging. They all gave specific feedback, which I have been implementing into the script.

Must say I’m relieved. This new show has an element that is so quirky-weird, I was afraid that it would be off-putting to my first listeners. But that’s the element many of them liked the most!

It goes to show: as creators observing our own work, everything is in our heads until we have an audience or readership. We have to commit to sharing our work with people we trust so that the work can truly evolve.

Of course, I still have work to do. Writing and creating are mostly revision—but we knew that.

Now I’m trying to decide if I want to perform this show at a local fringe festival. The deadline to be included in their guide is at the end of the month. This fest might be the perfect debut for this particular show.

On the other hand: festivals cost money—venue rental, insurance, crew’s fees, PR, etc.

On the bright side: I envision this show having minimal production values. So I don’t have to worry about a lot of design elements and cues overwhelming our tech rehearsals, which happened with my first show. (I love that show’s design elements. The world premiere was beautifully lit and the projections and audio effects enhanced it subtly yet wonderfully—but it makes for long tech rehearsals when I go on tour. I’m ready for a minimalist approach this time.)

Most importantly: if I register with this fest, the new show will have to be ready by June. That’s right around the bend! I would need to start pre-production (hiring director and crew, renting the space, and more) right now.

I believe that I could have the script ready by June, but in order to be performance-ready, I’d have to spend all of May rehearsing the show, which means the script would need to be 90% ready by the end of April. (New solo-show scripts are tweaked and improved in rehearsal because the director also acts as a dramaturg.)

Meanwhile, I’m eyeballs-deep in post-production on the digital version of my first show. I want it to be available on DVD and streamable online by May. Could I do that and improve the new show’s script and start pre-production on that show in time for a June festival?

Hm.

Well, I’m giving myself until the end of March to decide. Whether or not I register with this fest, I will make myself accountable with this promise: I will perform the new show for a paying audience in 2017. (Gah!)

Speaking of accountability, I kept the promise I made in my last post! I rearranged the box and container that hold lots of future-projects material and stuck pretty labels onto them to remind me that there’s magic inside.

It worked! Now when I look at them I feel a warm inclination to use that material in the future. No more guilt.

This blog entry is more stream-of-consciousness than usual, so I’m wary of hitting “Publish,” but I’m going to post it as an example of committing to something outside of one’s comfort zone. After all, the entry itself is about commitment and the balancing act of making the choice: do I or don’t I and why?

I hope that you will take leaps of faith to further your creative output. And if you hedge like I did above over the fest, I recommend that you commit to furthering that output by a certain deadline.

I’ll never stop saying it: deadlines are beacons. They only help us to keep our promises. May you keep yours to fulfill your creative commitment(s) this year.

BONUS: Lovely, short guided meditations—a couple of which are only three (3) minutes long (!)—can help when we’re feeling uncertain:

Free Guided Meditations from the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center


Thank you for reading my twenty-first post! I love your comments! Please feel free to leave one below.