Assassins (Wanna Produce Theater?)

Hello! Hope you’re all doing well! I love paying it forward and this week’s blog entry is a GUEST BLOG! My brilliantly talented friends are doing an exciting production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Assassins” in May! And here to share some lessons and tips of producing for the theater is Lindsay Hopper, one of the producers of Assassins.

Lindsay, take it away!

Adventures in Producing a Musical, From Start to Finish.

By: Lindsay Hopper

As a film producer, I’ve been fortunate enough to find my routine, my preferences, my people. When all of those things are in place, my job is easy. Well, as easy as it can be when putting together all pieces of a film puzzle in place, Richard Lawson, my mentor, always says “prior planning prevents poor performance” and I couldn’t agree with him more. And while I adore film and working on a set, this year I got to a point where I could no longer ignore my first love: theatre. More specifically, musical theatre. I grew up in a world where people would sing and dance to express themselves, where the magic of storytelling happened in the beat of a drum or the playing of a chord. So naturally, when I was approached by my dear friend and talented colleague back in July and he said “let’s do a musical”, I was all in. This has been one of my biggest dreams for as long as I can remember, and while I always thought it would happen later in my career, now was the time! I’ve produced a number of different projects, how hard could it be to produce a musical?

Famous last words.

We did everything backwards. Everything. I’ll admit it. But you know what? We made it go right. And the result is going to be something full of more of the magic I talked about before than I ever thought was possible.

Last week, a friend of mine asked me: “What would you have done differently”. The easy response would have been: “Everything”. But instead, I thought about it. And in thinking about it, I realized I now know how to do this!

So what are the steps in producing theatre? (and I recommend doing them in this order)

Find a venue. We had a theatre lined up but it was still being built. Our goal is still to eventually mount our show there but had we had a solidified location for our show, a location that was already built and established, this process would have been smoother from the get go.

Have money. Seriously. Film you can produce guerilla style on no budget while borrowing, begging and making everything you may need. Not in the theatre. The amount of things you need money for, from the licensing (if it’s not an original play) to the props to the musicians, if it’s a musical, is astounding. Seriously, I could have made like 8 short films for the cost of this small show we’re doing.

Design the show first. Everything from props to lighting to sound should be put in place before you even start working on the show. It’s really hard to make a budget if you don’t know how much it’s going to cost to create the director’s vision. Think about what you’ll need to buy. Think about who you’ll need to hire. And how much all of that will cost. Once this step is done, you can make a pretty realistic budget and you’ll have a good grasp on how things will need to be structured.

Find the licensing and purchase the rights to the show. And yes, this can be expensive. Could you do a play without the rights? I mean, logistically, yes. You can easily go to Samuel French, purchase the play and say “I want to do this show, and we’ll do it for 6 weeks and charge for tickets and it will be great!” but you could get in a lot of trouble. Writers need to make money too!

Hire a kickass PSM (production stage manager) and stage management team and make a schedule. Ahead of time. Seriously. Without this, you’ll cast people and then all the sudden they tell you they won’t be there for the dress rehearsal and all hell breaks loose. Having a schedule allows the people you bring on to work their schedules around your project from the get go!

Cast the show! This is the fun part. And in my case, I really achieved one of my biggest dreams because I was able to cast all my talented friends and have been so fortunate to work along side of them and their art for the last 4 months. This is really where the magic is.

Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. Everything. Rehearse with as many props, food, costume items you can, as early as you can. Drill the songs over and over again. Run the scenes multiple ways. Practice the lights, the sound cues, transitions to and from the stage. All of these things need to be rehearsed so that the magic can live at the performances and not be clouded by logistics.

Have fun. This is the most important thing. Theatre is not a huge money maker, but, as I keep saying, it’s magical. This is why we do it. So always come back to that, because it’s what will keep you going. The last thing you want is to resent your child, and I’ll tell you, producing a show is like having a child.

Our show opens in 5 days and I don’t think I’ve ever learned as much as I have over the last four months at any other point in my life. But the most important things I’ve learned is to hold on to gratitude and enjoy the process. It’s a hard road but it’s worth it 1000 times over, and I can’t wait to see everything come to life.

All The Feels Productions production of Assassins (by Stephen Sondheim) opens at the Lyric Hyperion Theatre in Silverlake (Los Angeles) on May 5th and runs for 2 weekends (May 5, 6 & 12 @ 8pm, May 7 & 13 at 2pm and May 14 @ 6pm)

Tickets are available online at allthefeelsassassins.brownpapertickets.com

You can also support the show by donating to their production at www.gofundme.com/allthefeelsassassins

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