I was twenty-two and had nothing but 2K my grandma had given me as a “loan” to get my life together.
At the time I was producing plays for a living in NYC and had just lost 7K on my last show, “Tape” by Stephen Belber. It was a massive blow and the 2K that my grandma ‘loaned’ me was not nearly enough to produce another play and get back on my feet… so I had no idea what to do. I had no high school, no college, I didn’t even have waiter experience at the time. All I knew was theatre.
Maybe I was fearless, maybe I was dumb, maybe I’m a fucking genius, who knows- but here’s what I did…
I came up with a name, “The Wonderland One-Act Play Festival”.
I paid $350 for a graphic designer to come up with a flier.
I spent the last of the 2K on a full page ad on the back cover of the Dramatist Guild Magazine (the playwright union’s magazine) advertising the festival and the $15 application fee to submit your one-act play.
I promised any playwright that was accepted into the festival that I would pair their script with a director that would cast and rehearse the play and receive a full blown production in New York City.
I submitted the ad, paid the fee, my money was all gone and I sat back and waited.
I’d say I drank scotch like soda and washed down xanax by the dozen for a solid two weeks before I checked my mailbox (btw I’m sober now… five years at the time of writing) that I’d setup for the festival submissions to be sent to.
You know how scary that day was?
If I got NO submissions I was fucked… and drunk.
If I got ten submissions I was even more fucked (and drunk) cause I’d have to call off the whole festival and make up an excuse why I was refunding everyone’s money and calling it quits… But I got outa bed and walked over to my mailbox and guess what?
I found over 250 manila envelopes, each with a one-act play and check for $15.
I didn’t even have a festival venue at that point, so I immediately cashed the checks and laid a deposit down for the best Off Broadway theatre in the city I could find, Theatre Row Studios on 42nd Street, in the heart of the Theatre District.
I needed help so I brought on two partners and we frantically read through all the scripts and picked out 100 that didn’t completely suck.
I started researching my competition and realized everyone else was charging not only a submission fee, but an entrance fee as well. The New York Fringe Festival was charging on the upwards of $1,000 (by now it’s probably on the upwards of $5,000)!
So we quickly made a website, cause back then websites were so damn ugly and hard to build that we didn’t even have one, and “added” that we ALSO required an additional $185 entrance fee for acceptance, and that the additional money would be used for cast, publicity, insurance, venue, prop and set costs.
Then I emailed all 100 plays with an “Official Acceptance Letter”, which also included the new hidden $185 fee request.
44 of those 100 playwrights I emailed sent me a thorough “go fuck yourself you crook and refund my $15 check reply”.
The other 56 playwrights sent me a check for the extra $185 and were pumped as hell to get the ball rolling.
Soooo…. I paid for the theatre in full, hired a general manager and three stage managers, a carpenter to build a universal set and prop pieces and came up with a month-long schedule of when each play would be performed.
Then I put up the synopsis of each of the 56 plays on our website and listed an ad for directors to pick a play that they’d be willing to cast and rehearse on their own. Luckily New York is full of eager theatre directors looking to build a resume, so it worked like a charm and in no time I had successfully paired each play with a director, ready to cast and rehearse their chosen play.
Within three weeks we had accumulated over 300 actors, 40 or so directors and a staff of 10 or so.
By the time we opened, with the combined submission fees and entry fees, we had already broken even.
We ran five shows a day, three one-act plays per show for an entire month and every ticket was pure profit.
We held an awards show AND gave the winning play a $1,000 grand prize.
In short- I turned that 2K into over 40K within two months.
I received a fuckload of bad press (you can probably still find it) and a fuckload a great press.
I had nights of extreme stress, and I had nights of extreme sex.
It was scary, educational, amazing and horrible all at once. One thing was for sure- I did it.
So years later, when I moved to Los Angeles, about two years ago, I went ahead and tried to do it all over again… but the LAPD helicopters started chasing me around in my uHaul I had rented. It’ll make more sense if you read the story here.
And if you haven’t yet read The Drifter Chronicles; Volume One… you can purchase it here. But for free shit, stay on the blog.