TERROR-RAMA DIARIES #1: Self-produce? I promise you, I wasn’t trying to.

Welcome to the first TERROR-RAMA DIARY.

cerrano

For this inaugural post, let’s answer the obvious question:

Why self-produce?  

In late 2012, spurned by a quarter-life crisis, I began a flurry of pitching shows to anyone who would listen. One of these people was a fella whom we will call “Jobu”

(Fans of the Film Major League will appreciate this name later). Jobu was a perfectly nice guy who I had known in passing for years. Most important, he was what I like to call a “do-er” and these were the people I needed to know right now. Having spent a major part of my 20’s, self-producing all

sorts of shows, I was over the romanticism associated with DIY. I knew the workload would not allow m

e to focus on writing. I needed the talents of people who actually knew and loved what they were doing. Here’s the trick; I hadn’t actually seen anything that Jobu had produced. (For a guy who LOVES theater, I don’t get to see a ton of it.) All I knew was that he was producing with more than a modicum of success, and people had great things to say about him. That was enough for me, because these days, I wasn’t producing a friggin thing. Right?

The day before we met up I didn’t have anything specific to pitch. So I took a look at their past shows. While the previous lines are a testament to my unwavering dedication to preparedness, this next part serves as first proof of my ability to overlook the obvious: Previous productions, mission statements, project photos, all made me think, “This isn’t really what I do at all”. But I would be undeterred! Based on everything I looked at, I figured my best angle was to have a play with death in it. Can’t beat em? Join ‘em! Can’t join ‘em? Kill ‘em!  Yes?

I’m not going to go into why death is an easy topic for me or why I wrote Camp Evil, because that story is for another day. Suffice it to say; soon after conceptualizingCamp Evil, Terror-Rama’s seed was planted. That night, I couldn’t sleep. I kept thinking about a horror-play double feature, a Grindhouse for theatre. Camp Evil would be the funny horror-play and the second play could be completely fucking depraved.

  The Pitch.

Our first meeting was in some shitty bar in the Mission District. For those of you not familiar with this part of San Francisco, just imagine the look on someone’s face when they realize you’ve farted. Now imagine that face as a district of a city. So here we are in some over-dark bar drinking flat Tecate and I understand most of what he’s saying. So at some point, I pitch TR (I’m going to start calling it TR now, Ok?), and he actually digs it. He asks for a more formal proposal and I go home feeling pretty good about myself.

Between then and our next meeting I started sketching out ideas for TR andCamp Evil. I needed to figure out what could tie these two polar opposite plays together. Without some grandiose unifying concept, it was just two one-act horror-plays. Which is cool, but not that cool. One of the best things about seeing a horror movie in a theater is the group experience. When I think of seeing horror movies in a movie theater I think of screaming alongside perfect strangers, feeling moments of relief and vocalizing it, reacting together. I also think of people throwing popcorn, which made me think of the scene in the classic film Elvira Mistress of the Dark where she hosts a horror movie.

Fuckin’ A!  A Horror Host!

I thought of Elivira, The Crypt Keeper, Rod Serling, and of course Vampira. (Look up ‘Vampira show opening’ on YouTube, it’s brilliant.) These hosts made watching a low-budget horror movie on TV a shared experience. The host took you with them. It added a whole new dimension, you were in it together. That would be TERROR-RAMA.

For our second meeting, I laid it all out. Once again I was really surprised, he was receptive and prepared (He had notes on the pages I had sent him, notes!). When we talked about who would write the other play, we didn’t really have any amazing ideas, there were some good ones, but not amazing. We decided to keep brainstorming and meet again. This was going well.

A week or so later, I was in Southern California (Simi Valley, if you must know) seeing my dear old friend and playwight Nick Pappas. Nick and I met in college, and worked at the San Francisco Playhouse together. Which might be a really cool thing to say if we didn’t work there as Telemarketers. (To be fair, I also fixed the toilets there.) So I’m hanging out with him, talking about projects and I mentioned needing a second playwright.

He stops, looks up, and says; “Duh, me

“Oh yeah, huh?” (We’ve mentioned I have issues with the obvious at this point right? Good.)

I am a terrible friend. OK, now we had to do this show.

It was April, maybe March and we have our third meeting, there’s no effing around now. Jobu and I meet for lunch and all I want is for this guy to say “Yes Anthony, let’s produce your crazy ass show”. I lay out the whole idea; we talk about the pages he’s read. And yes, every now and then I thought maybe he wasn’t totally digging this idea. But no matter, we were gonna do this friggin thing, and we were gonna do it this October. (At the time this seemed totally doable, more on this later.)

As we both get up to leave I say “So…what do think?”

“Ah, you mean the ‘Green Light’ as it were”

“Sure”

“Flashing Yellow…”

Flashing yellow…proceed with caution, (Right?) I’ll take it.

There was never actually a fourth meeting. It was cancelled last minute and contact was brief after that. At this point, we were getting close to June and if we were gonna do it in October, we needed to act now. Here’s something fun to know about me; when I have an idea, I want to do it right now. So writing and producing two brand new plays in roughly 9 months seemed totally doable. Now the only one that agreed with me was my girlfriend, Natalie. She and I had produced a show together before under crazier circumstances, and despite her better judgment, she was up for another challenge. She finally said, “You probably just need to do it yourself, I’ll help you.”

“Ugh, probably”

  Then, more curveballs-

The next day, I got an email from a prospective director saying the timetable wouldn’t work. Then we found out we couldn’t get the venue we wanted. All of a sudden it felt like too many compromises were being made in order to do it now.

What was I gonna do? There was no way Natalie and I could pull this off so soon. It was pretty clear Jobu wasn’t on board. So I reached out to a friend of mine, explained the situation and asked what he would do.

Anthony, you can’t wait for someone to do your idea.”

And there was the moment. The moment where I accepted that no one was going to do this for me. Now let’s be clear, self producing is hard. It requires money, resources and your eternal soul, but mostly money. I also thought the idea of just being the playwright was kinda neat. But dammit, this was the kind of theatre I wanted to see. In my case, that means no one else is going to do it, but that’s also for another post. For the first time in years, I had that fire, that excitement to put on a show. This moment can be summed up in that pivotal scene of the Charlie Sheen masterpiece Major League when Serrano walks up to the plate and says in frustration;

Jobu, I go to you, I stick up for you and you no help me now? I say fuck you Jobu, I do it myself.”

See what I did there?

Natalie and I decide to instead book a reading for October and use it as a fundraiser, but also a last ditch attempt to get any interested party on board. To his credit, Jobu attended the reading, and at the end, shook my hand and said “thank you for doing this”. (All while making eye contact, it was impressive.)

  That was basically that.

The guy had heard me out, gone through three meetings and a reading and he just wasn’t feeling it. It happens. In the end, Jobu had served the only purpose he really could serve, getting me to step up to the plate. I was gonna have to swing at the damn ball myself.

So Natalie and I are in the Theatre business now. We raised enough money to book a venue and there will be an inevitable indie go-go campaign. But the point is, it’s happening. We now have a great director in Colin Johnson, and Production Stage Manager in Alandra Hileman. Camp Evil will be silly and Creep will mess you up for life.

We cannot wait to put on this show for you.

Stay tuned for more TERROR-RAMA diaries my dearies,

Anthony

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