San Diego Playwrights

Getting San Diego Playwrights Produced on San Diego Stages

An Update from Steven Oberman

on February 20, 2014

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Playwright/producer Steven Oberman was last featured on this site in September, 2013, after giving birth to his new “baby,” an adaptation of G.K. Chesterton’s “The Man Who Was Thursday.” It’s been five months and we were curious about his efforts in finding a home for his baby. We caught up to Steven and asked him point-blank:

Q: How’s it going?

A: Great! I’m thrilled to say that “The Man Who Was Thursday” will be staged at The Broadway Theater in Vista this summer, August 21-24.

Broadway Theatre

Q: Fantastic! How did that come about?

A: With luck and perseverance. I contacted Randall Hickman, co-owner and producing director of the theatre, about my play in late November. He and his partner, Doug Davis, were about to go into production for six different shows for the holiday season (Yes, I said six!), so he couldn’t possibly meet until after the first of the year, but I should go ahead and send my play for him to read. So I did. And although I assumed he would be announcing the 2014 Season sometime in January, I agreed to wait until then to discuss the play with him, thinking that a special co-production opportunity or simply a rental was possible. I’ve known Randy and Doug for over 20 years from our affiliations with Moonlight Stage Productions and the City of Vista. So I had the advantage that I wasn’t a total stranger to them, but also the disadvantage that they had not seen any of my past work as a playwright. While I waited for the first week of the new year to come, I saw a couple of their productions to get a better feel for what they do and who their audiences are. I realized that Randy and Doug wear many, many hats and have many balls in the air at any given time. This meant that I shouldn’t expect to just hand over my play and then sit back and wait for a production. I also saw that they have a loyal and somewhat ancient audience, which works for me, since then maybe they’re old enough to have heard of, and even read, G.K. Chesterton.

When we met in January, I came prepared with discussing a couple of options: 1) to have my play be part of their season and I would act as production manager (a producer that doesn’t need to spend his own money); or 2) to rent out the theatre and produce it myself (hoping I could use enough of their resources to break even). What I wasn’t prepared for was: 1) Randy hadn’t read the script yet; and 2) he wanted to hear a reading of it, with actors, in one week’s time. It would then be considered for their Works-in-Progress program, which gives new plays a week of fully staged performances to be performed in the down time between season productions. He had two slots for 2014 he was trying to fill. So I gathered up some local actors I know, including our very own Tim West (another San Diego playwright), borrowed a couple actors from Broadway Theater, my daughter read stage directions, and I took a part as well. We read for Randy that next week and it went fine. But we received hardly a comment before the next playwright being considered came in with his actors for a reading of his play.

After a few days, I heard from Randy. He was very complimentary of the play but wanted to pare down the script so there would be time for Q&A with the audience in a two-hour time slot, and he needed me to figure out how the complicated demands of the play would work in his black box theatre. After another week or so, with revised script and preliminary designs in hand, we shook on it and my “baby” was placed in a home! (The other play selected is a new musical titled, “A Boy and a Girl”, by Greg Evans, creator of the Luann comic strip.)

Broadway Theatre exterior

Q: What was discouraging and/or encouraging during the process?

A: I was initially discouraged by the silence. After sending the script to a handful of my personal contacts in the theatre community, and another handful of local and out-of-town theatres, I heard nothing. The only thing to break the silence was one rejection letter from a local theatre. What encouraged me was to know I had a Plan B, which was to produce the play myself, if all else fails.

Q: Any advice for other playwrights?

A: 1) Get to know a theatre (or more than one) and its artistic team. Act, build sets, do costumes, sell tickets, volunteer, anything to get established within a theatre. The fact that Randy and Doug have known me for years, because of my work at Moonlight, was a big help in getting my foot in the door. In the past couple of years, I’ve been auditioning for, and acting in, bit roles in community theatres to gain some recognition. As you are discovering the quirks of a specific theatre, (i.e. what types of shows they produce, history of new works, etc.) you can also be promoting yourself. (“You know I’m not really an actor. My main thing is writing plays.”) It’s the personal contacts that will be the key to bringing your work to life.

2) Be flexible with your play; make it work for what is needed. My 110-minute play (with intermission) needs to be cut down to 80 minutes (with intermission) to allow time for the audience talkback after the show. And as I mentioned, I have to figure out how numerous locales will fit onto a unit set, something I hoped a director could figure out, but, oh yeah, I’ll be directing the play as well! (I know, I’m not supposed to direct my own play, but since it’s an adaptation of another person’s work, I’m telling myself that this is an exception to the rule.)

3) Take advantage of the opportunities around us: SD Fringe Festival, Scripteasers, Playwrights Project’s WordPlay Tuesdays with Diversionary, etc. It’s a great way to get in the loop, be seen, and meet people.

Now, enough of this. I’ve got some writing to do!

Congratulations Steven! Thanks for sharing your story. Keep in touch and let us know how your “baby” is developing. Break a leg!

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