Carlyle Brown

What I learned producing my own work

I took to self-producing because I was seeking the artistic independence to support a body of work that had continuity over time. To have control over creative decisions and the freedom to choose my collaborators, to be able to develop an aesthetic that supports that work and because I love making plays as much as I love writing them.

But with freedom and independence comes responsibility which includes fiscal responsibility which comes with no small amount of fear. The problem is you can’t know what you don’t know. It’s only by approaching the unknown that you will find out. And the more you learn the more you discover what you don’t know and you have to except the fact that this will always be your status quo.

With self-production one’s artistic identity changes and broadens. You are a writer, producer, sometimes an actor or director, stage hand, janitor, press agent, whatever you have to be, whatever you have to do to transform your script into a theatrical event. One also has to be a good collaborator and leader. Theater is made with people and their contribution to your theatrical enterprise needs to be satisfying and worthwhile for their own sake, especially since you probably won’t be able to pay your collaborators for their talents as well as you would like to. It is this particular aspect of self-producing that has raised the bar and changed playwriting for me. There has to be good roles for actors, a vision in which designers can participate and challenges for a good director to sink her teeth into. Now I see the text as a blue print for a theatrical event and a platform for collaborative co-creation. Now I write to serve my collaborators as much as myself.

I came into the world of self-producing out of necessity. I had something to say and no one else would do it. It was a compulsion and I needed to free myself of its madness. I needed to see if my vision could be realized. I needed to know if the damn thing worked. Fortunately I had the good fortune to have worked in the American theater with a number of productions to my credit and so I had a fair idea of producing as a business. Because that is what it is, a business. I had little money to speak of and that forced me to be creative in solving problems both artistic and financial. I discovered that if one is in earnest and has a vision people will help you. But you have to ask. In self-producing there is no institution to represent you, you have to represent yourself. If it all works out people will come to help you again, and in my case stick around for the long haul.

Most significantly I have found that the act of writing the play is no longer the solitary art it was before. The producer in me is looking over my shoulder reminding me that theater is an art form of limitations and in the case of this play the limitations are specific to what the two of us can realize and the challenge is to shape our vision within those limitations. And whenever I’m stuck or feeling low he sometimes whispers, sometimes not, “Just do it!”

About the author
Carlyle Brown
Carlyle Brown is a writer/performer and artistic director of Carlyle Brown & Company based in Minneapolis. He is a Core Writer at the Playwrights’ Center and serves on the Center’s Board of Directors as well as the Board of Directors of the Jerome and Camargo Foundations.