I wrote Pedestrian a few years ago, had many people read it, and received positive responses. But I learned quickly that until you are established, no one is going to jump up and produce your work. This is why a Fringe Festival is so appealing. It’s a short run with minimal investment and an opportunity to see your work.
I contacted a director I had worked with before and asked if she’d like to direct my show, and she responded with “whatever it takes to get it done.” If you’ve never attended a Fringe show or produced a Fringe show, one thing is a must — a minimal set. Because there are many shows occurring at the same theater over a two-week period, there is no permanent set and no room to store props. You have an hour before showtime to load in, perform and then immediately strike your set. Pedestrian is not an ideal Fringe show except for the length (50 minutes). It’s an extremely prop-heavy play (many, many plants), which was difficult to pull off.
Though I did not get the seats filled to capacity over the Hollywood Fringe run last year, nor did I get the flavorful reviews of which I felt Pedestrian was worthy, I am happy and satisfied I explored this endeavor. I am a self-taught playwright. Having more experience as a stage actor and having performed in many original plays, I felt playwriting was something I could tackle. Going back to school did not seem appealing or affordable, so producing in a Fringe Festival seemed the ideal way to go.
One of my goals as a playwright is to pack the house, sell out night after night after night. And not just to family and friends, but to people who heard about this great show and just had to check it out. Or, individuals who would not normally attend live theater but want to see my show — that would also be a great reward. The Fringe is satisfying, but short-lived. The show had six performances over a two-week period. In this town it takes time to gather momentum, so now I’m independently producing Pedestrian for a five-week run in Hollywood.
I received a lot of feedback from my run during the Fringe and I took those notes, thought about them a while, and started expanding the play and exploring the characters more deeply. When 2012 arrived, my goal for the month of January was to lock down a space to run Pedestrian. I did that. Next step, director in February. Done. March, hold auditions. Mission complete. April brought rehearsals and many questions and inquiries from the director and actors resulting in re-writes, creating a much better play.
Producing my plays has helped guide stronger story structures and made me a much better writer. You may think it’s an expensive way to go about improving your skills as a writer, as I have lost money on every production (four to date) of my plays. But I have no regrets. Only lessons learned.
As I venture into my first “full” run, I’m anxious about how I’ll fill those seats for five weekends. Pedestrian is a comedy, and the more people you have in the audience, the more likely they will feel at ease laughing. Since I have an acting background, I do cast myself in my shows. A bit egocentric, perhaps. I certainly do not feel I am the only, nor the best person to fill a role in my plays. When you self-produce it’s often about eliminating conflicts. As the writer, producer and actor of a production, my commitment level is extremely high. I do look forward to the day when other theater companies are producing my plays, and I can see and hear how other actors interpret my work.
Pedestrian,Â Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Boulevard (at El Centro), Hollywood. Fri-Sat 8 pm, Sun 7 pm. Â Additional performance on Thursday, May 24 at 8 pm.Â Ends May 27. 509-389-8405. www.brownpapertickets.com/event/237242.
***All Pedestrian production photos by Neil Kanal
Rita O’Farrell is an actress and playwright whose other plays, Icebox Genius and Apologetic Killer, have been produced at Fringe festivals around the country.