Song of the Broad-Axe Publications

Notes on Producing Plays -- Russell Block

Notes on Producing Plays -- Russell Block

In any play, especially the unproven play, the odds are stacked against success, to such an extent that their realization gives cause to a celebratory feeling. They are great acts of optimism, plays. If I thought a higher statement could be found painting, I would likely paint. The same goes for composition or poetry, and there are those out in the world living and breathing today who have, happily, discovered those to be the highest order. I note here the still life before me, to put it as well before you. On the far side of my pen to me, a laptop is open to a background with an old picture of a drum set and guitars in a California garage some housemates, albeit technically neighbors, were living in at the time. Visions of Johanna plays. It feels to be a turning away from. Turning away from all the intangible detriment of the means which are seemingly required to stage a play does one good. Managing to turn one’s back to the world, all becomes clearer. Once organized, there are no odds against, nor in favor of, the meaningful, virile portrayal of the work, or as much as the work will allow. All that depends upon the actors now. 

Artists of all stripes can often be found at the candlelight vigil or easter mass of their own work. Bodies of work are the clearest area where the power of the romantic fantasy comes to just that, embodiment. Then you sit at a coffeeshop, for a moment only sitting, or overlook nightlife of an intoxicated pause, and you see around what people have made of themselves. Artists of immense scope savagely strike out against the egregious paradigms of the actual world. If rebuffed, and they are to remain an artist of the desired scope, they search for the sojourn where the ideal is effective. In a world so far out of comportment it would be inept to portray it only as a turning on its head, have faith in how wanting the world is of fantasy.

I was watching a television program, late one evening. A severe state of sleeplessness had brought an hour so far outside the spectrum of normal demographical considerations and the corporate timetable; I swear I had done it. I had reached a state of viewership when the broadcasts become biblical. How extraordinary, to see content of the outer-limit, and it began. The show started on a sound stage when the title “The Primate and the Carpenter” faded from an overlay. 

No one spoke, not the workman, not the hirsute figure nervous under deeply recessed bone structure, and I did not speak .Around them, scattered, were pieces, astounding pieces. The carpenter took up a blueprint, pored over its instruction, over and over when a point was not perfectly when. Meanwhile, the primate had made a discovery and was starting to dampen the thick quality of his hair with sweat. All the pieces fit together, and the union of any two or more pieces fit to another anywhere. So much had been done already, although doubt lingered in the primate, and doubt fueled the increasing interest in the pieces. When the carpenter did look up to see, he found the eyes of the primate so apologetic, yet hopeful. And they were unwilling to be questioned. The carpenter looked off where the producers would stand. They were no held in the need to put together the blueprint’s picnic table.

The blueprint allowed for some error, but it seemed the long and shapeless fittings of the primate’s hands, moistened with sweat, had eaten up too much of the allowance. It was an impossible situation.

Anxiety felt like this, learning in the wrong environment or under the wrong condition. It takes a new and deeply personal world to question accretion. We are all subject to accretion. 

Space must be made, everywhere and in all directions. Look over most shoulders at a coffeeshop, and see what they see — nothing. There is so little meaningful about the order in which anyone opens programs or sizes their windows. We certainly stand in our own way, but when one attempts to raise a scene, to put together an image of the new world with this act of optimism, one discovers middle-management. A revolting construction, one must spit upon it and seek to kill it. Artists always and never professionals. At my scale, one enters into a democratic contract with the actors. They get paid up-front, an amount determined by how much money could be made if tickets can be sold at a reasonable price, and assuming those ticks sell quite well. While this assumption is a poor decision from my financial perspective, this is a simple process. Is is the middle-management that bothers it. 

One enters into the same relationship with the theatre companies and theatre owners as this youngest generation, my own, faces with the wider world and the previous generation. We are bled dry. Many shows in theatre want $20 a ticket, and this is a hopeless tax on people’s interest. Because, when one attends these shows, after paying the money requested, you discover it is not a price come to based on supply and demand. Perhaps we do not come to these shows. Perhaps that’s fine, but I want you to know where the blame rests. These shows need to pass on the burdens most theatre companies put on the producing entity. Meanwhile, these theatre companies and owners adopt none none of the risk. They do not produce, encourage or promote your neighbor’s work, rather making them pay. And they cannot benefit from this generation’s work nor mine. I must say to them, when I see riders in their contracts that unduly burden what is already a poor financial decision for me, “I can’t sign this because I can’t pass it along. The actors will get less, and the tickets will need to cost more. I have an audience in mind.” As a generation, we have already signed too much away. They make me sign it because they know selling tickets is a much higher demand and much harder.  It would be a simple message to make this a success, and I will go on demanding better. We need our own space. We need our own space. We need property.

We have none. The astounding comes from nowhere however. But nowhere too has been incurred on. I am the American writer, and mine would be the American theatre company should it turn out successful. As such, it must also be for you. I offer up another, a cheap imitation in town, one now run by a bubble artist, a MFA, although I won't name names. They are almost all lazy and artless, MFAs, and they paid too much for the promise of something they will never have. Perhaps there is a script in Chicago. I’m sure there are. Perhaps this script is coming from nowhere, maybe by someone who just recently moved here. This is a script I want to see, and a person I want to know. I will assume that if it comes in my door it deserves due consideration. The cheap company won’t look at it. They take them from writers with agents, and refuse the work from nowhere, always, and without exception. See the agents of this demonstration. They live off the polished gems of the MFA bubble. Away with lawyers and agents, I say. All colleges debts are a bubble, a hinderance on the economy, our futures, but most importantly our present. And when this bubble bursts, that itself will make it harder to pay off debt, and so the people responsible for creating the debt will be harder to pay back. They will take longer to pay back, and therefore they will get more of people’s hard earned money. It's the same story.

See the bankrupt, without means. See the anger in this country. See the middlemen. See those no shop could supply with a steady job. Let no one say the gig economy does for a man like a shop does, and a door. Let no one mistake that the owner and employer should know those employed, and that they should be held accountable if they own and employ. This is the missing work. The work has been sent abroad for the maximum degree of exploitation. See the money made by owners abroad, as the money sends their descendants back to edge Americans out of American universities and increase the surplus cost of American universities. See the MFA who willingly and knowingly enters this so they can inherit a post to continue turning the screw. This, and everyone a part of it is un-American. Let us not be complicit in this, you theatre owners and theatre companies too. You speak for no one if you do. I speak for myself. "Love thy neighbor."

Look around you. Look to your fellow who may have stayed in on Friday to perfect a small piece of a greater whole. See the simple act, and there are such ambitions the world requires behind these simple acts. Let nothing stand in the way of that single night, nor of the later actions taken, and not of those required by ambition. The partners I have found in this I am all the more thankful for, because they have been the most agreeable, humane, and serviceable out of the others to the end of this artistic ambition. To the others, well: the future is an act of creative destruction.

I conclude with a projection, through these means, these means that are thought through too little, that are full of the unwarranted side effect and get run, owned, and operated by robber barons. These means here that are designed to be divisive masquerade as democratizing, and they may be an unfortunate necessity. They are here to stay all the same. They should likewise be accountable. These means require much greater thought, especially of us. It is a piece which I advise one reads in its entirety. I advise it should get read again, and again, until one sees the world in it.


Muscle and pluck forever!

What invigorates life invigorates death,

And the dead advance as much as the living advance,

And the future is no more uncertain than the present,

For the roughness of the earth and of man encloses as much as the delicatesse of the earth and of man,

And nothing endures but personal qualities.

What do you think endures?

Do you think a great city endures?

Or a teeming manufacturing state? or a prepared constitution? or the best built steamships?

Or hotels of granite and iron? or any chef-d'oeuvres of engineering, forts, armaments?

Away! these are not to be cherish'd for themselves,

They fill their hour, the dancers dance, the musicians play for them,

The show passes, all does well enough of course,

All does very well till one flash of defiance.

A great city is that which has the greatest men and women,

If it be a few ragged huts it is still the greatest city in the whole world.




The place where a great city stands is not the place of stretch'd wharves, docks, manufactures, deposits of produce merely,

Nor the place of ceaseless salutes of new-comers or the anchor-lifters of the departing,

Nor the place of the tallest and costliest buildings or shops selling goods from the rest of the earth,

Nor the place of the best libraries and schools, nor the place where money is plentiest,

Nor the place of the most numerous population.

Where the city stands with the brawniest breed of orators and bards,

Where the city stands that is belov'd by these, and loves them in return and understands them,

Where no monuments exist to heroes but in the common words and deeds,

Where thrift is in its place, and prudence is in its place,

Where the men and women think lightly of the laws,

Where the slave ceases, and the master of slaves ceases,

Where the populace rise at once against the never-ending audacity of elected persons,

Where fierce men and women pour forth as the sea to the whistle of death pours its sweeping and unript waves,

Where outside authority enters always after the precedence of inside authority,

Where the citizen is always the head and ideal, and President, Mayor, Governor and what not, are agents for pay,

Where children are taught to be laws to themselves, and to depend on themselves,

Where equanimity is illustrated in affairs,

Where speculations on the soul are encouraged,

Where women walk in public processions in the streets the same as the men,

Where they enter the public assembly and take places the same as the men;

Where the city of the faithfulest friends stands,

Where the city of the cleanliness of the sexes stands,

Where the city of the healthiest fathers stands,

Where the city of the best-bodied mothers stands,

There the great city stands.


The Future Fits a Loose Frame, an essay -- Russell Block

Bach: Sinfonia in D major as played by Russell Block