In college, I made a decision not to major in theatre and instead looked for a profession that would support my acting bug. After working a series of manual labor jobs in the plywood mill and the cannery to pay my way through college, I chose journalism as my major because I loved writing, and I wanted something solid with which I could make a living.
I knew I couldn’t handle moving to Los Angeles or New York like so many of my friends. I wanted to stay in Oregon and continue to do stage work here. I found radio production by accident and it quickly became a way for me to earn a living as a freelance independent producer
Now I described in prior posts how I turned from primarily freelancing short radio pieces and started writing grant proposals for larger radio projects. After the critical success of Mei Mei, A Daughter’s Song, (it aired on NPR, BBC, CBC, ABC) I thought of a way to meld my love of theatre with my radio documentary…by turning it into a play.
The first thing I did was talk with a theatre, the Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center (IFCC) to see if they would be interested in a play based on my award-winning documentary. The executive director was favorable to the idea and wrote a letter of support for my project.
Then I applied to the Metropolitan Arts Commission (which is now the Regional Arts and Culture Council) to fund my writing of this play. Now a lot of actors and playwrights still think it odd you would ask funds for something that is only a dream. But if you write your proposal in the right way and have a proven track record, funders will entrust funds for creation of new work in any discipline.
MAC awarded $3000 for me to write my play, perhaps more than most writers got for royalties at the time. I went to the IFCC and negotiated a deal for a small royalty fee (about $1000). With that fee plus offered a lot of in-kind contributions (office expenses computer rental, time as producer), I matched the MAC grant. It was a tidy sum for writing a stage play that was an elaboration of the radio project, and it was a critical hit, earning a nomination for Best Original Play for the Drama Critics Circle award nomination in 1991. That experience gave me a track record as a playwright and led to Portland Repertory Theatre commissioning the world premiere of “Breaking Glass” in 1995 and Artists Repertory Theatre produced the world premiere of “Picasso in the Back Seat” in 1996.
Through the years, I have encouraged playwrights and actors who want to create an original work to look toward their local arts councils and apply for funds to subsidize that writing time as well as for production expenses. I produced my own plays steadily for a couple decades and thoroughly recommend applying for funding to support original plays.
(Next, how Mei Mei led to a 13-part series on NPR)