From Student to Producer - Michael Joseph Hanley

Michael Joseph Hanley
Michael Joseph Hanley

by Michael Jospeh Hanley

Every student of the arts knows the feeling of dread that grows and grows as graduation inches closer and closer: What will I do with my Drama degree? How am I going to financially support myself? What will my next artistic project be?

As someone who will be walking in graduation ceremonies in June, all of those questions are of interest. That being said, I am the kind of person who needs to answer the last question before I can get to the other ones. Artistic creation and expression feeds and fuels my soul. I need it as much as I need food, water, and sleep.

There’s a problem, though: in order to work on a project, you need a project to work on. Actors get work by auditioning for shows, but unless you’re applying for a specific internship or assistantship program, directors don’t necessarily have a structured, systematic way of getting work. In my experience, a lot of it comes down to whether or not you are in the right place at the right time with the right people. That’s all fine and good, but when you’re like me and crave artistic work to the point where it’s a necessity, I need to know that there is another project on the horizon.

This leaves me with two options: I can sit in my room refreshing my email inbox and waiting for my phone to ring, or I can self-produce. I tend to go with the latter.

My undergraduate education at UW has not only provided me the skills and inspiration to think entrepreneurially about my creative work, it has been structured in a way that rewards people like me who wish to make their own opportunities

My undergraduate education at UW has not only provided me the skills and inspiration to think entrepreneurially about my creative work, it has been structured in a way that rewards people like me who wish to make their own opportunities. We have incredible access to resources like rehearsal rooms, performance space, and faculty mentorship, and coordinating all of those things to come together requires a motivated go-getter. This is an attitude the School of Drama has fostered in me, and it’s an attitude that has prepared me to be a self-sufficient producer out in the “real world."

Self-producing makes sense to me for a variety of reasons. It means that I get to do the projects that I’m most passionate about, rather than being assigned a show by a third party. This was partially what inspired me to form my own theatre company, Bold Print Theatre Company. I and several classmates were worn out from being assigned plays in our classes and being pressured to do classics from the American canon. We recognize the value of both of those things, but we wanted to branch out and do more edgy contemporary work that spoke to our age group and interests.

Not only is the show timely and one that I am passionate about, but it allows me to showcase my work and get feedback from the larger theatre community at a really pivotal moment for me.

Tackling this work has allowed me to stay current and topical. Networking opportunities are much easier to seize when you actually have work that others can see. I’m currently producing and directing a Will Eno play called Thom Pain (based on nothing). This show came together because I saw a large gap in my calendar, a script that I’d been obsessing over for a while, a willing actor who also wanted a project to work on, and an opportunity to build a name for myself as graduation approaches. Not only is the show timely and one that I am passionate about, but it allows me to showcase my work and get feedback from the larger theatre community at a really pivotal moment for me.

While self-producing has its benefits, it certainly doesn’t come without risks and challenges. In addition to running the artistic operations, you also have to run the business and admin operations alongside it. That means dealing with rental agreements, contract management, fundraising/development, marketing, front-of-house operations, and more. All of these are essential to making sure a show happens successfully, and they all take a surprising amount of time and attention. If you haven’t done your research and are not prepared, it’s easy to be caught off guard, lose track of time, and mess something up. And, when something gets messed up in the land of self-producing, it often comes at a financial cost. It can be a lot of pressure, but I imagine it’s on par with some of the other “real world” pressures that I'll be facing in post-college life.

Speaking of post-college life: as I type this, I am nearly six weeks away from receiving my degree on the stage of the Jones Playhouse. While it’s mildly terrifying to be leaving behind the safe structures of school, I know that through self-producing, I’ll always have a show to look forward to.


Michael Joseph Hanley is a senior undergraduate majoring in Drama at the University of Washington. His upcoming projects include:

Thom Pain (based on nothing), directed by Michael Joseph Hanley; May 8th & 15th, 8pm. Info and tickets: http://thompainbon.bpt.me.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch, starring Michael Joseph Hanley; May 22-24, 7:30pm.  Info and tickets at http://hedwigangryinch.bpt.me.

 

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