For the second installment of Tech for Theater Makers we chatted with Christopher Ashworth founder of Tixato, an online ticketing system built with theater makers in mind. (He also gave us a sneak peek at new features and enhancements coming soon. Screen shots below!)
What is Tixato?
Tixato is a fast, friendly way to run your box office and sell tickets.
For patrons, Tixato is the easiest and most pleasant way to buy a ticket to see a show. There are no surprise fees, and the checkout process is quick and painless. Tixato doesn't make people sign up for an account just to buy a ticket. It doesn't make them click through ten pages of ugly and confusing forms. It's just simple and fast.
For theaters, Tixato is the best way to manage your box office. It pulls everything into a single, elegant tool which doesn't take weeks of training to use. We've included online ticket sales, season subscriptions and memberships, coupon codes, a sophisticated box office interface, ticket collection, patron CRM, and reporting tools. We've left out all the nasty stuff like long-term contracts, high fees, or a difficult signup process. You can literally sign up and start selling tickets in a few minutes, and there is no cost to use it until or unless you are processing credit cards.
How did you come up with the idea for Tixato?
We got the idea simply from going to shows and talking to our friends. There are several dozen products out there for selling tickets online, and they're almost all terrible. I'd sit there wanting to buy a single ticket to my friend's show, and it would take me 15 minutes to do it. It's just a horrible experience to force people to go through every time they want to see your show.
When I started talking to my friends who manage theaters, they told me that the management side of these products is even worse than the patron side. Getting basic information about your patrons, running basic reports, is often difficult or impossible. Or the ticket sales database is not integrated with the patron database, which is just insane. Beyond the software, theaters are often forced to sign up for multi-year contracts, and often receive very poor support.
We know we can do better. This stuff should not be something you dread using. Frankly, I think it should be fun. People have learned to fear it because the tools are so bad. We're changing that.
Any success stories from theater makers using Tixato?
Tixato is a young product, but we've been really encouraged by the reports we've heard back so far. Last week one of our venues told us, "We had a guest last night say that the online purchase interface was the easiest way I have bought tickets to ANY theater show all year."
That made us feel great, and that we're on the right track.
Any plans for enhancements or new features?
Many plans! As I said, Tixato is still a young product. Every day we're pushing it forward, taking feedback from our venues about what needs to be improved, and working very hard to improve it.
We'll often release several enhancements in a week, because we deploy small updates quickly and regularly.
In the long term, we've had many requests to support seating charts. Right now we only support general admission style venues, but many venues have said they're ready to use it as soon as we add assigned seating. So that's definitely on the radar.
And for fun, have you ever been in or involved with a production?
Not yet, but most of the theaters in Baltimore are either using it now or moving to use it soon, so there's a chance.
It took me about five years to get involved with a production using QLab, so I'm in no rush.
SNEAK PEEK below! (These enhancements will be coming to Tixato soon.)
When I was in my formative college years, Margaret Edson won the Pulitzer Prize for Wit. There were a lot of unusual things about this. One, she wasn’t a professional playwright. She was a schoolteacher who went back to teaching school after winning the award. I remember watching a television interview with her where she said she had one story to tell, she told it, and then she wanted to do something else. Wow.
What was most striking and unusual to me was how long it took her to get the play produced. Wikipedia doesn’t back me up on this, but I remember her saying that the play was ten years in development. Just think about that: Ten years from conception to production. How could that possibly happen?
Another tidbit: I recently learned that one of my friends from graduate school, Lloyd Suh, who just happens to be a terrific playwright, had a show called A Great Wall Story open at The Denver Center for The Performing Arts. The play is a taut comedy about a trio of reporters who invent a newspaper story in 1896, which eventually leads to the actual Boxer Rebellion. It’s a great, funny show and I’m glad it’s getting a production. Thing is, I remember seeing the first scene of this play when we were in grad school together in 2001. Eleven years for it to make it to the stage.
And, of course, my own experience. I had the joy and relief to finally see my play, White Buffalo, appear on the stage of The Purple Rose Theatre Company this month. I began writing that play in the summer of 2002 – again, a ten year saga.
I’m just glad my references to eBay still held up after ten years. An entire passage glorifying *NSYNC had to go, though. (Just kidding!)
A lot of artists have stories like this. How their masterwork sat and was ignored and rejected for years and years and then, finally, impossibly, broke through. It's almost a cliché at this point, that in order for something to be awesome, it has to be rejected countless times. Even Herman Melville’s Moby Dick sold less than 3,000 copies during his lifetime. (Probably because people thought it was terrible and no one was forcing them to read it.)
It doesn’t always work that way. On occasion you write something and it immediately becomes a smash hit and then stays that way forever. Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven is a good example: within a year of its publication it was anthologized and soon it was required reading for every child, and has stayed on the list ever since. Or suppose you write a fanfiction S&M story based on Twilight and change the main characters' names in order to avoid being sued.
But usually, getting something done is a long, laborious, nearly impossible struggle. There are so many obstacles to getting a major theater to do a production of your play it’s staggering. You have to fight for it, again and again and again. You have to convince people up and down the chain of command – if anyone says no, it’s over. My play went to an intern first, who read it, and passed it on to the literary manager, who passed it on to the artistic director’s wife, who passed it on the artistic director himself. After the artistic director liked it, he had to send it on the Executive Director. And then we did readings for the public to make sure they liked it. And on and on and on… And mind you, this was after the play had been read and rejected by countless other theaters all over the country. For years. (And when I say “theaters” I mean interns or literary managers or artistic director’s husbands, or artistic directors, because they all have the power to quash your show.)
And after all that, after ten years of working on the play, after convincing everyone in the theater to love the play too, after getting the actors and designers together, and rehearsing the play for weeks, and then finally, finally putting in front of an audience, a single bad review can destroy it all.
Is it any wonder so many playwrights became alcoholics?
My point, though, is that it is possible after years of struggle to succeed at this.
One last story to illustrate this point: When I was a teenager, my friend drove a pretty crappy Volkswagon Scirocco. When you’re a teenage male, you have a tendency to try to race any other car that comes close to you – it’s not like we were drag racers – I’m talking about simply starting at a red light and gunning the engine to see who could go the fastest. Now, the Scirocco was never the quickest car out of the gate, but my friend had a philosophy: It’s not who starts the fastest, it’s who’s willing to go the farthest. He’d always be behind, but he never gave up, and when the other car hit 70 or 80 and decided that it was logical to slow down so as not be pulled over or destroy their vehicle, my friend would keep going.
And that’s how you win. You keep going farther than the other guy.
And hope there aren’t any cops watching.
Visit Don's website: http://www.donzolidis.com/
Most beginning writers get told to write whatever they like, in whatever way they like. It’s a very popular idea, to just follow your muse wherever it may go. Creativity über alles, or something like that.
Well. Much as I hate to rain on any given parade, advice of that sort strikes me as wrong-headed and useless. If you’re writing for the stage, you need to understand the considerations of directors and producers. They, plus audiences, make up the market for your work. Sure, you could thumb your nose and choose to write in a total vacuum––ah, yes, the moral high ground, that purity of unsullied artistic vision––but this is a surefire method for keeping your work unproduced.
Heresy, I know. But for the sake of argument, join me, for a moment, in accepting the metaphor of the world at large as an endlessly shifting marketplace of ideas in which your writing must compete. How, then, to proceed? May I suggest hurling yourself into that marketplace river and learning to swim? Sure, your “total artistic freedom” will become suddenly constrained, limited. But limitations (and scarcity, that excellent environmental catchphrase) are the very soul of invention. Definite parameters––in art, in science, even in gardening––give shape to great work.
How do I apply this dangerous philosophy? All sensible considerations aside, I generally allow myself to write five to ten pages of just about anything that pops into my head. No questions asked; no constraints; no internal niggling about cast size or grandiose set requirements.
This usually leaves me with several possible projects. When one of those won’t let me rest––when the interplay of voices I’ve begun just won’t shut up, including when I’m mowing or helping with homework––that’s the project that earns my trust. That’s the one that I know will hold my attention for as long as it takes.
And that’s when it’s time to ask some hard-nosed stumpers.
Now, picture me in my lonely writer’s garret (actually a very sociable basement, surrounded by my gleaming beer can collection, two desks, and an overstuffed bookshelf). I am sitting down to write the opening of One Over Par. Here are a few of the questions I need to answer––and note that not one of them has to do with the equally important dramatic questions of “What changes?” or “What conflict is at work from the moment my characters appear?” or “Is Stavros’s goal sufficiently ridiculous?”
1) Who am I writing for? An equity theater? A middle school? A touring company whose set and equipment must fit comfortably into the back of a mini-van?
2) When I finally get the script done (in, say, a year), to whom can I send it? My sister? My agent? A high school drama teacher? The literary manager at Steppenwolf?
3) Who is available to help me develop this particular script? My friends? Actual professional actors? A dramaturg I once met over dinner at a conference in…wait, was it Dallas, or Portland?
4) What is the fewest number of actors required to tell this particular story?
The answers I arrive at for the first question, above, will determine a lot about permissible content, and about the set requirements I can reasonably demand. Dare to consider, from the outset, the price tag of the show you’re creating. How deep will your producer’s pockets have to be?
The second question matters more to me with every passing year. My network of contacts constantly shifts as people ebb and flow around me, intersecting here, drifting out of view there. Ten years ago, I cultivated a great relationship with a lit manager at a major theater in New Jersey. He really liked my work. But then he got out of the theater business altogether. At least in the state of New Jersey, I was back to square one.
Frankly, knowing where I’ll send a project helps me no end in the writing. It puts a whip at my back and keeps me dreaming hard enough about the future to dream the dream of the play itself. No small thing, that.
I generally know the answer to my third question: Who will help me develop the script? Unlike the Little Red Hen, I am fortunate in having this ground well prepared in advance. I have access to a department full of skilled undergraduate theater students at the University of Evansville, and I have the department chair’s ongoing blessing to borrow said students for tablework. So I know I can get a first reading, and that I’ll get considered feedback from it. That, too, gives each project a little extra push––a sense that forward momentum is possible. But as to what happens after that? “It’s a mystery.”
The solution to question number four varies from project to project, but so far, the answer has never dropped below three. I enjoy the dramatic tensions that can be created by triangles, by triads of characters in conflict. Two-handers and one-handers leave less room to roam. Call it a fiscal failure on my part, but I like a more crowded stage.
You can say all these are crass commercial considerations if you like, but to me, they’re part of a vital winnowing process, a series of hoops through which each of my starry-eyed, outrageous ideas must pass before I really get down to the brass tacks of writing and the joyous but demanding task of endless revision. Only once these questions are answered (or at least dutifully pondered), can I at last get down to actual artistry––to the play in playwriting.
‘Til next time. Dream hard. Write harder.
Visit Mark's website: http://www.markrigney.net
In 2003, an ambitious group of 13 young playwrights began a grand experiment. Weary of readings and developmental workshops that doomed new plays to a short and unfulfilling life below the radar of the theater world at large, they banded together to form a collective that actually makes plays happen. And so 13P was born. Their motto says it all: "We don't develop plays. We do them."
13P consists of playwrights Sheila Callaghan, Erin Courtney, Madeleine George, Rob Handel, Ann Marie Healy, Julia Jarcho, Young Jean Lee, Winter Miller, Sarah Ruhl, Kate E. Ryan, Lucy Thurber, Anne Washburn, and Gary Winter. When each playwright's production slot comes up, she or he acts as the company's Artistic Director throughout the production process until 13P has a fully realized production on its hands. Since its inception, 13P has won much critical acclaim as well as an OBIE in 2005 for their bold and inventive new model of play production.
Nine years and 11 plays later, 13P is ready to dissolve. The playwrights knew from the beginning that their lofty endeavor was a finite project. The collective recently announced its upcoming ImPlosion Season, where it will produce its final 2 shows and then disband. This February, 13P will launch Erin Courtney's A Map of Virtue at the 4th Street Theatre, directed by Ken Rus Schmoll. The 13th and final show will be a premiere by Sarah Ruhl, to be presented in summer 2012. The ImPlosion Season will also feature A People's History of 13P, a video archive available at 13P.org and the ImPlosion Party—one final bash for the group to go out with a bang.
With the imminent "ImPlosion" of 13P, we at Playscripts thought we'd look back at the infancy of this cutting-edge organization. Playscripts has the honor of publishing the first two plays ever produced by 13P. Check out the inaugural 13P production: The Internationalist by Anne Washburn (P#1). The company kicked off its experiment with this provocative tale of an American man on a business trip abroad who is thrust into a world that feels like living in a foreign film without subtitles. Premiering in New York City in April 2004, The Internationalist continues to enjoy success today, as with its current run at the convergence-continuum theater in Ohio. The playwright has also recently updated the play — contact Playscripts for more details on the updated version.
We also had the chance to catch up with Anne Washburn to discuss the evolution of 13P over the years:
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What most inspired you to help form a group like 13P?
AW: There are now more opportunities for playwrights to have a production of their work in a smaller space, or with a smaller company. And I think there's a little more discussion now about new and alternative aesthetics and voices, and how these can be understood and supported. At the time it felt as though theaters didn't quite know what to do with a lot of the new work which was going around; they'd be attracted to a play, pick it up and worry it through their fingers for a while, finally drop it; another theater would pick it up, finger it all over—finally the piece was shopworn and no one wanted it. There were also a few examples of interesting plays being picked up by big theaters, given the wrong kind of director, dramaturged in an unfortunate way, and failing in a bad public manner. People would talk these stories over in bars and become excitable.
As P#1, how did it feel to have your play act as the inaugural production for the company?
AW: It was great fun. Everyone involved in the production—the director, actors, designers, techs, interns—felt like they were involved in a larger project which they personally wanted to support, so the mood of the whole thing was lovely.
How has 13P helped you grow as a playwright?
AW: It helped my career a ton. My 13P play, The Internationalist, has a lot of made-up language, an elliptical story structure. It's hard to make sense of on the page and is exactly the kind of play which theaters would have been intrigued by but never, ever done. The Vineyard came to see it, and then produced it in its own season a few years later. That led to other productions of that and other plays.
Now that 13P's "ImPlosion" is imminent, how do you feel the company has grown since its inception in 2003? Do you see other companies taking inspiration from 13P's production model?
AW: When we had the first meeting I think the only person who thought we'd actually complete even one production was Rob. So our sense of confidence has increased. Operationally, of course, it's much smoother, as we've been lucky enough to attract terrific volunteers. In important ways it hasn't changed and can't change: 13 playwrights, order determined at the start, each playwright given free range to choose their material—our core goal was just to get the plays up, which is exactly what we've done, and continue to do.
I do know of some companies inspired by the 13P model, it's a great thing, and we hope that our implosion will inspire even more.
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13P's second production, The Penetration Play by Winter Miller (P#2) ran at the Mint Theater from November-December 2004, and is also a standout member of the Playscripts catalog. This dark comedy focuses on a trio of women steeped in desire during the last weekend of summer on the Jersey Shore. Take some time to read through the free script sample on the Playscripts website of the play The New York Times called "Cracklingly funny. An erotically charged comedy about the flexibility of sexual identity."
For more from the innovative minds of the 13P playwrights, take a look at their many other original works featured in the Playscripts catalog. Sheila Callaghan's Crumble (Lay Me Down, Justin Timberlake), Madeleine George's The Most Massive Woman Wins, Erin Courtney's Demon Baby, Lucy Thurber's Liberal Arts College, and Ann Marie Healy's Dearest Eugenia Haggis are all sure to provoke and challenge.
Though 13P will soon be no more, Playscripts looks forward to other groups of playwrights taking inspiration from this visionary organization. Why not take the 13P challenge and follow in their footsteps to continue creating fresh, new plays for the modern theater?
--Erin Salvi, Playscripts Customer Service Associate and Freelance Editor