River City music man
Writing and directing your own theatrical production and then marketing it to local audiences ain’t easy. Ask Dar Coan, whose original musical Debating Molten Desire at the Midnight Blues Laundry and Lounge has been playing the Geery Theater since August 1. (It continues at the venue, at 2130 L Street, at 8:15 p.m. Friday and Saturday through August 23; tickets are $10-$12.) Coan, a longtime local resident, comes from a musical rather than a theatrical point of view; he played in a cover band called Eat at Joe’s, and he admits his musical references are closer to Mose Allison than Cole Porter.
How does one bring a show to fruition?
You start many years in advance. I’ve learned not to give myself too much to do at any particular time. So, from a writing standpoint, a lot of this has been written a long time ago. From a production standpoint, I started about a year ago. I actually advertised in the News & Review; I found a couple of people through a little ad that I ran. I had to talk to a lot of people and meet a lot of people to find out if they could sing or do anything. It’s a long process.
How do you do it without going through an established theatrical group?
Do as much work as you can way in advance. It’s a whole bunch of work. Can I back up a little bit? As a writer, I don’t want to be one of those people who whine about how Sacramento is not like the Bay Area, but it’s sort of true. And then I’m getting into all these differences that I’ve made a study of.
In San Francisco, there is a writing tradition. In Sacramento, there’s no writing tradition; very few people write original works in Sacramento. I can kind of see why because there’s no recognition of it being anything different than, “Oh, you’re producing a show.”
They don’t see writer-producer here?
One comment that gets to me is: “If you kept producing shows, you would have a more consistent audience.” In other words, if I could write and produce a new show every four months, which is completely absurd. As a writer, you’re doing well if you produce a new thing once a year. But if you do that, what happens is the press hasn’t heard of you, the theater community hasn’t heard of you, and you have no established audience to draw upon. In San Francisco, as a comparison, lots of people are writers. There are actors who write, writers who act; you have directors and costume designers, and they also write. Lots of persons have a one- or two-person show they’re preparing. And because of that, they have festivals; there are 49-seat theaters that do lots of these little shows that are all writer/performer-driven.
How far in advance do you have to book a theater?
It depends upon how long a block of time you want. I actually wanted to have a little bit longer because I can see how if a person were to push something like this for longer than just four weeks, its audience would ultimately come to it over time. There’s a huge potential audience in Sacramento; lots of people would see things if they were presented with them a little bit more regularly. But those people tend not to go to the theater regularly. I know a lot of people who are in their 20s, 30s and 40s who will tell me they like theater, but they don’t want to see heavy drama every week. And one tradition in Sacramento is that either you’re doing frothy comedy, which doesn’t mean anything, or it’s heavy and dark and it’s about dysfunctionality. There’s comedy, and there’s tragedy. In Sacramento, it’s very much like that—there’s this apparent tradition of thinking that things that are dark, difficult, obscure and inaccessible are the important works. ‘Accessible’ is a bad word in Sacramento—if people can look at it and understand it, then it must not be important.
It’s not like this everywhere?
In San Francisco, those 49-seat, original-work theaters do a large variety of stuff. And seldom is it either one or two extremes; it’s more like in the movies. Is American Beauty a scathing comedy, or is it a drama? It’s both, isn’t it? I think they might do it sometimes here, but there’s a tendency for it to go one way or the other. Ultimately, it leaves a huge gap, which is where a lot of the potential audience is. Because they don’t want to see something that’s just light and irrelevant, and they don’t want to see something that’s so dark that they don’t want to deal with it.
But you’re talking about two separate audiences here, aren’t you?
There’s a whole, much-more-mainstream audience in between those two extremes, which has yet to be fully realized.