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How I Produced a Broadway-Studded Benefit Without a Budget

Personal Stories

On October 26th, 2018, my trio sang “America” at The Green Room 42. The next morning, I woke up to the horrific news about another mass shooting in America, this time in Pittsburgh. I was compelled to take meaningful and immediate action. Given the tight turnaround I did not have the opportunity to raise capital, so I focused on the cause and worked tirelessly for six weeks. On December 6th, 2018, Stronger Than Hate: A Benefit for Tree of Life Synagogue happened thanks to a tremendous group of artists including Broadway veterans, a Grammy award-winning singer-songwriter, and a speaker from the Anti-Defamation League. The concert raised $5,000 for the congregation and the victims’ families. Here are five ways you can produce and direct your own passion project!

[Mara Jill Herman, Marc Winski, & Collin O'Connor; Photo by Michael Kushner]

1) USE YOUR RESOURCES. I utilized the Broadway Green Alliance’s Binder Project. In conjunction with Actors’ Equity, this eco-conscious, free exchange program of used binders is open to all theater professionals. Several large shelves of binders grouped in different sizes are maintained in the BGA office and a cabinet of binders is also available at Actors’ Equity in midtown. Any number of binders can be borrowed for any length of time and then returned. Each binder has a BGA sticker to ensure that they are returned to the right place as well as a spot to fill in where each binder has been. Binders are the go-to staple to organize everything such as sheet music, scripts, and notes in the fast and furious process associated with readings, concerts, or even full-blown productions. Several artists from the Stronger Than Hate benefit used binders from this effort. Simple, easy, community-driven, and no cost to the production!

2) ASK FOR HELP. I struggled to find an available videographer to document the benefit. After striking out with some of my go-to sources, I turned to social media. I outlined my needs in a simple post on the highly-trafficked Facebook group “Dreamers and Doers” and was subsequently introduced to over 20 videographers. Christina M. Li was the first to come through and I loved her website/demo reel. She was available to shoot the rehearsal, any promo, and production, and delivered the raw footage in a timely manner. Check out this group for network expansion and great job opportunities.

[Julie Gold; Photo by Michael Kushner]

3) SURROUND YOURSELF WITH LOVE AND LEADERSHIP. Develop a cohort of supporters who encourage your curiosity and help you achieve your goals. For the better part of 2018, I sang Andrew Sisters tunes and other great music with my all-female vintage trio, America’s Sweethearts. This tight-knit group of supportive women motivates me to be the best possible musician and overall performer. They hold me accountable without a shred of competition. And this stems from our Lady Boss, Carly Kincannon. She is grace under fire, sings like a dream, and facilitated a residency at one of New York’s hottest entertainment venues, The Green Room 42. This connection provided a platform to produce the benefit at a top-notch venue.

4) SELF PROMOTE. Word of mouth is a powerful tool and social media posts are free! Use your different channels to mobilize but know your audience. Directly target friends and fans with your e-blasts, tags, tweets, and hashtags. You never know who will come out of the woodwork simply because they align with your cause.

[Gary John LaRosa & Jason Sirois; Photo by Michael Kushner]

5) IF YOU BUILD IT, THEY WILL COME. Producers have to be organized. The role involves distributing sheet music, scripts, communicating relevant information, delegating responsibilities, and leading the operation. You may have a vision but feel stopped by a daunting amount of tasks. Don’t let the devil voice talk you out of your mission! When I started Stronger Than Hate, I needed to lock in a music director and venue to take myself seriously. Everything else (cast, host, crew, song selections, outreach, articles) seemed inevitable. Many restless nights followed as the task set in and I thought: What have I done? Within days of going public with the news, I heard from so many friends who wanted to help. Slowly but surely a team was assembled. Several colleagues offered casting suggestions, sent emails/texts on my behalf, and provided significant marketing and outreach assistance. I was reassured by the outpouring of interest and encourage you to put yourself out there too. Even when you dive in without all of the answers, your community will show up for you!

You can watch the Video Playlist or listen to a live recording of this event on Ilana Levine’s podcast Little Known Facts. Subscribe via iTunes (episode 128) or listen to it here!

Mara Jill Herman is an Astoria-based performer, teaching artist, and writer. She is a Backstage Expert and co-authored So You Wanna Be A Superstar? The Ultimate Audition Guide (Running Press Kids). Mara frequently appears with America's Sweethearts, the all-female vintage trio. Developmental/regional highlights: The Band’s Visit (Playwrights Horizons), Nerds (Philadelphia Theatre Company), and Sam’s Room (Theatre Barn’s Impact Award). Favorite productions include On The Town (Hildy), Rent (Maureen), Guys and Dolls (Adelaide), and the international tours of Disney On Classic and Jesus Christ Superstar. She is an adjudicator for the National YoungArts Foundation and received the Young Alumni Service Award from her alma mater, University Of The Arts. You can follow her on Twitter/ Instagram or visit her website.

All views and opinions expressed in this essay are those of the author.