I go through my email contact list, trawling (not trolling) for people I can ask for money to produce a developmental showcase of my play, The Whaleship Essex. We need to raise thirty-five thousand dollars. Spiderman on Broadway cost seventy-five million. How hard can this be?
Pretty hard. Having lived as a poor person for much of my life, it takes a chunk out of my pride. But it's made easier knowing that it's for a worthy cause. I've never believed in myself more than I do in relation to this play, based partly on the reactions of people whose opinion I trust, and partly on the fact that this play is an encapsulation of all that I love in this world--the theater, the sea, history, writing, survival stories, and my love of language. And the entity that I love most of all, my wife Jennifer, is the producer of this play. And she believes in it too.
Before I get up the courage to write an individual letter to each person asking for money, I ask myself:
1. Can they afford to donate to a non-profit venture?
2. Do they like me?
3. Have I been in contact with them within the last six months? I don't want to only come to them when I need something.
I think about my reaction to people who send me requests for money--to bring meals to seniors, to support their own theatrical endeavours, or to transport millions of dollars in lottery winnings from Nigeria to the U.S. First off, I don't respond well to bulk letters asking an entire population for money, with no language indicating they are writing to someone they know personally. I do respond well to people who do something for causes greater than themselves. I feel a tinge of guilt because my sister Barbara asked for money for her journey to Africa to help build a school by the sweat of her brow, and I never responded. And just last week she sent in a contribution to my play. I hereby vow that if I ever make any personal income from The Whaleship Essex, a hundred dollars goes to her. I will be lucky if my playwright's fee for this production equals that, but there's always hope that a subsequent production will emerge from this venture.
Even though I wrote the play, it is still a cause greater than myself. Jennifer is assembling a team of artists and technicians who are passionate about telling this story: director, set designer, lighting designer, props designer, sound designer, costume designer, set builders, etc. We will also have a cast of fifteen actors. None of them are doing it for the money. The stipend each receives will barely pay for their transportation. They do it for the love of the craft, for the love of telling a story, for the love of transporting people for a couple of hours a night for sixteen performances, which is the maximum number the actor's union allows, unless we pay the union actors more than just a token fee. The union also limits the amount of money we can raise, how many hours of rehearsal we can have, and the eighteen dollar maximum ticket price. In return we get quality actors who forgo a regular salary in the hopes that this show goes on to bigger and better things, and they come with us. Which is fine with me. It is only fitting that a rising tide should lift all boats.<!--[endif]-->