Graveyard Swing Post-Mortem

By John Holdun on November 11th, 2016

An article about Graveyard Swing

The election has left me angry and sad and scared and I don’t really know what to do about it. I have ideas: I’ll keep donating to Planned Parenthood and Everytown and I’ll eagerly add some more organizations to my list; I’ll keep doing my best to support my friends and family and community; I’ll put particular pressure on my fellow white people to understand what kind of country we foster and to identify the damage we cause by the behavior we condone.

I’m also going to keep working. Not to ignore what’s happened, or to push it out, but because I need to stay productive for my own peace of mind, and I have to hope that putting nice and thoughtful things into the world will help someone, somewhere, and that the things I make will be nice and thoughtful.

I’m here for you if you want to talk, and if you think I can be useful in any particular way then I’m ready to help you act on your ideas to control the impending damage. If you stop reading here, I understand and hope to see you again soon. If you’d like a little distraction, let’s talk about Halloween.

First, here’s the video walkthrough of Graveyard Swing:

In real life I was walking with each group (painted blue, like the ghosts); in the video I’m a disembodied voice. I recreated the soundtrack for the video in post, primarily because—as I mentioned last week—I was utterly unable to point a camera and recite a spiel at the same time. I exagerrated some of the audio effects, but in general this is exactly what everyone heard (at least, it’s what they heard by the last day).

We wanted to shoot a VR video but I just ran out of energy. Let’s talk, briefly, about the things we could have done better.

  • Production. I thought I was clever, starting six months in advance, but I did not use that time wisely. I was still painting ghosts halfway through the run; we built those tombstones while ticket holders were waiting in the lobby; the motors just never worked. For the next show, I’ll be more diligent and urgent, and everything will be built and in boxes a week from opening night.
  • Load in/out. Getting everything into the theater and set up didn’t take too long at all, though it felt like a long time because it was delayed by last-minute construction. Getting everything out took a surprising amount of effort. I think that part of this is because we had so much clean-up to do, for things like paint and mud that had to come to the stage with us, but the biggest problem is that we didn’t have a plan. Everything is currently stuffed in a storage locker that’s more than big enough to hold it all but it’s a wreck in there because there’s no organization. For the next show, we will load in on opening day and load out right after the final group walks through (in a matinee performance). We’ll treat it more like moving house. Maybe we’ll even hire movers.
  • Stage management. We spent a lot of time plugging things in at the start of each night, unplugging things at the end, and resetting lights and props between tours. Because our tech was so ad-hoc, we ended up improvising a lot. I’m glad we did, because the show was better for it, but next time we’ll think harder about little things like which circuits are on power strips with inline switches, and how we can make all of our show business more centralized.
  • Marketing. There was just none. I messed up because I ran out of time. Production on the next show will be front-loaded, so we have more finished early, so we can take photos and videos, and we will (I will) have spare brain cycles to actually send that media around.
  • Audience flow. There was just no way to bring more than one group through the show at a time. This was fine, because there were only one or two times where people ended up waiting in the lobby, but we just got lucky that ticket sales were sparsely arranged. I want continuous throughput for the next one, which requires certain design considerations.
  • Interaction. At the threshold between scenes 1 and 2, I hand each person a key. This is symbolic of them unlocking the gates for the first time in decades, but the keys didn’t actually go anywhere. (Shout out to my friend’s four-year-old for trying his key on everything anyway.) I want to give my audience opportunities to affect the next show. I have ideas. Also, everyone was thrilled they got to keep the keys—souvenirs are powerful, especially when they’re free.

Now let’s talk about money. I tallied the receipts, and the total cost of this show was just a little more than $5,000. My initial estimate was just a little less than $5,000, so that’s not too bad. We sold a little less than $1,200 in tickets, and maybe $500 of that production cost was on things like tools, lights, and extension cords, which we’ll be able to reuse on future productions. That means my final out-of-pocket cost is maybe $3,500. I was initially prepared to lose $5,000 on a show that not a single person attended, just to say I did it, so I’m considering this a success. I’m also utterly incentivized to continue investing in making this dream come true, so the second show is full speed ahead. (The second show was always full speed ahead.)

The biggest single cost in Graveyard Swing was renting the space. It cost me $3,000 for a week rental of The Secret Theatre. That rate is quite competitive in NYC, the space is wonderful, and the staff are all total pros; I would recommend this place to anyone. That said, I did not need seven days and, in hindsight, I did not need a full-service theater. We didn’t use the lighting grid (it would have melted our walls) and we didn’t use the seating (our scenes were set on the bleachers); I will point out that having a professional front-of-house person to handle tickets was awesome, but all we really need is a big empty box. Also, we could have easily squeezed all our attendees into three busier days instead of five really chill ones. We also booked full days on either end of the run for loading in and loading out, and we needed every second of both, but as I mentioned earlier, I think we can plan on same-day moving for the next show if we coordinate carefully. Even if we go back to The Secret Theatre, that cuts $1700 off our costs. That’s big. We will not break even on the next show, but we’ll get closer.

As I’ve said before, the next show opens in April. Next week, I’ll show you the plan.

Take care of yourselves and each other.