AMA about: How to Produce Great Theater & Work With Incredible Guest Stars

David Koff
Apr 2, 2018

In my years of producing theater, I've been fortunate enough to work with some of my heroes: Emmy-Award winners John Larroquette, Ray Romano & Marcia Wallace; Comedy legends Fred Willard, The Kids in the Hall, & Phil Proctor from The Firesign Theatre; noted alternative comedians Tom Kenny, Maria Bamford & Rick Overton; well-established TV actors such as Jeff Garlin, John Lynch, Debra Skelton & Dean Cain; original Saturday Night Live cast-member, Larraine Newman; and the voice of SpongeBob Squarepants, Tom Kenny.

How did I find and book these people? How did I build a loyal following in Los Angeles and, now, Portland, Oregon? How did we score great reviews from the LA Times, the LA Weekly, Stage Raw and other noted publications? All of this is up for grabs when we start our #AMA

Some fun links:

Below: me on stage, working with Emmy-winner Ray Romano. 

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Conversation (118)

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What are your criteria for selecting shows? Or do you not have any criteria?
Apr 20, 1:35AM EDT0

I go by gut instinct. If I get "that feeling", I've learned to always trust it. Always. And I can thank my training in improvisation for that. That's why I think improv is a life skill that ALL should learn. I've seen amazing talent and amazing scripts that don't do it for me. And I've seen less talented and less well-written scripts utterly captivate me because I see the untapped potential. I may be a producer, but I'm ALSO an artist: so that vision and that gut feeling are vital. 

Apr 20, 2:31PM EDT0
What do you think are the main obstacles theatre artists face to getting wider recognition?
Apr 19, 7:01PM EDT0

It depends on the country. In the US, the major obstacle is not having an infrastructure to help promote, teach and then support the arts. As a result, some artists work on their crafts in obscurity for decades in their spare time while trying to hold down a fulltime job and have a "normal life".

In other nations where the arts are more supported and funded, I think the greater challenge is defining what your art is and mastering it... no matter what. Most artists, because of their vision and training, are in front of society. Artists see now what most people cannot. As a result, they often suffer pushback from a world that might not yet be ready to see their art. The artist's job is to proceed ANYWAY. 

Apr 20, 2:29PM EDT0
For a novice, what's the difference between "drama" and "theatre" in college categories?
Apr 19, 3:46PM EDT0

Theatre: a kind of artwork that takes place on some kind of stage with some kind of audience.

Drama: a particular kind of story.

Apr 19, 4:00PM EDT0
Do you consider yourself a liberal while sharing your reviews/critic on someone's work? If so, how did you become a liberal? What experiences influenced your beliefs the most?
Apr 19, 1:54PM EDT0

If you are asking me if I'm political when reviewing artwork, then no: I'm not. When I'm honored with being asked to review someone else's artwork, my only goal is to assess the piece as it stands, pointing out what works and doesn't work from my perspective. 

While art can sometimes be political, my notes to any artist are not. 

Apr 19, 3:59PM EDT0
What are some things about theatre plays that people don't usually know?
Apr 19, 3:29AM EDT0

I'll be honest and say that I'm not sure exactly what you're asking me. Are you asking about specific plays in general? The process of mounting a play? Something else? Please be specific. 

Apr 19, 1:27PM EDT0
What is one thing about your job that you think would surprise people?
Apr 17, 7:28AM EDT0

That working with A-list talent, behind the scenes, is actually quite boring. They're just regular people who have recognizable faces. But they have family, friends and a life outside of that fame. The excitement, for me, is when I get to step on stage with some of my acting and comedy heroes. But offstage, they're just normal, regular folks. 

Apr 17, 1:28PM EDT0
What type of comedy do you most dislike and what are your reasons for doing so?
Apr 17, 12:13AM EDT0

I don't dislike comedy. So let's start with that. Rather, over time, my comedy tastes have shifted. But make no mistake: I've enjoyed ALL kinds of comedy from the most lowbrow (Benny Hill and the guys behind the "Jackass" movies) to the upper-crust, brainy humor of Monty Python, Bob Newhart, The Kids in the Hall, The Firesign Theater to the wacky and goofy of Steve Martin and the late Robin Williams. Does that make sense?

Last edited @ Apr 17, 2:12AM EDT.
Apr 17, 2:12AM EDT0
What strategies should one impose on their onstage performance to achieve more consistency?
Apr 16, 10:53PM EDT0

There is only ONE strategy: practice. Work hard to perfect your craft. That's it. Everything else is just a teacher or director hoping to light a fire under you to do the same. If you're a mean person offstage, you'll NEVER make a believable, warm-hearted person on stage or screen. It will take hard work and practice to learn HOW to be that kind of person in real life before portraying that to the world. 

Apr 17, 2:02AM EDT0
How should one go about translating their sense of humour onto stage?
Apr 16, 7:42PM EDT0

What have you tried so far? What's worked and hasn't worked?

Apr 16, 8:02PM EDT0
Which joke formulas, in your opinion, should a comedian avoid and why?
Apr 14, 1:48PM EDT0

I don't recommend any such thing. Comedy is subjective and audience tastes vary. It's up to each comedian to explore what does and doesn't work for him or herself. Try everything! Be willing to fail! Then get up and try something different. 

Apr 14, 2:35PM EDT0
What are some of the methods one can use to become more confident on stage and under what circumstances is the lack of confidence more appealing in a comedian?
Apr 14, 8:28AM EDT0

I'd take a look at - for English speakers - the comedy of Maria Bamford. Maria speaks openly about her mental state including her struggles with depression. But she uses that information in her show and has masterfully used her voice work (she voices about 10-15 different characters in most performances) to help give these "voices in her head" a place to have an audience. There is no magic pill. In the end, if you need to be on stage because you have something you feel you need to say or share then you'll simply need to find a way to exist in the spotlight in a way that works for you. 

What works for me is deep breathing, hugs prior to a curtain, NOT drinking caffeine or alcohol before going on stage and listening to awesome music well in advance. I begin my mental prep for going on stage about 60-90min in advance of showing up to the theater. 

Apr 14, 2:39PM EDT0
Comedy has always been the very best medicine. Have you worked on comedy play? If so, what's your favorite so far?
Apr 12, 8:30PM EDT0

For me, the very best comedies are the ones that are unexpected. The cast of Fake Radio takes old radio shows from the 1940's and 1950's which are all very overly-dramatic and turns them into comedies. Probably my favorite is "It's a Wonderful Life" because it has one of the great heroes - George Bailey - and one of the great villains - Old Man Potter in the American canon.

Apr 13, 1:28PM EDT0
You must have artists that you’ve watched go on to accomplish great things over the years. Do you have any favourite artist from Fake Radio?
Apr 12, 7:23PM EDT0

As far as my cast goes, Jen Hasty has gone on to be in more TV shows than I could possibly imagine. Her credits are here. Same with Jon Stark who's not only a fabulous actor but an Emmy-winner TV writer. 

Apr 12, 7:42PM EDT0
You've been creating plays together for almost two decades now. Is there any particular phase you're particularly fond of?
Apr 12, 6:37PM EDT0

I love seeing it all come together in production. Watching something materialize in three-dimensional space that had only existed previously in mind is simply exhilarating! It makes all of that brainstorming and visioning worth it, every time.  

Apr 12, 7:39PM EDT0
Do you any weaknesses in life? If yes, how do you work on them on daily basis?
Apr 12, 6:26AM EDT0

All humans have weaknesses. My biggest tools for addressing my own weaknesses include journaling, exercise, meditation, improvisation, honesty with friends and my spouse and therapy/life coach when I need to do a deep dive. 

Apr 12, 2:51PM EDT0
Do you have a specific production that made you fall in love with theater?
Apr 12, 6:12AM EDT0

Honesty, it happened when I was 11. Scroll down for more of this, but for my birthday, my Dad took me to see "A Chorus Line" in Philadelphia when the touring company came to town. 

That was it: I was instantly hooked!

Apr 12, 2:52PM EDT0
During the process of theatre production, how willing are you, individually and collectively, to explore which many people would not dare to?
Apr 9, 3:08PM EDT0

Please see my other responses. I don't undertake any artistic project because it's "daring" or "risky" or "what the audience wants". I pick projects that I would personally LOVE to do or see happening and then work like hell to make them a reality. That's it.

I don't spend ANY time thinking about what other people will want or what they may or may not be willing to do: I focus on what I like and go in that direction. 

Apr 9, 3:21PM EDT0
What are some tips for someone looking to build a fan-base or audience?
Apr 9, 11:51AM EDT0
  1. Get good at doing something that you love: music, drama, improv, stand-up, rap, poetry slams, etc. Just get good at what you do by practicing.
  2. Once you've hit a level of solid craft, present what you love doing on stage and do it regularly. Shows on a weekly or monthly basis are an excellent way to build a following. 
  3. Have a sign-up sheet and ask folks to give you their email. Send out a monthly blast about upcoming events. Offer discounts ONLY to those on your list. Make 'em feel special. 
  4. Find tie-ins with other groups, art forms, or individuals that jive with what you do. If you're an R&B band, have an opening act that represents another side of what you do and cross-promote with that other artist(s).
  5. Get reviewed. If reviews are good, promote them. If not, go back and rehearse until you get better. Then get reviewed again. Repeat until you've got what you need.
  6. Be patient. Cultivate the fervent groupies or followers. Ask them to help spread the good word. Having only ten DIEHARD fans is, actually, way better than 100 casual fans. 
Apr 9, 1:59PM EDT0
What are some methods that you use to relax on stage?
Apr 8, 3:01PM EDT0

I don't try to relax on stage. That's too late: I try to relax off stage and in the lead up to a performance. To the best of my abilities, I try to eat well, exercise, meditate, bathe and show up in nice clothes when I get to the theater. I present the best me possible long before I ever hit the stage so that, when the times comes to get on stage, I'm already in the zone. 

Apr 8, 4:24PM EDT0
What is your emotional and spiritual strength to produce theatre and open doors for audience and participants?
Apr 8, 7:21AM EDT0

I don't think of what I do as having emotional or spiritual strength: I think of it as caring, first and foremost, for myself. I love theater. I love producing it and I love performing it. Therefore, that love lights me up from the inside out and isn't dependant on an audience's response.

In fact, when I first started producing Fake Radio, we'd regularly perform for 20-30 people. I didn't care. I kept doing the show because I loved it. Today, 18 years later, we'll play for 200-300 people at a time, but I still love the show just the same, if not more.

What I'm saying is this: do theater for YOU, not for the audience. If you love it and it lights you up, chances are it will do the same for others and you'll all find one another in the process. 

Apr 8, 4:27PM EDT0
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