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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Can you tell us a bit about the original vision and the journey to get to where you are today?
May 14, 7:00AM EDT0

I didn't decide on this path, vision or journey: it chose me. Plain and simple. I grew up with a Dad who loved the theater and he passed that on to me and I've run with it. It's in my blood and soul, thanks to him and something that still bonds me to him, even years after his passing. 

May 14, 4:33PM EDT0
What worked, what was difficult, and how did you solve any issues to reach where you are today?
May 13, 8:31PM EDT1

I'd read the other answers that I've posted below!

May 13, 8:51PM EDT0
What do you think about musicals? Do you have any favorite ones?
May 13, 4:29PM EDT0

Fave musicals of ALL TIME include (in no particular order):

  • A Chorus Line
  • Les Miserables
  • Annie
  • West Side Story
  • Pippin
  • Hamilton

May 14, 4:31PM EDT0
Where can interested parties get tickets and information on upcoming performances?
May 13, 11:32AM EDT0
May 13, 8:51PM EDT0
After many years when you will look back on to this journey, how would you want to see it?
May 10, 2:57AM EDT0

I don't think about the future. I think about doing the work right in front of me. The future is best handled by powers beyond me. The past is already written. All I can do is live and focus on the present. 

May 10, 3:21PM EDT0
How do you handle criticism of your plays after a premiere? Which are your hardest critics?
May 9, 11:58PM EDT0

I'm my own worst critic. As a result, no reviewer can outdo me! So that makes ME my hardest critic. That's the truth. As for how I handle it: with grace. No show is perfect and sometimes both the inner and outer critic have something constructive to offer.

However, I've never had a bad review. Literally, never. Some are "OK", some are "fine", but most are well above average and downright excellent. I think that's because I know how to pick good material and/or assemble a top-notch team. 

Last edited @ May 10, 12:11AM EDT.
May 10, 12:10AM EDT0
What's the best comedy show that you have seen in last few years?
May 9, 8:47PM EDT0

An unscripted show called "Secrets" which originated in Austin and is now also playing in Portland, Oregon. The entire show is based on anonymously submitted, real secrets from members of the audiences both at the show and online, ahead of the show. Actors take those secrets and improve amazing scenes with depth, vulnerability, bravery and so much humor. 

May 10, 12:13AM EDT0
What's your favourite pass time besides the theatre world?
May 7, 1:26PM EDT0

surfing! improvisation! how about you?

May 7, 3:46PM EDT1
What are your thoughts on improvisation theatre? Do you support or encourage this type of acting in your productions? Is it good for sparking creativity and rapport between the actors?
May 6, 11:02AM EDT0

GREAT QUESTION. I teach improv to adults and children and perform improv on a weekly basis. It is the foundation for ANY good actor and, frankly, any good human. I couldn't possibly recommend improv more. 

Improv is great for team building, personal development, learning how to listen to others and to your own instincts. 

May 6, 5:05PM EDT0
How do you reduce so many big ideas in your work? Is it mostly due to your vast experience in this field or you follow certain rules to visualize the final act?
May 4, 10:11PM EDT0

I have no vast experience, friend. No one does. Even the most acclaimed artists have only 70-80 years to work on their craft. But that's it. No one has much more than that. So we all do what we can and how we can. So that's the first thing.

The second thing: I don't try to reduce big ideas in my work. I try to create work and then revise it as much as needed for that thing to shine. Sometimes a piece needs MORE big ideas, not less. Sometimes the opposite. Every work of art is and should be treated as its own entity. 

May 6, 5:08PM EDT0
How do you cast? Based on looks or general feeling?
May 4, 7:14AM EDT0

Some roles require casting on a look: I wouldn't, for example, cast a tall white male for a role that calls for a child of color. Doesn't work. 

In all other cases, I cast on talent. The original "War of the Worlds" radio broadcast didn't really feature any women, or people of color, to give another example. When casting THAT show, I regularly cast women and people of color. Theater is art and art is inclusive. As a result, I try to cast with inclusion and talent in mind. 

May 4, 3:23PM EDT0
What is your advice for someone who thinks he/she is an expressive person and wants to explore the realms of theatre?
May 4, 6:20AM EDT0

You may think this is a cheeky answer, but I assure you it's not: if you want to explore the realms of theatre, then GO EXPLORE. Try doing different things in the theater, both onstage and off; go see different theatrical productions to learn more about what you like/dislike. 

take risks. don't ask for permission: just go ahead and do what feels right. 

No one can find your path for you: it's something you'll need to explore on your own. 

May 4, 3:25PM EDT0
How do you ensure quality across all phases of production?
Apr 23, 9:30PM EDT0

Ultimately, there's only one way to ensure a quality production: only partner with and hire quality individuals. I work exclusively with only talented people who are also kind and enjoy collaboration. 

Apr 24, 1:16PM EDT0
Are you coming up with new performances? If so, where can interested parties get more information on upcoming performances?
Apr 23, 2:55PM EDT0

My longtime troupe Fake Radio is performing several re-enactments of the original 1938 "War of the Worlds" radio broadcast this fall in several cities. Announcements and an email list sign-up can be found at our website. I'm also working on a one-woman adaptation of a beloved American movie this Fall but cannot announce more than that at this time. :)

Apr 24, 1:15PM EDT0
How do you work to develop new audiences for classical theater?
Apr 23, 2:03PM EDT0

In truth, I don't do a lot of work in classical theater. However, I believe the approach is still the same. 

  1. Find material about which you're passionate.
  2. Perfect it via rehearsals, re-writes, polishing, and input from a team that you trust and respect.
  3. Present it to the community and actively ask for feedback.
  4. Invite the press to help spread the good word.
  5. Ask for people's personal information. Email them to say thank you. Send out monthly email newsletters to keep them engaged. 
  6. Be willing to fail and try something new. 
Apr 23, 2:53PM EDT0
Is there anything special that you want to convey to your audience with work?
Apr 23, 4:23AM EDT0

Every piece of work is different, so my answer would depend on the show or presentation in question. There's never just one thing, though: in some shows, I want to convey fun; in others, it's deeply meaningful connection; in others, it might be frustration or sacrifice. 

I don't set out to convey ANYTHING. I set out to find and make great art and then allow that THING to express what IT needs, not me. 

Apr 23, 2:55PM EDT0
What are your plans for the foreseeable future?
Apr 23, 3:26AM EDT0

Get involved with projects that I love. Assemble teams to help me bring those projects to fruition. Bring one of those shows to Broadway or Off-Broadway. 

Apr 23, 2:55PM EDT0
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
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