My fold-out green screen is propped up on my bedroom wall. I toggle with my video camera, ready to record my next two-minute sketch for Instagram. This one features the nightmare Australian talent agent ‘Krystal Lee’. Krystal, born and raised in small-town Australia, is an amalgamation of all the wonderful characters I've met along the way in film, musical theatre, promotions, marketing and retail.
Borders are shutting down, but my green screen means I can be in a crowded yoga studio, or downtown Rio de Janeiro… really anywhere in the world. So this is what producing in lockdown looks like? It’s all smoke and mirrors.
For me, lockdown was the push I needed to get more work out there. With my BA in musical theatre, I didn’t realise how much I would need to be my own producer - my own (insert creative job: PR agent, costume designer, social media intern etc).
Here’s my top tips for producing in quarantine:
-Get your work online: even if it’s documenting work in progress, giving a behind the scenes look or giving a one minute sneak peak
-Online videos now are an artform in their own right, so look towards accounts whose aesthetic appeals to you and emulate their lighting and sharp editing
-Even if you have no interest in becoming an online ‘public figure’ you can still showcase your work. When you think about all the times you worked for “exposure”, putting your work online is by far the easiest and cheapest way to get it. Do this from the comfort of your home and with full creative control!
-Good lighting is key. Have a play on selfie mode and find your sweet spot near a window, with soft natural light. If you can only film at night it might be worth investing in a ring light.
-The magic is in the editing I recommend for Instagram IG TV (01:50) Facebook (03:00) Youtube (09:00) and if you're feeling young and flirty, Tik tok (QQ:15)
-Sharp and dynamic editing is so important. I usually film 20-30 minutes of material and edit it down to a two minute video. Just keep rambling and documenting your work and distill it down to strong a minute. There are thousands of YouTube tutorials on editing videos for any device you have.
If quarantine has left you feeling exhausted, anxious or you are looking after family or little ones, please disregard everything I've just said. You're doing great and I love you.
This is the time to double your dosage of self-care, whatever that looks like for you. If you have a little more time on your hands, think about what brought you joy and soothed you as a kid. If you can’t bring yourself to create or hustle online, take this precious time to enjoy some solitude. You’ll be surprised how many simple pleasures you may have been neglecting. Jot them down, including any projects you want to take on when the lockdown lifts. You don’t have to do it, but be sure to note what makes your heart sing.
A little bit about what led me to writing this blog post. In 2015, I was two years out of drama school, a musical theatre graduate from WAAPA (Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts - where Hugh Jackman went) and having the opportunity to perform in musicals (I even got to play the straight romantic lead in Bring It On the musical, Music by Lin-Manuel Miranda).
But it was becoming clear no one was going to hand me the camp, comedic roles I was so desperate to play. I'm not the first gay musical theatre actor to produce their own one-man show for adoring friends and family, but it did feel like a revelation. After performing in the 2015 Sydney Fringe and truly being myself on stage, I could never go back to fitting into the hyper masculine Aussie ‘Hemsworth brother’ mould. It was clear my purpose was to harness my years of jazz, tap and ballet, not by being the hunky twenty-something chorus boy but through satire and cabaret. Creating character, sketch and drama for 50 minutes of your pleasure.
It was early 2016 and I was in my form-fitting activewear, with my best fake tan, at the fifth and final round for Disney's Aladdin, Australian tour. They flew the Broadway execs out and I performed for a panel of 12, my scene and song for the funny New Yorker sounding Parrot; Iago. I even got paid $82 Australian dollars for my costume fitting. But I was one of three swatches for the panel to choose from. I gave myself an ultimatum. If I didn’t get the show, it was a sign I should move to London. I was desperately single and my career wasn’t moving fast enough for me. 12 year-old Henry would be horrified that I wasn’t a drunken mess at the MTV awards already.
Cut to 2017 and my North London boyfriend is helping me lug the pianist’s keyboard up the stairs to the Hen & Chicken theatre in Islington. I have self-produced my cabaret Quadruple Threat and out of the 150 critics I've invited, miraculously one turns up. It is [London Theatre 1's ] Chris Omaweng and even more astonishingly, he gives it a 5-star review. “A number of celebrity interviews demonstrate Henry Moss’ versatility still further, as he plays out each character himself he utterly nails both the persona and intonations of Dame Judi Dench. The rendering of her version of ‘Send In The Clowns’ is simply magnificent, and frankly, it's worth attending this show just for that.” -London Theatrel
All the signs from God, the universe, Oprah… whatever you want to call her are pushing me in the directions of producing and comedy. But I stubbornly have more to prove. I can finally call myself a professional performer in the UK at the end of 2017, when I land a Four Seasons touring concert show of Franki Valli hits. We get put up in Premier Inn Hotels all over England and get to perform at fabulous venues like The Lowry in Manchester.
In the background however all my self-help books, podcasts and webinars are telling me to go for what really makes me light up. Which is to be unapologetically a queer comedian. My finger hovers over the screen. I take the plunge and change my Instagram bio to say ‘comedian’. I can say that right...? I made people laugh in my show, my mum loves my Krystal Lee videos and I made a tiny profit from my cabaret ‘Quadruple Threat’.
But what really made me giggle (can I really do this?) is applying for a Masters in Creative Producing at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama.. where my heroes Judi Dench and Graham Norton honed their craft and where ‘creative risks’ is a marking criteria. This was where I was meant to be. Putting on my producer hat and really looking at the sustainability of live theatre, marketing and building a network of fabulous theatre makers in London.
In 2019, I took Quadruple Threat to Brighton Fringe, where it was nominated for BEST COMEDY and then to VAULT Festival in 2020 where it missed the COVID-19 lockdown by just three weeks. My other show, 1&Only was not so lucky, being programmed to perform March 17-22. I was co-producer for Unlikely Productions political satire with four brilliant actors. I wanted to apply everything I had learnt interning the past year at Olivier nominated theatre company Les Enfants Terribles and be able to call myself a Producer. Capital P. Not performing or writing, just being the wrangler and numbers man. I had just dropped the 1&Only set off at The Vaults in Waterloo when the season was cancelled. Mercifully, VAULT waived the venue fee and we just made it out alive.
The week after Quadruple Threat played at VAULT Festival, I was high on reviews coming out and completely unaware the world was about to start turning the opposite direction. I was invited to run a workshop on self-producing for Harriet Taylor and Scott Howland’s N2P Networkshops. It is an ingenious initiative to offer theatre-makers free workshops and networking events (plus they produce plays, showcases and more). I had the opportunity to talk about creative and emotional blocks, finding trusted editors and reaching out to mentors. It was such a thrill. I would love to do more coaching, my dream one day is to run fabulous retreats on courage and creativity.
If you're mulling over a show you might want to self-produce next year, here is some food for thought.
My top tips for producing small scale shows (not in a pandemic):
-Think realistically about your social network. If you held a big birthday party, how many people would come? That's probably your audience size. Sometimes a sold out one-night only show in a tiny venue is much better than an excruciating week long run. This applies to cast and crew too - think realistically about your combined social and professional networks.
-Invest in fabulous photography and posters- Create buzz! Post about the show, the team and the rehearsal process every day for the 30 days leading up to the show. Always make things look professional and expensive with my secret weapon: graphic design platform canva.com
-Invite people personally and make the effort to see their shows too.
-Ensure you make time in your technical rehearsal to set up and test a good quality video camera and directional mic to record your show (important for future applications). Live fringe theatre usually looks terrible on film but you might get a good 30-second trailer from it.
-Sustain the online buzz for the show even ofter it's closed. Even if people couldn't make it, they’re still curious to see your process and how you’re evolving your work for next time (and will more likely try and make it next time). Again, personally thank everyone who did come. if they feel valued, they are more likely to recommend your work to friends.
-Whether you have 300 or 5000 social media followers, they are your precious audience. Imagine you are their only source of entertainment. Think about the demographic of your audience. My target is 25-35 year old women in the arts!
Anyway, don’t feel pressure to write the next great American novel or become fluent in Flemish. Now is the time to be generous, both to ourselves and to others. But if you can find the time and the mental space, take a few practical steps that will help you on your journey. If you have any more questions on self-producing, don’t hesitate to reach out email@example.com
Head to Instagram for the latest videos.
Henry Moss is a cabaret comedian and creative producer. In 2013 he graduated with a BA in Music Theatre from the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA) and received the Hal Leonard Award for excellence.
Henry's theatre credits include Privates on Parade (New Theatre, 2014), Bring it On The Musical (Supply Evolutions, 2015), Spring Awakening (Australian Theatre for Young People, 2017) and Big Girls Don't Cry (UK tour, 2077).
In 2019 Henry completed a Masters in Creative Producing at Royal Central School of Speech and Drama (RCSSD). Henry secured a 6 month placement with Olivier nominated theatre company Les Enfants Terribles (LET), where he assisted the Head of Education and Outreach and worked on multiple productions.
Now as a producer, Henry has been Production Assistant for LET’s immersive Ikea x Sonos experience ‘The Sound Affect’ and is now producing the political satire 1&Only' with Unlikely Productions. In 2019 Henry was one of three shows to be nominated for Best Comedy at Brighton Fringe and is soon to perform his London debut stand-up show ‘Henry. Queen of Squats’