big fish signI’m in New York for two months as we get Big Fish ready for its Broadway debut. After five weeks of performances in Chicago and a summer hiatus, it’s terrific to be back in rehearsal with the same group of people I adore.

But it’s also strange.

In movies and television, once something is produced you never really get a second crack at it. If a movie is a hit, you might make a sequel. If a television show gets picked up for another season, you shoot new episodes. But you don’t get to go back and reshoot the pilot.1

That’s the rare opportunity we have with Big Fish. I’m obviously focused on the writing side of it — it’s been a very busy summer for me and Andrew Lippa. But I see that same drive in every department, each one asking “How can we do that thing we did before, but better?” From sets to lighting to every step of choreography, we get the chance to assess and improve. It’s exhausting but amazing.

In software design, you call this iteration. You release and refine and repeat. Each generation builds on what came before. When it works right, the results seem obvious — well of course it should be that way — but you couldn’t see that when you started.

In TV and film, you don’t get much chance to iterate. Yes, you have all the drafts of the script, but with those you’re making changes to the plan for making the project. It’s only in the editing room that you can tweak and test. But by that point, you’re limited to what you shot. Extensive reshoots are rare and costly.

By contrast, iteration is very much the experience of making live theater. You do readings and workshops and finally get to the stage. Then every night, you’re putting on a show and seeing how it works. Every morning, you’re figuring out how to make tonight better.

And if you’re lucky, you get to stage the whole thing twice: once out-of-town and then on Broadway. We’re a much better show for our five weeks in Chicago, and the months we’ve had to regroup and rethink. We got to make version 2.0, and I’m ridiculously proud of it.

But we’re not done.

Where you come in

One of the things that was most helpful to me during our Chicago run was that I had a lot of readers and podcast-listeners come see the show during previews. Having familiar strangers in the audience was comforting, and honestly, empowering — those are my people in the balcony. It also gave me a reason to escape the backstage whirlwind and socialize like an actual human being.

After the hellos and handshakes, I cut right to the chase: “What did you think? What did you love? Did something confuse you? If you had magic scissors, what would you take out?”

Granted, I could ask these questions of anyone in the audience, and believe me, I did.2 But my readers are smarter, or at least more sophisticated. I could dig deeper. I could drill down with follow-up questions: At what point did you start feeling that way about that character? What if this happened first? Right now, at intermission, what do you hope happens next?

We got solid reviews in Chicago, and endless helpful notes from smart people who see a lot of theater for a living. But the conversations I had in the lobby of the Oriental Theater with readers and listeners were some of the most valuable feedback of all.

So I want to do that again. I want you to come.

For Chicago, I asked the producers to give me a discount code for the first week of previews. For Broadway, I’ve convinced them to let me have the whole four weeks of previews, starting September 5th.

The discount code SCRIPT unlocks seats that are approximately half-off list price:

From September 5th to ­October 5th
$74.00 Orchestra and Front Mezzanine
$52.00 Mid-Mezzanine

From October 8th ­to October 13th
$85.00 Orchestra and Front Mezzanine
$62.00 Mid-Mezzanine

You can use the SCRIPT code both on Ticketmaster (when looking at the seat map, click the “Got an Offer Code?” button) and in-person at the Neil Simon Theatre box office on 52nd Street if you want to save the Ticketmaster fee.

There’s a chance that if we start selling way too many SCRIPT tickets, they’ll pull the offer — our producers are generous, but not foolish — so if you’re thinking about coming, don’t dally.

And if you’re coming, please let me know. You can tweet me or send an email to the ask@johnaugust.com account to let me know your date and seats. I’ll be here at least through the official opening on October 6th.

In Chicago, I tried to track down people where they were sitting, which was surprisingly difficult. What ended up working better was for people to wave me down. I look like myself — Google me — so if you see me, say hi. The lobby at the Neil Simon is incredibly small, so you’re more likely to find me in the house or on the street near the stage door.3

Unlike our five-week run in Chicago, the Broadway run is theoretically open-ended; we’re already selling a lot of tickets for the holidays. So if you can’t make it for previews, still come and tweet me what you thought. I’m eager for you to see it.

  1. An exception: the Buffy pilot. And that worked out pretty damn well.
  2. The luxury of being unrecognized is that I can start conversations in the lobby with folks who assume I’m just a fellow audience member.
  3. A note about the Neil Simon: the mezzanine is pretty great and really close to the stage, so if you can’t get orchestra seats, don’t despair about being up in the balcony. The first couple of rows are some of the best in the house.