Extending your play’s shelf-life – Self-publishing for playwrights
They were selling them at the entrance before the show so one could be forgiven for assuming they were programmes for that night’s performance. The cover a replica of the show’s poster, RM6 is a fair amount for first-show memorabilia. It was only after I paid and was handed the book that I noticed the weight.
A programme, even one this small (A4 doubled into A5 size and stapled down the middle) would have been eight pages at the most. Without sponsorship ads, this yellow-covered booklet was a hefty 40 pages out of which only four sides were devoted to cast and crew.
For RM6 I had just purchased a copy of the script for this evening’s performance. For RM6 I held in my hands one of those rarest of creatures, a physical document, a first edition, a record of an original piece of Malaysian theatre.
Teater_Modular – the play(s)
The performance was a parade of four short plays production by Ridhwan Saidi. Ridhwan’s second installment will debut later this year, again a collection of four plays. At the moment, Teater_Modular is planned to be a collection of 13 ‘playlets’, though Ridhwan reveals that he may “still have new extended playlets to add on to the current 13 playlets. So the total playlets can be 20 or 30 or any number as long as I keep writing the script.”
Teater Modular – the zine
Ridhwan likes the idea of letting his audiences – mainly young people – read local work in a new format. “They read novels and short stories and poetry, but most have never read a play.”
The playwright was inspired when he saw something similar done at the restaging of Kee Thuan Chye’s 1984 Here and Now. Ridhwan had travelled to Kajang to see production and the time, “We had not been to many plays and thought (selling the script) was the common practice.”
Putting your work out there
Equally as important, Ridhwan needed to share his work and not keep it to himself. A filmmaker as well as playwright, Ridhwan has lost entire works when computer files became corrupted. After this run of Teater_Modular, “he would not relax until he had uploaded (the film version of his play) to YouTube,” says Nurul Aizam, who edited and arranged the plays for publication. Together, Nurul and Ridhwan run their own publishing company: Moka Mocha Ink. While the filmed version is not currently available for public viewing, it has been saved; in more than one sense.
Why would a book publisher choose the zine format?
For one thing, production costs are minimal – all you need to produce a zine is a photocopier and a stapler. Ridhwan estimates that it ended up costing less than RM2 per copy for the 80 copies which he and Nurul designed, printed, photocopied and stapled. In other words, he only needed to sell one third of the scripts to break even.
It was also faster. To publish a book you need to apply for an international standard book number (ISBN) – the unique number that appears over the barcode on the book’s back cover. Then you need about six months for production. Whether the scripts would have sold in bookstores or not, Ridhwan knew he’d have the greatest number of buyers at the theatre before the show.
On the downside, zines are easier for people to reproduce illegally. Within a few weeks at least one student group had used Ridhwan’s script. While Ridhwan is pleased that his work is being performed in schools, naturally he would like to be informed and credited. He says he’ll protect future work a little better by adding a few lines about copyright. (Learn more about protecting your creative work in 5 things creators of artistic works should know about copyright… but probably don’t).
Once all 13 Teater_Modular plays have been performerd, Ridhwan will compile and publishing these as a ‘proper’ book, meaning it could then be sold in bookstores locally and internationally. In the meantime, you can look forward to buying his scripts at future performances of Teater_Modular.
“We sold out all 80 copies before our final show,” Ridhwan says. “Next time, I’ll print 100.”