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So you want to start a theatre company?

May 9, 2011

Like most of us, I’ve worked with a number of theatre companies in my professional career.  Each has their own flavor and way of operating.  Sometimes you have to grow into your company’s look, feel, and most importantly your mission statement as you settle into the type of company you turn out to be.  But regardless of whether your performances take place in the local community theatre or on Broadway, three things shouldn’t be forgotten: the art, passion, & professionalism.

There are dangers with being “too relaxed” as a theatre company.  If your lead actress is designing the set & your leading man is the light designer and neither has a crew, how can either individual be expected to perform during tech and previews on no sleep and a lot of stress?  Also, if the only people involved are company members & old friends, it takes a lot of discipline to focus on the work to be done at rehearsals – especially when that rehearsal takes place at someone’s apartment just steps from their liqueur cabinet. The art and passion may be there, but the professionalism has gotten lost.

Likewise, there are a lot of dangers if you have become big budget and are preparing a run of a show at a major regional theatre house.  Throwing money at a problem doesn’t solve it.  With the larger budget productions, there are more people to pay, more seats to fill, and more unions with which to associate.  This, of course, heightens the demands and stress of the Producers at the top.  Remaining professional and business-like is a requirement, but so often the art of the project may have gotten lost.

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So where’s the balance?  You have to decide what direction your theatre company is going.  You have to continuously ask yourself why you wanted to start and adjust goals as your company grows.  I’ve worked with theatre companies that are strictly part-time for their members (rehearsing in one member’s day-job office after hours; never intending to have a “home base;” raising just enough money to put on the production; rinse & repeat).  I’ve also worked with theatre companies that are severely understaffed and those few staff members are underpaid and the level of professionalism and events far exceed the budget and capabilities of the company, while the Head Producer still takes home a thick paycheck (leaving often disgruntled staff and an overall negative feel).

As you may know, I’ve served as the Artistic Director on my own theatre company for the past 3 years.  We’ve recently severely re-branded and re-staffed.  Opportunities arose, mistakes were made, members quit, new members joined, but  most influentially: we developed our true potential.  We learned as a company that we can offer many forms of entertainment from indie film to indie theatre to offering services like editing acting reels and voice-over demos; producing music videos and poetry readings; and offering a space for a group of people in NYC who were looking to meet-up with others who shared the same interests.  Somewhere along the line we changed our name, but never have we changed our mission (okay, okay, we changed a word here or there but the idea’s the same): “Cutting Edge, Professional Entertainment for an Affordable Price.”  The biggest reason I don’t go to more live & filmed entertainment is  the high ticket price.  I never want that to be the reason someone would miss an event of ours.  The more services we offer, the more opportunity we have to raise funds as a company, and can continue to keep prices low while producing quality entertainment.  The passion is there, the business plan has been set, and one day we hope to be able to have our dedicated staff operate full-time.

Be upfront, be honest with yourselves and your employees (still consider your volunteers your employees – they are your backbone) and set a business plan for where you want the company to go.  There is no right or wrong answer, just know what you’re getting into, learn from your mistakes, and remember to keep the art, the professionalism, and most of all – the passion.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Hillary permalink
    June 15, 2011 6:09 am

    I am a performing arts management BA major and am looking to start my own theatre company, but i”m not sure where to begin, what should I do? I know a lot about theatre and how to direct a show, but I don’t know the start up bit of it, what’s a good way to start?

  2. Rody permalink
    July 4, 2012 6:08 pm

    Hi Hillary,
    Have you started your own company since you posted that comment?

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