There are a multitude of elements involved in setting up a theatre company. It’s not easy and there’ll be a bunch of stuff that you potentially will have no interest or skill in doing but hopefully these 5 tips will be helpful as you navigate the process.
PARTNER WITH SOMEONE YOU TRUST AND WHO SHARES YOUR WORK ETHIC
After working together on a 2014 independent fringe show, God of Carnage, Hailey and I developed a trust in each other’s talent and respect for each other’s work ethic. We recognised early on that we were a good match and that our skills were complementary. In 2015, we came together to work on a short season of The Screwtape Letters in Sydney. We ran the show through our friends at Twisted Tree Theatre who provided a financial float and a reputation for us to approach venues and creatives with confidence. We carved up the workload according to our strengths and interests but also according to skills that we were willing to learn. For me, accountancy and PR; for Hailey, social media strategy, website and production design. After the first season exceeded our artistic and commercial hopes, we knew we needed to formalise our working arrangement. We felt we had a proven partnership where we could both trust and rely on each other which was essential and foundational to the birth of Clock and Spiel Productions
HAVE A CLEAR SENSE OF MISSION
There are a million reasons to set up a theatre company, ranging from the sensible (indemifying ourselves against potential financial disaster!) through to the idealistic (to change the world!) and so we were advised to draw up a business charter where we could define for ourselves and others what we wanted to achieve. It helped clarify our company ethos (why we do what we do) and our aims and objectives (what we are going to do). It’s proved a great way of keeping ourselves accountable to our values, each other and ultimately our audiences.
EMBODY WHAT YOU VALUE AND BE ORGANISED
The way we conduct ourselves through the creative and administrative process alike is just as important to us as the work we produce. Being respectful of everyone you encounter and being organised is key. Deliver when you say you will, answer emails and phone calls promptly and plan to develop long-term working relationships by putting people first. In our dealings with cast, crew, contractors, venues and at every possible level we are committed to being clear and honest in our communication, responsive when questions arise and always following through in timely fashion. Another core value is honouring people for their time and talent by rewarding them for their contribution – we’ve found that if you treat people with respect everyone wins. It’s good for business and it’s good for the future and longevity of your company.
PULL IN FAVOURS AND DON’T BE AFRAID TO ASK FOR HELP
We realised early on that we didn’t have all the skills we needed. For me, getting my head around accounting software was so far out of my comfort zone. In general people want to share knowledge where they can and help if they’re able to – often Hailey and I found that you just have to ask and offers of help will come from the places you’d least expect. Thanks to a bit of curiousity during a conversation at church and the offer of a home cooked meal, I am now a payroll expert (I’m overstating this somewhat). In fact, a recommendation from a friend saw us connect with an excellent tax and business advisor who has a soft spot for the arts. Getting solid business and tax advice is a must. There are many more examples we could share of the kindness and wisdom that comes from asking others who are in the know. And a nod of thanks in the show program or a small gift of appreciation goes a long way.
TRUST AND ENJOY THE PROCESS
When Hailey and I were getting our mission statement together, we realised that the reason we wanted to form Clock and Spiel Productions was because we wanted to tell stories and create work which means something to us. It’s what we love to do and it’s a great honour for us to work on projects where our faith intersects with our purpose. All that said, it hasn’t been easy all the time. There have been difficult periods of hard work. Setting up a theatre company involves so much admin – who knew?! We’ve experienced anxious times where it felt like we were gambling our money away (watching daily ticket saleS climb by one or two seats when you’ve booked a season with a 2500 capacity can be a nail-biting experience!). But it’s a privilege to work with committed people you trust on something that matters and reminding yourself of that often is essential to your sense of satisfaction and your project’s ultimate success!