Anyone who is involved in theatre may at some point wish to create their own performances. Self producing a show can be one of the most rewarding yet difficult things you can do. So here's some tips on how to go about it.
If you're under 18, please get an adult to help you. Yes, it's possible to self-produce when you're a minor, but there may be legal or safety issues involved, and you should definitely work within the paramaters of help from a parent, teacher or local drama professional.
First, a self-produced show usually means it is 'profit share' or a 'cooperative'. What this means is that the cast and crew put their own money into the show (or get a sponsor or funding, but it's usually their own money) and then equally share the profits once they are made. MEAA has a good example contract for profit-share performances, which shows you how to make everything nice and legal. (If it's not available for download at the MEAA website, contact them and ask for a copy)
You may be wondering how much money you'll need to produce a show; this is dependant on a number of factors. I can self-produce a show for $3k, but you may find you need more, depending on venue, marketing, insurance and other costs. Create a budget, with all your costs estimated - everything, right down to the last stamp.
David Ashton gives the following advice:
"You need to produce a total budget, with every cost itemized.This will give you a dollar amount which is your 'cash cost'.There are often percentage costs like royalties.You divide the 'cash cost' by 1-royalties[e.g..1] which will give you a 'break even' figure.You then express every cost,wages,publicity, etc as a percentage of the 'break even'.The costs such as wages can be taken up as a percentage by the participants and you invite investors to buy the percentage to cover the costs which have to be paid in cash.It is a good 'litmus test' of the show if it appeals to investors.I suggest that you limit investors to around $1000 each so that there is a limited liability.At the end of the show everyone gets a percentage of the gross.Using this method is fair to everyone involved."
Don't expect to break even or make a profit from your first show - or your first few shows! Many people decide to put the money back into the company, instead of taking it away, in order to ensure the company gets a good headstart for the first few productions.
Budgets is semi-discussed in more detail here, with a description of how one of my shows was done:
In terms of starting a company, you will want to pick people to work with who you are sure will be reliable - friends and colleagues are a good start, but do keep in mind that money can strain relationships. You don't necessarily need to have a person who does marketing, and a person who does acting, and another person who does lighting. While it may help, you might prefer the entire company to be made up of actors, or dancers, or even all techies. (Red Stitch in Melbourne started as an actor's group only, and hired freelance designers to do the other stuff when it came time to present the show)
A big thing to remember is that if you owe money at the end of the show, then you are all liable for that payment - that is, if you can't pay what's owed, then you all have to pay it. Make sure whatever agreement you create (and make sure it is written in a contract) covers what happens when money is owed, and what happens when you make a profit, and what happens when there is a dispute. This is why the MEAA contract comes in handy.
Are there any legal requirements or business models that you have to have? No. You don't necessarily need an ABN, business name, or registered legal entity. You will need insurance, and it's a good idea to have a written agreement of how money is dealt with. But no, you don't have to have a business model, name, ABN, or other such thing.
However, some people find that gaining sponsorship and funding is easier if they are a registered company (an incorporation for example). You may find that setting up a bank account is handy (banks offer accounts with NO MONTHLY FEES IF YOU CAN PROVE TO THEM YOU ARE NOT FOR PROFIT. Check out 'community' bank accounts at your local branch); just make sure you nominate one person in your group to keep track of finances. If you'd like some legal advice, contact the Arts Law Centre of Australia, as they provide advice specific to any arts law topic you need help with.
Next, you will need to find out what kind of insurance you will need, how much and where to get it from - don't think you can do without it. The number of accidents that happen - you will, even if it's just to cover your ass. Many venues also won't hire to you unless you have insurance, so it's very important to make sure you have it.
From there, you create your show the same way you create any other show, but in this case, the performers may also do the technical stuff; organise publicity, the venue, etc. It may help to nominate one person who is responsible for tech, one for marketing, and so on. You may want to have a more collaborative, equal-say group, but in times when you argue (and there will be times), one person who is in charge of the poster design (or whatever) can put their foot down and have the final vote. This is especially handy in case there are too many cooks or things get out of hand in terms of deadlines. If there are no tech-minded people in your group, find a production manager or stage manager who is experienced in fringe performances, and ask them to help you. (Don't think you can get away with creating a lighting design when you don't know anything about lighting; it's not only dangerous, but won't help you create the best performance possible)
Much of self producing will be learned along the way. Most people find self producing confusing, but my guess is it's only because it seems like there's a lot to do; and many people, particularly actors, do not know how to go about doing the things that have been done for them. Ie. finding a venue (another topic for another day) Find out who the most organised person is in the group and nominate them to be the stage manager or production manager.
In terms of marketing, you will not only need to contact every family member and friend, but you'll need to compete with other shows and bigger budgets. Word of mouth is usually the best strategy. Approach your friends, family or fellow students. Ask your local teachers for help and make deals for their students to come at cheaper prices. Find your local community centre, or arts centre, and talk to them. Ultimately, meeting and chatting with people face-to-face will better your chances at anyone being interested.
Most people self produce because they want to write their own script, or are tired of using the same old plays. Another strategy is to take a local issue and make it into a play. Ie. Something controversial to your town, or just a local historical story. The more local and personal the story, the more likely other people will be interested in it; especially if the community writes, performs and produces it themselves.
Whatever you decide to do, make sure you decide who keeps what copyrights - if writing your own play - and how people can use them. If you want to use an already published script, do make sure that you can use it; don't just assume you can. Find out if the play is in public domain (ie. everyone can use it without paying royalties), whether you need to obtain rights and pay royalties, or whether you need to obtain rights and it's royalty free. The same goes with any piece of music you hope to use, and rights can be applied for from APRA.
... Once you have the script, it's time to rehearse. Three months is generally enough for amateur or professional companies, but I recommend taking four to five months if it's your first self-produced show. Mainly because you'll have a lot more to do than just rehearse. This time must also be spent making sets, collecting props, following the money, booking seats, etc etc. You will most likely be working a 'normal' job and rehearsing on weekends or in the evenings. Time can be used up very quickly and three months may be too fast for your liking. Coordinating schedules is perhaps the most difficult thing about producing any show.
Finding a venue can be difficult, but if you know what you're doing, can be done. If you don't have a stage manager or technical director, now's the time to get one. A TD will help you find a venue that is appropriate for your needs, safe, has proper equipment, and is affordable. Don't forget; you'll all need to be able to get to the venue, so something central to all involved would also be ideal. Expand your horizons: venues can be pubs, restaurants, cafes, libraries, scout halls, churches, your own backyard... just make sure you have permission to use the space according to your performance needs, make sure to discuss everything clearly with the venue supervisor, and make sure that it's legal and safe to perform there.
UPDATE: You can now read a checklist to help you find a venue to suit your show below:
The hardest thing you might find is concentrating. If you're working with a bunch of friends, it's very easy to slip into a silly mode, muck around, or just spend time catching up. I found the best thing to do is spend 15 to 30 minutes at the start of rehearsals to catch up, and then move into rehearsals. If you can't stick to a proper schedule like that, then don't catch up at all, and have a mindset when you enter rehearsals to only rehearse! It may be necessary to appoint one person - perhaps whoever's stage managing - to make sure that rehearsal starts on time and is kept on track. This will really help your time management and help your target opening night be achievable. Additionally, make sure at least one person is keeping track of blocking, lines, etc. with the use of a prompt copy. Getting in a friend or colleague to act as stage manager - even if you're not using one on the night - will help immensely, as they can often add an outside eye and keep things on track. The same thing goes with finding someone to act as co-director or director.
Self producing can be extremely nerve wracking. Most performers and groups I've worked with spend a lot of time obsessing about how the show is going to be accepted by friends, colleagues, the public, and critics. The most important thing I could ever advise was... have fun! Yes, it's your script and your show, and putting your thoughts and emotions out there is risky and scary - but if you stop having fun, that's when the show is most likely to fail.
Listen to others- there is always going to be someone with greater knowledge than yourself- blowing off other's constructive criticism can be bad, because you'll lose sight of your learning curve and get stuck in a rut. Try to take everyone's ideas on board, listen, read any reviews you might get so you can improve on things next time.
That's what it is all about, learning a new skill and improving on it next time. There's always something new to learn.
As a last word on dealing with people, you may find at some point the group being strained by a bad relationship, bad dynamics, bad timing, or simply bad luck. Be understanding of the problems and difficulties that face each other, whether on stage, at home or at work. At some point, you may either need to discuss postponing an event, cancelling it altogether, replacing someone or kicking someone out. The better and clearer the communication between all members, the better the group will work together and the less likely you'll have to deal with someone who is uncooperative. If, at some point, someone doesn't pull their weight, you'll have to remind that person that a show is a commitment, even if there isn't a definite heirachy, profit or wage, or punishment for being bad.
Anyway... One thing I highly recommend: make sure you keep a copy or two of the program, poster/postcard or any other marketing you make. Clip and keep copies of reviews. Make sure you get a friend or photographer to take photos during the show. Get at least two shows videotaped (just in case something goes wrong one night, you can choose the better version) and make a DVD out of it. This is not only an excellent resource for any show reel or resume, but also a good way to archive your work and remember it for years to come. If you have trouble remembering to take photos, then get someone outside the crew to do it for you. If you're particularly keen you can even take shots of you building the set, trying on costumes, etc.
Want more info: Check out Lyn Wallis' "In Good Company: A manual for producing independent theatre", available from Currency Press.
You may also want to check out this thread, which lists some questions that you might have already in mind (there's a particularly good post from me, which covers a *lot* of stuff):
This thread has an excellent example list of the types of things you might need to do in order to organise a show (fourth post down):
Article created 30 Nov 2008 by Na. Updated 5 April 2010
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