I have put in some time in theatre and know how challenging and rewarding it can be. To avoid the pitfalls and maximize the joy of community theater, here are some tips from acting coach Mark Westbrook and I can not say it better. “Break a leg” and go make some art, there is nothing quite like a small theater, a packed house and a group of people up on stage baring their soul and giving it their all. – Richard Trombly
HOW TO BUILD A SUCCESSFUL THEATRE COMPANY
by Mark Westbrook
So you want to get yourself noticed. It’s hard. I know it. Despite directing, writing and producing for over 10 years, I have found it almost impossible to receive the type of funding that lets me produce independently. Over the last two weeks, I have analysed (while lying on the beach) those folks that I know who with only a mediocre talent (for mediocrity is not threatening to anyone) managed to build a successful theatre company.
I say this again. These people are not uniquely gifted. But instead, they took certain actions that lent them momentum. I have added to this my own thoughts on the making of great theatre and I challenge the SPARTAN Ensemble, the PACIFIC Ensemble and any of you out there considering making your own work to use these steps to build yourself the career that you want, not by waiting to be cast, but by becoming the producer yourself.
ONE: Everyone does Everything.
Fairly self-explanatory. There are no actors and technicians, there are no box office and set builders, everyone does everything. All chores are shared. Anyone who cannot live up to this simple system is asked to leave the Ensemble.
TWO: Today the Lead, tomorrow the Box Office.
The system must be fair. If there is no role in this month’s show, you MUST have a role in the next. You may choose to opt out and do other duties, but everyone gets to act.
THREE: Only Plays You Can Nail
Clearly, I am talking about a writing based company, but you only choose plays that are excellent. Nothing a bit dodgy, a bit weak, an amateur writer’s hopes for the big time. When you start off, choose the big ones. People will watch them because they have names. Weak plays lead to weak performances and they do not advance the ensemble. But most of all…
FOUR: Only Excellence in Performance
Only exceptional performance is required. If you cannot deliver the very best of acting, forget it.
Only cast people in roles they can nail, there is no character acting, you cast for excellence only. How long do you want to go on toiling in obscurity for?
FIVE: Ditch the Director
The director is a modern invention, only a little more than 100 years old and to my mind, they are not really required. A production coordinator can bring it all together. The actor’s direct their performance, the ‘Eye’, the Ensemble member who sits out and helps the actors to get where they want to be.
If you can’t ditch them entirely, limit them. Refuse to allow them a ‘take’, tell them they have to direct the play, not come up with something new or fancy. Get them to direct the production. If they can help the actors to stop fucking up, the actors will thank them. But the actors are not there to fulfil the director’s internal template.
Too many directors careers have been advanced by the performance of the actors in their shows.
SIX: You Do Not Need Anyone’s Permission to Do This
No one can give you permission and you wouldn’t want it anyway. Choose a venue, it doesn’t matter where it is. Make a deal with a pub, whatever keeps your costs low.
SEVEN: Invite your Initial Network
You can advertise if you have cash, but basically your first show is to your friends, family, acquaintances, work colleagues. Don’t be proud, if it feels a bit amateur, so what, you’re starting off like many others – small.
EIGHT: Build your Loyal Following
Everyone who comes to your show gets a free programme. They get the programme if they will give you their email address. One person’s job on each show is to encourage and befriend your subscribers. They will chat them up, make it all nice, and collect email addresses. This is the basis of your future audience.
NINE: Tell Them What You’re Doing Next
In the programme for Show 1, tell them what Show 2 will be and email them within a few days of them seeing Show 1 to remind them. Then, email them within 8 and 4 weeks with how to get tickets for your next show.
TEN: No One Gets Paid Until We All Get Paid
Minimal Wage blah de blah. It is a collective agreement that no one gets paid until everyone gets paid. You can’t be sued for not paying yourself.
ELEVEN: Invite from the Start
Classic rookie mistake: failing to invite reviewers, sponsors, theatre producers etc because you’re not sure how it will turn out. You invite everyone from the beginning. They won’t come. But when they do start coming.
TWELVE: Gently Squeeze your Network
So Jane’s brother Tony has a recurring role on a big TV show. Get Tony to come. His presence will add something. And you never know, Tony may bring someone. It is ALWAYS WHOM YOU KNOW.
THIRTEEN: Start with Standards
Make a list of your principles. Only things you actually currently already believe. And work by them.
FOURTEEN: Charge One Price
All tickets are the same price. Everyone gets to see the show. If you charge a lot people expect a lot. Charge a reason ticket price, but make everyone pay the same. Theatre is the last place that social economic status should affect the seating or the price of the tickets.
FIFTEEN: Have a Website
You don’t exist without baby.
SIXTEEN: Only Quitters Lose
This is simple. Produce and produce and produce and produce. One after another after another until you get a body of work behind your company that cannot be ignored.
So that’s my advice, take it or leave it.
To You, The Best!
Senior Acting Coach
ACTING COACH SCOTLAND
Mark Westbrook is a Professional Acting Coach and runs Acting Coach Scotland, a private acting studio offering acting classes in Glasgow, masterclasses, workshops and audition coaching for actors at all levels.
His acting studio is based in Glasgow, Scotland, although he teaches all across the United Kingdom. All Blog Posts © Mark Westbrook 2011