Your First Show
The information below is a brief overview of the main issues you need to address when producing your first show. Adapted from an article by John Warren, Artistic Director, Unconditional Theatre, and used with permission of Theatre Bay Area.
Photo: San Luis Obispo [CA]
1. Develop a budget.
Be as specific as possible. Remember any of the following that are applicable: script rights, space rental (liability insurance may be additional), set construction, props, lights rental, costumes, stipends for actors/designers/running crew, various publicity activities, video archiving, and a generous line for "miscellaneous." When in doubt, be conservative about your likely income (especially ticket sales) and be generous in estimating your costs.
2. Secure rights to the play.
If the show is not an original work, be sure you have a signed contract in hand before you announce the play as part of your season. This is generally done in two parts. First, contact the playwright/publisher/agent and determine whether the rights are available for your region. If so, then you must make firm arrangements for a performance space and dates, before the playwright/publisher/agent will even consider your request for rights. [See menu at right for detailed information on rights & royalties]
3. Contract with a venue.
Space is at a premium in many cities, so be sure to contract many months in advance. Find out what is included in the rental price, such as insurance and tech rehearsals. Many venues require you to acquire your own liability insurance, which can be very expensive. Practically every venue has a different policy on how much rehearsal/tech time is included in the basic rental fee -- be sure to budget the rental cost of any additional tech/dress rehearsals. Consider how long and how often you want perform. The longer a show runs, the more it costs, but also the more people can hear about it and make plans to attend. Weekend matinees vary in their success, based largely on the type of audience members your show attracts. You might consider performing midweek once in a while, so that people working on other shows can see your work.
4. Make union decisions.
If you intend to hire any members of Actors' Equity, you must secure a contract from the Equity office. A BAPP contract may enable you to hire a small number of union actors at very little cost, if you meet certain budget and insurance criteria.
5. Decide on a system for selling tickets.
Most small companies rely on voice mail for patrons to leave ticket reservations. If you decide to take this route, choose the lucky person who gets to receive those calls. Your local phone company can set up a separate, inexpensive voice mail number, so that nobody's home number is inundated with reservations. Some venues will provide their own box office services. Alternatively, there are services that can handle your ticket sales for a modest fee per ticket. Make sure that you arrange this a couple of months in advance, so that all marketing materials carry the correct box office phone number.
6. Introduce yourself to the media.
The cost of publicity is almost always underestimated. It can sometimes amount to a third of your budget. Especially for your company's first show, it is important to get your name out to the local media through early announcements, a newsletter, a letter of introduction, or whatever other creative method you dream up. Four to eight weeks prior to your opening, send out press releases and photos to all relevant calendars. A professional-looking photo is one of the surest ways to bring extra attention to your calendar listings. Then, a couple of weeks prior to opening, send press packets to local critics, including any background info that might entice them to see the show. Follow up with a call, to make sure the information has been received. (Don't push--just ask.) Many newspapers, radio & TV stations have events listings on their websites--often letting you set up an account so that you can post and edit calendar items yourself.