I have been writing and producing theatre shows in the U.K. and USA for over 25 years. I have produced both dramas and musicals. I find with any production, there are so many things to think about at once, and so many things that overlap simultaneously that it can become difficult to make sense of how it all fits together. Hopefully these tips will help the novice entering the world of theatre with the nuts and bolts of producing.
The first thing ones need to do is to understand exactly what “the producer” is and what they do. An “executive producer” in a theatre production is usually the person who brings or gives the money. Any investor can be listed as an executive producer. “The Producer” is the person actually responsible for making sure the show gets up and running. That person is probably YOU. You are basically the “project manager.” You will make sure that everything that needs to be done gets done so that you have a successful show. You will need to know something about a lot of things.
Find the play. Do you want it to be a musical or a drama? If you want an established or known play agency (find them on internet) https://www.samuelfrench.co.uk/schools-faqs or http://guides.lib.umich.edu/permissions/dramatic-works, With an established or known play you will pay a fee, and have restrictions, but with an original play that you or someone you know writes you will not have the same restrictions.
If someone is writing a play especially for you need an agreement ensuring that it is an original work and that you have the right to use it, also any royalty due the writer now or in future should be noted in the agreement.
Decide on a time and location for your play, and make a down payment to guarantee your performance venue. Because venues can be difficult to get, you should start planning your event from one year to nine months before the performance.
Decide how many people you want to be involved in the play. As a community group or school with children, think about a play where you can have a large chorus as it can involve many children.
Think about a legal structure. Do you want to do the play as a charity or as a business? In either case, a legal structure should be formalized. Will your play be an ongoing concern doing more than one amateur production a year? If so I would suggest forming a limited company via Companies House. https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/companies-house
The reason you want to formalize the structure is because you will definitely want to have liability insurance. Insurance companies must have a legal entity to deal with.
Decide how you want to finance your show. You can do it as a charity which is different than a limited company. As a limited company you need to register the company with Companies House in the U.K. and get a company number. You can then take that number and apply for what is called the SEIS ( Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme) and if you are approved, you can raise money from your project or a series of projects from investors up to 500K, ) The great thing is that the investor in your project is allowed a tax relief of 50% . For more info see: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/seed-enterprise-investment-scheme-background
Research and get a full understanding of what each role in the creating a production consists of, producer, director, stage manager, costume designer etc. Theatre productions are always the result of the skills of many people.
Make sure the people you hire are loyal to you who are paying them and not the Director. The reason being, as the production moves forward, oftentimes unless the director and producer have a history or working together huge artistic differences may arise. If the main people you have hired are loyal to the Director you as a producer may have half of your technical crew walking off your production. This is a tricky area, but one worth noting. In this case, “forewarned is forearmed.”
Develop and start to make contact with other theatre producers on the internet, become part of the “theatre producer community” and join forums to see what ideas other people have and what other people are doing. You can make valuable technical contacts in this way.
Develop a description of the function and go over it with the technical person so you know you are on the same page. This helps especially when you are paying technicians and want to be sure you and them have the same understanding as to what services or products they are delivering for the money you are paying.
Write everything down in a notebook. Then copy it to your computer files and then back up your files on an external hard drive. Why? Because you will lose your notebook, your computer will crash or something else will happen and something you need will be lost. I know it might sound a bit OCD, but I operate on the theory “that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
Develop a probable budget based on what you think the cost will be. Go to the internet a research the probable costs of a production. The general rule of thumb is that things always cost more and takes longer that you projected.
Do not be afraid or shy to ask people for money. They to ask for money. They spend it in the pub and on many things they never need or use. Think that they would be putting their money to good use by investing in something that will bring joy to others and improve the spirit of the community. That something is “Your Show.”
Create a pitch to investor and write it down.
Practice in the mirror making a pitch to an investor, practice it again with a family member of friend and allow them to ask you questions, so can come up with answers that people might eventually ask.
Create your budget and add 15% on
Decide on who gets what role and write out a description of responsibilities as best you can so you know you have all the bases covered. And get each person’s time availability.
Do a breakdown of logistics in terms of a timeline to decide when you need what services at what time. For example you will not need the rehearsal space or director before you find the play.
Secure a rehearsal space that is not too costly. A local church or a community centre can be a good idea.
Get on good terms with the person running the rehearsal space as they will need to be available for you. A small gesture ( providing them with a sandwich at lunch time and a cup of tea and a tea cake during rehearsals can help to put the caretaker of the rehearsal space on your side.
Make sure someone is in charge of printed scripts, copying them and handing them out. Do not allow actors to read lines from their mobile phones, because when they need to make changes you cannot be sure they have made the correct changes.
Plan for a good technical and dress rehearsal on the day before the show.
(25- 85) Production
Ask actors to bring scripts and coloured marker to mark their parts.
Make sure the rehearsal space has heat when you need it.
Make sure rehearsal space has a working toilet.
Bring one or two large plastic (chequered plastic bags commonly called “refugee bags”) for keeping costumes back and forth from rehearsal.
Make sure rehearsal space has chairs and preferably a table as well, if not bring your own folding chairs and folding table.
Make sure you bring a couple rolls toilet paper as children tend to use up lots during rehearsal which the venue probably will not want to provide.
Bring a small broom and dustpan to rehearsals to clean up any crumbs left by children. Many venues will have it but don’t count on it.
Bring a couple black rubbish bags for your rubbish which you should be prepared to take with you after each rehearsal.
Bring cloths, kitchen towel and liquid soap for spillage as children often spill things.
Bring a first aid box as children tend to fall and scape knees etc.
Create a rehearsal schedule according to when most children and people are available.
Designate a person to do final check after rehearsal as people always forget things.
Put the found things on your website bulletin so people can find them.
When you choose children include as many actors and non-acting children as possible. The reason being, you might discover more talent that you thought was around and two, it will increase your financial and marketing possibilities.
Create a website. It need not be expensive but it allows people to see what your show will be about without you telling them.
Set up website with email and bulletin page. I use Wix.com because although I am not a technical computer person it allows me to make changes with a drag and drop tool, so any changes I want to make I can make within a few minutes. Also you can use other sites that use WordPress which allows lots of different plugins.
Set website up with a ticket purchase ability. This does not have to be a sophisticated ecommerce site, but it will help if people can buy tickets online. Companies like (www.ticketlight.co.uk) can help with this. They are not very costly and can be invaluable because the last thing you need is to sell 150 tickets at the door if you only have 130 seats. Also a website ticketing sales ability will be you an indication of what pre-sales will be like. This also allows you to adjust your marketing to fit your needs. Before you set up a website ask the ticket sellers what systems they are compatible with because, sometimes WIX and WordPress websites may not accept the same plug-ins.
When you choose the children, do not give specific roles because sometime people will only want one role, make it plain that children will be rotated with various roles, that way parents will not be so displeased if their child isn’t the lead role.
Once you choose your team, make sure you have information on each members, name, telephone, mobile phone, email, address of each person involved in the show.
Copy a contact list that has all the information of everyone and make it list and make it available to all of your technical team.
As the producer understand that even though you may not make all decisions that the result of all decisions stops with you. This where the phrase “the buck stops here” applies. That means you need to understand and be aware of what everyone is doing, all the time.
Talk to technical team and create a list of all the things the production will need including:
List for electrical equipment
List for lighting requirements and design
List for sound requirements and design
List for set requirements and design
Talk to each technical team member separately, and ask them to create and put forth an alternative plan for their part of the production just in case you need to be flexible. Oftentimes technical team members will suggest the best equipment or option because they want to give the best service and show their work in the best light. This is great, but it may not be the best thing for your budget, so asking for a plan B is a safety net that you need to build flexibility into your production plan. Technical people can be very creative especially if they find that plan A is not do-able.
Go back to your probable budget and re-adjust based on new information.
Publish a “bulletin page” on your website twice a week to let people in the production know what is happening. That way people can feel involved.
Create a prop list with stage manager and director.
Get parents and actors involved as much as possible. If you have a time for making sets and props. This is a good activity because both parents and children can be involved.
Create committees to do tasks under the supervision of your technical team, for example create a costume and set making committee. In some cases extra involvement from outside will make your technical people crazy because in many cases they just want to be left alone, but depending on their personality, they may need an extra pair of hands to help them achieve their artistic design.
Make sure you have a folding table for props. A folding table used for wall papering is cheap but functional enough
The director should have one or maybe two assistants to help with the children as children in group situations need more attention than adults.
A hierarchy needs to be established early one at the first day of rehearsals. The producer and Director are in charge.
Bad behaviour by children should not be tolerated under any circumstances, fighting; spitting, kicking bullying should be grounds for automatic expulsion. A list of zero tolerance behaviour should be printed and given to parents before their child get involved.
Adults working with children should be vetted to make sure they are not and have not been convicted of any child related crimes. Checking their name against any child offender register should suffix. But different insurance companies might require different things, so check with them first to be sure.
Any special scenes for actors should be sent out a week before by email.
Director should breakdown the action into scenes to rehearse with specific actors as time of production draws nearer. This should be placed on bulletin.
Director should triple cast main parts, I suggest this for two reasons. 1. The actor does not get the idea that they are only there for one part and can play chorus as well, but in case of illness or other unforeseen circumstances the show is covered.
Canvass the local charity shops for old clothes you might use for costumes.
During rehearsals all phones except producers must be on silent.
Each parent must sign a consent form for their child to be involved.
Create your production plan with as much flexibility as possible without catering to any one person.
Do not allow yourself as producer to become a part of a clique, or have a clique form around you. If you do people will feel excluded and you will miss a lot of what may be happening around you. As a producer you are alone at the top of the production tree and need to have your hand on the pulse of the production at all times. The production is your focus, so you must see to everything.
If possible pay yourself from your budget. Your time is valuable and you will put in more work that anyone. Even if you donate your earnings to charity. Pay yourself because these are marketable skills that you have acquired.
Put money in your budget to take technical people to an inexpensive lunch. This will recreate rapport.
Give high praise whenever possible to actors and parents alike. Everyone likes to be recognized. Recognition can sometimes be a substitute or reduction for monetary payment.
Film your production.( if allowed)
Film your production in two different ways. 1. Whole production which you can sell to audience as well as their contacts. For this you want someone who knows what they are doing. I recommend The company I suggest is called “All media Works”. www.allmediaworks.co.uk, They will come to your production set up and film. I have used them for years and I think they are the best in the U.K. Also they are reasonably priced as well as being very honest. Also make sure you have the right to film an established show. If it is an original show, not problem but the license of a known show may prohibit filming.
If you film, be sure to get releases from parents for all children.
Film your production in scenes. Film 2 or 3 scenes with two cameras, they could be iPhone cameras on tripods or a local filmmaker, just to show what a polished production might look in case you want to shop this production to another theatre in the future. But don’t film a live show for scenes because there will be too much live show noise and distractions. Film the scenes especially for the purpose of making a presentation. Film the scenes in the way you would a short film with close ups and wide and medium shots.
Make sure the sound is good. Sound is often times a problem. A good microphone with the help of the live sound engineer and the camera person should work. Taking the sound separately is always a good idea because you can clean it in the editing.
Hire someone who knows how to edit your scenes, This way it will look professional.
Always stay calm. Don’t allow yourself to become so emotional that it derails you. There will always be problems with productions, it just the way it is. As a producer always remain calm and try to develop a backup plan for every aspect of the production. Things always happen… the money person lets you down, a technician lets you down, someone gets sick, and someone else has a family crisis. But you are the captain of the ship and as we all know “the show must go on.”
Create a good rapport with director. The worst thing is to have a producer and director at odds.
Never argue with an actor or member of your technical team in front of others. If there are disagreements, and there will be disagreements, (it is the nature of the creative beast) then it needs to be done in private so that the person does not lose face or look stupid in front of others.
Involve the children where possible with voting for things that may remotely affect the show. It will help them to feel involved. For example, should the fairy costumes be blue or yellow. Or should the horse have a curly or a hairy tail. These things don’t matter a great deal in the great scheme of things but for children it makes them feel they are participating and that they are valued.
Meet with parents of children as a group once a month. This will focus them and allow them to get involved.
During production make sure someone is responsible for washing costumes at least after every 2 or 3 performances.
Learn to delegate and not micro manage. You have a lot on your plate and you have to keep them all the plates spinning, so learning to delegate will allow you to sleep at night.
Get someone to build some wooden black boxes. These will be useful for people to sit on and use for tables etc. on set
Create a blog on your website to talk about your Plan Of Action. This POA will include info about production: A. what the production is about with photos of people involved, B. what it hopes to achieve. C. Praise for people (with their photos) who are helping you to achieve your goal.
Use your POA to create a specific package for investors; pointing out the benefits Investors (under SEIS) if you have it) Investors often like to see project benefits tax and publicity, marketing. etc. With a show it is simple; you have a certain number of seats to sell. Also you may have advertising income or some projected income from merchandise sales or DVDs of the show. Normally these theatre productions will not make money straightaway, but the investor still gets the tax benefit in the same year they invest with SEIS. Include photos of rehearsal in your POA to potential investor. It shows potential investor that you are already on the move, and that they will be investing in something real.
Offer investors an advert for their business in the program as part of their investment.
Sell space in the program to local businesses.
Get a computer person on your team help create the blog and update info on a regular basis. As a producer you can do a lot of it, but as the production becomes more intense you will need to delegate some computer responsibilities.
Create a marketing and sales committee to help spread the word about your production. They will send emails and blogs created by you or your computer person.
Check everything going onto the website before it goes on.
If possible get as much help in the stage manager department as possible because with a children’s show, backstage can quickly become a very confusing place to be.
You will need black duct or Gaffer tape.
This tape has so many uses among the most important is to make sure any and all leads are taped down to a flat surface or floor so children don’t trip. You will need white tape that shines in the dark, to put on the steps and corners of boxes so people don’t hurt themselves as they move around in dimly lit place backstage and in the theatre.
Make sure children are not performing acrobatics unless you explicitly state you will be doing so in your insurance.
Create a marketing plan using the abilities of the people on the marketing a sales committee. For example if someone is a salesperson then they can be helpful in how one might go about designing something to show local business people to get them to invest in your show.
Create a logo for your show. I would use www.fiverr.com
Create a poster and a flyer for the show. With show name, place, logo, date, ticket price, website address. Again this can be done by using www.fiverr.com. This is a site that has people doing all sorts of things starting at $5.00. I have found them to be excellent. Just sign up and start using it. Sometimes you have to see the work of a few people before you get what you like but it is worth it. The person I like for graphics works under the name of “bestpixels91” He does the work without a hitch. I have used him many times for many different projects. His prices are good and the work is excellent.
Create a program for the show to be sold on production nights. This can also be done at Fiverr.com. Remember to include the names of everyone involved, even the caretaker at the rehearsal space. Remember, a little recognition goes a long way.
Place your printed posters in local shops starting 2 months before your production.
Groups photos of the actors in the production on the website that children can share on social media helps to market the show.
Market the show in with a door to door campaign with adult and kids team, as the person opens the door the kids do a bit from the play and then the parent asks for a donation, hand them a flyer and the P.O.A.
You will need a kettle to boil hot water, a large box of tea, sugar, milk, teaspoons. (plastic spoons are fine.)
You will need an ironing board and iron for pressing clothes.
You will need a hand held steaming to smooth things too think to iron.
You will need a place to buy paper cups in bulk for tea as well paper plates
You will need to have fruit for children to eat on rehearsal days.
On website tell parents to pack snacks for rehearsal days.
Pass out a flyer to the local bingo club or at community gatherings. Ask for community volunteers to help on the night as ushers. They might become small investors or good resource people. If they like theatre, there is no harm in asking.
110. On days when you think there is no hope and it looks as if you have too many problems to solve and it will never happen, adjust your mind and think again and move forward. Remember people all over the world are doing what you are doing and going through the exact same thing as you and they are doing it successfully, therefore you can too. One of my favourite quotes in this respect is “Happiness lies in the joy of achievement and the thrill of creative effort.” Franklin Roosevelt. (American President)
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