How to set up a theatre company

How to set up a theatre company.

Setting up a theatre company can be simultaneously the most fun and most daunting aspects of working in the theatre. On the one hand, you now have creative control and you can focus your work rather than being told what to do. On the other hand, you and possibly some others are now in charge of a company. You are making the decisions and you have to answer to your company if things go wrong, so here are the key facets to creating a solid theatre company to help you along the way.

1. Company identity

This is the basis of your company, what sets you apart from other companies and gives you your USP or Unique Selling Point. When deciding on a company identity you need to consider the following things:

Does your company have a mission statement or manifesto? It is not always necessary to have a formalised statement as it can change over time, but having the basics mapped out is essential otherwise your ideas will lack focus and become diluted. The point of having a mission statement is that it encompasses everything you want to achieve and how you want to achieve it so that you can always refer back to it. For example, if you have a manifesto that states: "We, as a company, are dedicated to bringing children's theatre into the future by creating innovative and interactive performances for children 12 and under." ... and you find yourself working on an adaptation of Charles Manson's life, you may decide you have chosen inappropriate material for your audience. Then again, a company's manifesto changes over time as I have said before and can incorporate new ideas; it is just good to have a reference point to refer back to.

Another thing to consider when deciding on company identity is how you wish to be perceived. This may sound obvious, but little tweeks to operational aspects of the company can alter perception a great deal. For example, how you advertise yourself can alter perception, such as flyering on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh where you can choose calm, polite flyering which creates a grown up atmosphere, but maybe a boring one also, or creating a huge stunt to draw crowds, which could be seen as fun and whimsical, but also childish. It's the little ideas that can manipulate perception of your company and it is something to pay very close attention to. This also incorporates the company name. What do you want to purvey in your name?

2. Structure

It is very important to decide on how you want to structure your company right from the start as it seems like it could be an issue that works itself out over time, but I can assure you, from experience, that if the lines aren't set down at the beginning then they begin to blur very quickly and you can lose control. One suggestion I have for this situation is to look at your founding team. Is it just you? Or are there a few of you? If it is just you then you take on the role of Artistic Director, at least to start with, because you are the founder of this company and its vision. If there are more of you then look at where each person's strengths lie and work from there. For a team to be solid there needs to be someone heading it all up (the Artistic Director) someone who is good with people and organisations (The Producer), someone technically minded (Head of Production or Company Stage Manager) and someone good with money (Treasurer). Now these aren't all essential, but they are the foundation of a company, and it isn't exclusively one role to one person. A lot of the time one person may act as several different roles depending on the amount of people to start with. These situations are easily resolved as people are usually happy to help in the beginning, then there is a chance to expand depending on how well the projects go.

The main thing to remember is that everyone needs to feel like they are having an input if there are on committee or part of the company team (however you describe it) because otherwise tensions can rise early on, and you want there to be as few problems in the beginning as possible. That is definitely not me saying that issues in the beginning spell the end of a company or that they won't happen, because they will, but you need to face these issues head-on as a company, and starting out with a good structure can make that much easier.

3. The first production

Whatever your methods for production are or how you wish to utilise your company in the theatrical world, you need to make sure that your first show stands out, and that isn't just the work itself that needs to stand out, but you as a company. Do everything you can to make sure people know about the show. Use social media, write to critics, write to people who have influenced you, and tell them that, a little flattery can go a long way, especially if you mean it. Go to magazines like Time Out and see if they will put you on their website as something to see. All these things build hype and boost audience numbers, which, at the end of the day, is what you want as it makes people aware of you.

4. Look to the future

Even when you are still massively in the throngs of your first show, you as a theatre company leader, or you as part of a group should always have the next project in the back of your minds. Whether it be a small crumb of an idea or a fully-fledged theatrical extravaganza, it needs to be there as there is always a tendency to have a break and think about what you have done after your first project is over. This is murder for a theatre company because you always need to stay fresh and focused. The show doesn't have to start rehearsing a week after the last show finishes, but set a time to meet up to discuss the next project during the current run or just after. Have a date set for new development talks or have a General Meeting every month or two so you know people will be getting together on a regular basis. I have seen too many companies go stale because they rested on their laurels and that is something I can't stress enough.

So in conclusion: Always be focussed on what it was that you set out to achieve as a company, but don't be scared if that vision changes, it's good news if you start to evolve ideas. Have a structure to the company so mistakes are less frequent and roles are set down so no-one is stepping on someone else's toes. Make sure your first show goes off with a bang, and always look to the future.