It’s been two weeks since we closed The Jester. What an experience! It began with a simple idea between friends and has become a budding business and creative venture. Initially, we thought the process would be smooth and simple, but like all things in theatre, nothing was.
We had both simple successes and fantastic failures. Like decent human being, we like to give back. This article is our attempt to do so. If you are interested in producing small time theatre, you’ve come to the right place because you can learn from our successes and our failures before diving off the deep end of production.
- Budget for Locations
The two most expensive items in your budget will be your rehearsal space and your performance space. Even if you are able to find a decently priced space, like we were, you will likely spend a quarter to half your budget on space rental.
The reality of theatre is that spaces don’t come cheap. Most rehearsal spaces cost $35/hr and performance spaces cost anywhere from $600 to $1,200 a night. We were able to find spaces for much cheaper, but we had to put in an extensive amount of labor to make them work.
If you can, find a space you can use for free – If you’re a college student, use space on campus. If you’re in high school, use your parents back yard. If you’re a fully fledge adult who owns a professional business, I’m sorry, you’re probably going to have to pay out your a**.
2. Rent Your Set
Because we’re talking small time theatre, you likely will not have the tools or time to build a custom made set. The reality is that most theatres have a fully staffed scene shop in order to make their plays a reality. I’m venturing a guess that you do not have such a shop.
Instead of stressing about a custom made set, go to your local community theatre and see if they rent out set pieces. This was the option we went with and it saved hundreds of dollars and likely hundreds of work hours. Renting is cheap, it’s easy, and it will save you an ulcer.
3. Know The Red Tape
One of the most stressful road blocks we ran into while producing The Jester was working with the city of Provo to make sure our event was legal and legitimate. We produces our show in an amphitheater owned by Provo. In order to make this legitimate, we needed to apply for a special events permit.
The permit required a $50 applications fee, proof of payment for the performance space, $1 million dollars of insurance coverage, a trash disposal plan, and a medical emergency plan.
Each city is different, but if you plan on using city property to perform your play, I’d figure out the red tape as soon as possible.
Side note: $1 million of insurance coverage for special events only costs about $100 to $200, so don’t crap yourself in fear.
4. Use Your Small Time Feel to Market
We marketed using many different strategies: posters, Facebook, Instagram, college news letters, and more. The most successful method was door to door sales. I, the head-producer, personally knocked doors for 6-hours on the last two days of our production. We hadn’t brought in many people using social media or news letters, so I figured we needed to try something else.
My 6-hour sales experiment was the best sales experience I ever had. People were kind, inviting and very receptive. The fact that you are a small time theatre opens people’s hearts to you. Not everyone bought a ticket but as a one man sales team, I can say I brought in six paying customers for 6-hours of labor. That’s $10/hr. Not to bad if I say so myself.
5. All Publicity is Good Publicity
If you are debating about inviting a critic to your show, do it! It doesn’t matter how badly they rip into you or how much they love it. Inviting a critic does two things for you – One, it shows you have guts. Not everyone who produces theatre will have the guts to invite a theatre critic. Stand out and invite them. Two, it’s free publicity. You can post it to social media, tell people about it, and use it to market your show.
The Jester received a scathing review by Utah Theatre Blogger’s Nola Smith. We posted that review online and told as many people about it as possible. Rather than pushing people away, the review brought people in. It also created a community among those who liked our show. One man in particular was so angered by the review that he invited all his friends and donated money to our theatre in order to spite the review.
There are many tips and tricks to producing small time theatre, but these five stand out in my mind. Like us, you will have both simple successes and fantastic failures. If you’re a producer worth your weight in confidence, you’ll go out and weather the storm in order to create theatre you love.