How I Started My Own Theatre Company
I had been heavily involved in the local am-dram circuit for four years when I decided I wanted to start my own theatre company. In that time I had worked with six different groups, been on a theatre society committee member and had appeared in more shows then I could keep track of. You name it, I had experienced it, from famous well-known shows such as Jesus Christ Superstar, RENT and Guys and Dolls, to variety shows, concerts and the occasional play, I’d seen it all.
The thing that gnawed at me was that all the experiences had a sense of treading water, it all seemed nice, steady and familiar. What I mean is, the casts were mostly made up of the same people (per society) and with the exception of a few productions, I didn’t feel challenged on a personal level. Sure, there were parts I missed out on, shows I could have worked harder in, but at the time I just had a feeling I wanted more.
That’s when I decided to start my own theatre company. I formed it with a good friend of mine who I had shared many of the above experiences with, and we set about looking for a debut production and of course a cast. Surprisingly, our initial cast wasn’t made up from people we knew from the theatre circuit, instead it was a mixture of friends, chance acquaintances and someone who worked at the venue we were going to be performing at, The Kettering Arts Centre.
We were lucky to secure a good (at the time) rehearsal space attached to the venue, found a play which we didn’t need to pay royalties on and a ticket split agreement with the venue. The important thing to realise when starting out is that everything costs something and you need to be comfortable with the idea of losing a little money initially to make your goals reach realisation. You may be fortunate as we were to turn a small profit, if this is the case look at the next production, your current assets in terms of costume/props/set and reinvest what you made back into the group, especially for items that will have a high re-use value. On the note of finances, it may well be worth exploring what grant funding you can secure as this is another great source of income.
I was also very lucky to come from a design/marketing background with the job I had at the time. This proved invaluable when it came to promoting the group and our early shows, not just to audiences but also attracting bigger and newer casts and make links with people in the local community. Print may seem like a great idea, but when was the last time you honestly stopped to look at a poster in the street or picked up a leaflet in a coffee shop. I would also suggest online advertising as the number one priority as it’s mostly free and has a great potential reach. Also it’s worth making a note of the local council policy regarding postering.
The main advice I would give anyone thinking of starting their own theatre company would be to have a vision, a goal, work out how you would like to achieve it and what key elements need to be in place (rehearsal space, cast etc.) and ignore any criticism that isn’t constructive. I was genuinely surprised when I started am-dram of some of the group rivalries that exist behind the scenes, but I was more surprised that this was also aimed at our fledgling group. Have a thick skin, wear it well and surround yourself with positive people who share your enthusiasm, energy and vision. Not everyone will like or support what you’re trying to achieve, don’t take it personally. Tastes in the arts can vary as it is, don’t try to force feed your brand or flavour of theatre onto people, likewise don’t worry if audiences don’t initially buy into what you’re trying to offer. Word of mouth is a wonderful thing, start small and see where it takes you.
Chris Lynch is the Artistic Director of C&D Productions and an avid supporter of local and regional theatre, working with groups across the East Midlands since 2011. He has directed 16 theatre shows and had performed in over 25 productions prior to starting C&D.