Upstaged: How to set up a theatre company

Upstaged: How to set up a theatre company

By Nell Frizzell 08/05/12

From finding the right name to securing rehearsal space, there are hundreds of things to consider when setting up your own theatre company. Here, members of young theatre companies share their advice…

Think about why youre doing it

“If you want to put on a production to showcase your talents and gain freelance employment, perhaps you don’t need to invest the time, energy and money in setting up a viable company. But if you want make work and serve your artistic vision over the longer term, go for it,” says Rachel Briscoe of fanSHEN Theatre Company. 

“Our thinking was basically, if no-one’s going to give us a job then we might as well make our own,” says Euan Borland of Made from Scratch theatre company. “When we graduated from Rose Bruford the world was in financial crisis, agent uptake wasn’t good and there just didn’t seem to be a lot of work out there. So we started making our own.”

Find your niche

“There are so many different companies around – your challenge is to find your niche,” says Berislav Juraic of Just a Must theatre company. “Whether you’re interested in contemporary circus, straight plays, music, foreign plays – whatever the genre – you need to find a niche. Ours is post-dramatic theatre.”

Be clear about roles

“Think about how your responsibilities are split,” says Rachel Briscoe. “For example, does one person have responsibility for the website and the other for financial record keeping? Different companies run in different ways. fanSHEN is two co-directors running things on a day-to-day basis, but we also have associate designers and a group of actors we have a commitment to. Metta Theatre is run by a director-designer team. Inspector Sands is run by three devisor-performers. There are lots of options but be honest with yourself about what you want – if it’s your baby and you want absolute control, don’t call it an ensemble.”

Which isn’t to say that everyone won’t have to pitch in at some point. “Find actors with a wide range of backstage skills”, says Patchwork Theatre via Twitter. “There’s no use having three techies and no costumes.” 

Remember the legal stuff

“If your company is not registered legally, it doesn’t exist in the eyes of the law,” says Rachel Briscoe. “So if your production ends up going horribly wrong and you owe £30,000 to the venue, it will be you personally who is liable. The ITC run great workshops on this.

“fanSHEN, like many theatre companies, is limited by guarantee and is a charity. This entails a certain about of admin but suits the scale of what we want to do. In order to become a company and a charity, we joined ITC for a year and paid them to do the process of company and charity registration. If you are a company or a charity, you will need a board. This is a group of people who can give you advice and support. Think about the people you were at school or university with, who now have real jobs: accountants, solicitors, advertising people, fundraisers, teachers. All of them have skills that you might not, and that could be massively helpful to your company. You can also have a couple of theatre people on your board – people who know the terrain.” 

Dont forget the obvious

“You’ll need rehearsal space, a van, a website, a cool name (Google it first, to check it hasn’t already been taken) and a good logo,” says Euan Borland. “Also, try to find a place where you can work away from home that’s not necessarily a bar or cafe.”

Get online

“Get a website and twitter account,” says Rachel. “Be visible. Interact with peer companies and bigger fish. Make sure that your website is something that you would want venues, potential funders and collaborators to look at. You can make fairly serviceable websites through free programmes like wordpress.”

Also, as we pointed out in a previous Upstaged, use your web presence to keep a record of what you’re doing. 

Learn on the job

“When we set up fanSHEN, we knew very little about budgeting, websites, flyer design, accounts, video-editing, tour booking, tax, contracting and lots of other things. But more experienced companies or venues with a commitment to emerging artists will be able to support you, or at very least answer your questions.”


Read more How to articles.

Illustration by Narcsville.

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