Starting a new theatre group from scratch can be exciting, but there are many things to consider even before you start holding auditions!
There are a multitude of established companies across the state, presenting so many different shows that you may find yourself dashing between auditions with minutes to spare, or juggling rehearsals for multiple shows every night of the week!
But maybe you want to sit in the director’s chair for a change? Maybe you want a chance to express your own ideas?
And just maybe, you are toying with the idea of starting your own amateur theatre group?
Well, take a word of advice from those who have gone before, and who have been through the trials and the triumphs of striking out on their own.
Starting a new theatre group can be both exciting and daunting at the same time. The dream of being able to see one’s own ideas and visions come to life on a stage appeals to the creative genes in all of us. Being able to call the shots, direct, design or choreograph a production rather than follow someone else’s direction is certainly an attractive prospect.
Your browser may not support display of this image. Your browser may not support display of this image. “I love knowing that we’re producing amazing work under our own steam,” says Katrina Young, a founding member of the relatively new What Just Happened Productions (WJH). Started in 2007, their company began as a group of friends who wanted to continue their theatrical pursuits beyond high school. Their first production, Fawlty Towers, was to raise money for the Brian McReedy Foundation.
An obvious benefit of running your own theatre company is creative control as well as presenting opportunities for members, such as WJH’s Seychelle Sketchley-Brown, to “work on projects and plays we are interested in” as individuals and as a whole.
It’s important to create an identity for your new theatre company from the start. For many, this usually involves some element of “originality”, something that sets their company apart. But ask yourselves, what does this mean to you? How will you express your new company’s uniqueness? Maybe it lies in the people you want to work with, or the kind of shows you want to produce?
For one company, M & M Productions, the focus was to produce straight plays, for a change. “There are a lot of companies out there that produce musicals and there isn’t a lot of opportunity for people who are straight theatre actors,” says co-founder Marcus Pinnell. “We also wanted to be able to put on shows that we found challenging, and that weren’t really performed all that often. Shakespeare is always popular, but what about more modern pieces?”
A mission statement usually helps at this stage. What does your group aim to achieve? Maybe there are no theatre companies in your local area, and you want to provide an opportunity for people in the local community to realise their dreams of performing on stage. Or perhaps you want to put on works that challenge your audiences’ thinking. WJH decided their mission was to create an environment where they could hone their skills, be innovative and try new things. “It’s about giving it a go,” explains Dann Barber, one of several members of WJH who are currently studying performing and visual arts at a tertiary level. For them, their company is not just about producing shows, it’s about getting their names out into the theatre world.
The name and image of the new group is an important part of how both the public and the theatre community perceives it. It is important, then, that it is portrayed in the right light, and more importantly, how you want it to be seen. For example, WJH was originally known as BOGAN Productions, a name which made it hard for them to attract audiences at the start. Nonetheless, the name should still be catchy to help your new company stand out from the crowd.
The management structure of the new company also needs be taken into consideration. Who will decide what projects to take on? Who will tackle publicity, or administration? It’s tempting at the start to want to take absolute control, but Pinnell warns against it. “Make sure you share the load. I think both myself and my mate who I started the company with, Maurice, would both say that at times, we have tried to do everything ourselves. Make sure there is a support team, and make sure you have good organisational skills; otherwise it will be a nightmare.”
Whilst delegating tasks to other members might make you feel like you’re losing control over your new creation, it can also be very liberating. Luckily this is exactly what WJH has found. “Each of us has our own section that relates to what we want to pursue in life, and that we enjoy. But together it’s a dream team,” says Young. It’s also important to decide at the start who gets the say when it comes to creative license, and who takes responsibility for those decisions. Without that, the new group may quickly fall apart if disputes can’t be resolved.
And of course, there are the practicalities to consider. Your new group will need rehearsal and performance venues, and these can often be the most expensive part of producing a show. “Our initial difficulties were finding a rehearsal space that wasn’t going to send us broke. In the end we aligned with another theatre company and shared their space,” says Pinnell. “Obviously after that, the finances were tight, particularly being students and investing your own money. I guess the best thing we did was calling in favours from anyone and everyone for help.” If your new group is local-community based, why not develop a good relationship with a local business? They might be able to offer discounts or even free materials in exchange for an advertisement in the program of your next show. Budgeting and being innovative with resources, set, props and costume are, of course, vital to any theatre group that is just starting out.
Persistence pays off! With each show, your company will add more funds to its coffers, which can go towards producing the next show. As the company builds its reputation, it will also build a strong support base and make it easier to attract audiences. And one day, perhaps your company will encourage new talent, or even become the inspiration for others to start their own theatre groups. A future goal for WJH is to buy a warehouse close to the CBD to fit out as a performance space for them and other companies. It’s a lofty but admirable goal, and a fantastic example of how a theatre group can give back to its community.
So now that you are armed with a few pointers, what’s stopping you? The theatre scene is always in need of fresh ideas. If you’ve ever thought about letting your creativity take flight, now is your chance. Remember, good planning and organisation is crucial. Do your research, decide on a mission statement, management structure and budget, and then start thinking about your first production! And above all, enjoy the process as much as the end results: the satisfaction of overcoming challenges, the new skills you’ll learn, and the relationships you’ll make and strengthen along the way. It’s these that make the reward of seeing your vision come to life the stage all that much better.
More information about What Just Happened Productions can be found at their website, http://www.whatjusthappened.com.au/, and M & M Productions at http://mmproductions.com.au/