Saturday, January 31, 2015

Ten Things NOT To Do When Running a Small Theatre.

  Yep. That is EXACTLY what I am going to write about this week. Ten mistakes you must not make when running a small community theatre. Why should you read this and glean the tips from the following paragraphs? Because I am an EXPERT....and I have made every last one of these errors at some point in my career.
   You betcha.
   The funny thing is, when I opened this little company over 14 years ago with much less experience and even less money, it didn't even occur to be that perhaps I was a tad too naive. I was too busy romanticizing the whole "theatre ownership" thing to remember that I had no idea on how to balance my checkbook, let alone a business budget. I had the desire and the artistic talent, but was so unbelievably green when it came to what it would take to be an entrepreneur in the Performing Arts. I look back at that younger version of cheerful and positive and clueless, and I want to scream at her, "RUN! RUN! It's not too late to be an attorney! Go back to college! RUN!".
   But since I can't do that, I CAN put together a little list of things I wouldn't do if I had it to do all over again. And if you are reading this looking for tips to start your own theatre...may the muses be gentle and kind and bring you many happy memories and people to share them with, because they certainly are not going to make you rich with cash. But perhaps, if you are lucky and blessed, you will be rich with wonderful experiences.

Ten things NOT to do when running a small theatre:
  • Do NOT assume you must do it all by yourself because everyone is a moron.
I get it. They just don't understand how important the little X,Y,Z details are. Let's face it, no one can crawl into your brain and read the list in your head. And there will be things that only you can make decisions on. But which way to hang the toilet paper on the roll in the restroom ain't one of them. Take peoples help when they offer and be accepting of how they give it. I used to do EVERYTHING in my company from the directing and producing to the concessions and it was exhausting. Now that I am (a bit) smarter, I choose my issues to resolve and pass along the rest to someone else. Bliss. Bonus tip: Every person has some special talent or skill that can be used at the theatre.

  • Do NOT neglect your books/budget/money.
Take a simple finance class now...BEFORE you even think about opening a theatre. Learn how to make a spreadsheet. Use math. Know how much money you have (or don't have) at all times. Make sure every single show has a specific budget and stick to it. Don't rob from Peter to pay Paul. Keep your theatre checkbook balanced. If you cannot take a class, at least get a book on small business finance...and read it. I was mistaken in my belief that if I simply had enough heart, my shows would always be full and I would have plenty of money. I was wrong. These days, I watch the money like Scrooge McDuck. At least this way, I will have a heads up before the well runs dry. Bonus tip: You're welcome.

  • Do NOT believe that only expensive musicals will make you money.
Big, showy musicals are tempting because they will bring in more money right? Wrong. Wrong. Double wrong. Small theatres should choose small shows. It is way easier and affordable to do something smaller and do it well, than to invest beyond your means, hoping to have ticket sales cover you. ALL of the play publishers in the U.S. have great small shows, just perfect for a small theatre. Also, advertise on your website for local playwrights who want to have their works performed. Most original stuff is rough, but occasionally, you will get a gem...for about 20% of what you would pay the bigger playhouses. Bonus tip: Original Works Publishing in L.A. has some of the newest and freshest plays around and you can negotiate the cost.

  • Do NOT assume that you can ever take a break from promoting your company.
Vacations, weddings, funerals, sick better get used to being attached to your theatre's Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Email, Chat, Messaging, Etc. for the rest of your natural life. If you let up on any of will lose business. No one in any kind of successful business ever said "You know...I think we've promoted our event enough."  Especially now when people have so many options for entertainment right in their hand via their phone. You want to be talking, tweeting, posting, and poking as much as you can all the way up to opening night AND beyond. Hey, I never said theatre was easy. Bonus tip: get a savvy social media volunteer to help you.

  • Do NOT forget to write down the rules of your company.
People will need to know what you expect of them. I am not here to restate my company rules; perhaps they will not apply to your group of monsters. But follow your heart and your head and make everyone aware of your demands and expectations. Once we got our rules together, people management and direction became a whole lot smoother. Before that, it was like herding cats. Emotionally fragile cats. Bonus tip: Get them to sign a copy of the rules for you to keep on file. Trust me.

  • Do NOT forget to follow your own rules.
Practice what you preach; it's fantasy to think you are "above the law", even if the laws are yours. Model the behavior you want from people in your company. Enough said.
  • Do NOT cry.
Sorry. I know it is incredibly politically incorrect to say this but it is so very true in theatre. If you have to command a stage full of dramatic actors, the last thing you can do is become emotional. If you do not have alligator thick skin, you will not make it in theatre ownership. People can be harsh, mean, and unjustifiably rude and your job is to not let it bother you. Cry at home...but never ever in front of your cast or theatre staff. Bonus tip: Don't yell or scream either...just makes you look like an ass.

  • Do NOT break your word.
Your word is your reputation. People may not remember everything good you have done, but they will never forget it if you make a promise you cannot or forgot to keep. Honoring your patrons, your actors, your crew and staff by following through will build an amazing theatre team. Never ever promise something you are unsure you can deliver; it is better to say no to a request than to falsely say yes. Bonus tip: If you can deliver, go up and beyond.
  •  Do NOT be afraid to let go.
You will be doing this a lot over the years. Actors come and go, and come back...and go again. They go to other theatres, other cities, and other artistic expressions. You must be ok with the fact that the only constant is change. You must also be prepared to let go of people who are not good for your theatre. Keeping bad karma around is a one way ticket to disaster. Best to release them back into their own habitat. Bonus tip: Letting go allows for new energy to come in. Embrace it.
  • Do NOT believe everything you read about owning a theatre.
You will find your own way. Listen to your gut and go with what feels right for you. Small theatre ownership  is a roller coaster ride. You will be exhilarated one minute and vomiting the next. You will struggle and soar. But it is never boring. Be smart and stay flexible and never give up if it is important to you. You have to do what's right for you and your little theatre. Bonus tip: Don't get caught up in negative thinking.

"Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them". - (William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night Act II, Scene V).

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