You might wonder why I’m writing this. Why should I care about how to set up a theatre company? The thing is, without theatre companies around the world no-one will put your work on. (Remember, even Shakespeare had his own company!) So here goes:
This is the very first thing any company should consider. Who’s your audience? How old are they? What are their lives like? Why should they come and see a show of yours? Any group that ignores or disparages the audience does so at their peril. If you put on great shows and no-one comes it’s a waste of time and you make no money. If you put on rubbish and crowds come you are very lucky but in the long run, no-one will come and you make no money.
Excellence (or the striving for excellence) should be what the company is about. If you don’t want to do or be your best, why do it? This goes for everything down the line: writing, directing, performing, lighting, designing, and front-of-house. Excellence is the only currency any company has to offer. If we’re not striving for excellence, why should the audience come? They’ll go and see the company that does give a damn.
Work first, fun later
The fun is only fun because you’ve earned it, because you know by the end of the season you gave it everything you had and there is nothing left in you to give, nothing left to do except get smashed and have a great time. As Aldous Huxley said : “Happiness is like coke [not the drink!]: it’s the by-product of another process.”
We’ve seen the church sell off old halls and assembly areas and companies have been kicked out and gone to the wall because they had nowhere to put on their shows. Perhaps your company is a post-modern company, and can perform anytime, anywhere, on even a handkerchief thrown on the footpath, but I think part of the identity of a company is linked to the space it uses. Using a space over time you get to know what works, what doesn’t work, and how to make things work. It becomes the bedrock that supports innovation, experimentation, and other exciting things to happen.
Every group needs one. Something everyone agrees on, something which defines the company, something that “sells” the company to itself, to potential members, the media, other companies, and most importantly, to the audience. Without being clear about what you want to create and where you’re going, you can’t then figure out how you’re going to get there.
The central challenge for any company is to create something that endures over time, an entity that doesn’t simply put on one show, or a one-act play, or go to festivals, but keeps doing it, time and time again. It’s this cumulative effort that will lead to the creation of more and more exciting theatre. Good luck!