The Self Production Series with Anna Nicholas: #4 Paying for it (Part 1)…

#4 Paying for it (Part 1) – The Company Connection

by Guest Blogger Anna Nicholas

Where does a self-producer get the money to put on a show? Do you bankrupt yourself like Michael Keaton’s character in Birdman? Maybe. (Spoiler alert: It worked out for him.)

Once my play was chosen, there came the question of paying for the production. Of course I had an idea of where I’d get the funds. However, once I’d made the commitment to go forward, reality struck when I had to start writing checks.

My first choice was to ally myself with a theatre company because doing so would help carry the load—from providing the physical space to assisting with lights, costumes, casting etc. Companies will do a co-production because they need shows to fill their theatres and plays in which their members (who usually pay dues and contribute a certain number of hours per week keeping the company going) can perform. But there’s usually a trade off: You may need to cast the company’s members (or a certain percentage) in your show, which may not be in your play’s best interest. You may have to pay for half the set.

If offered such a deal, explore it because doing all the production work yourself requires not only money, but time and lots of effort, some of which in retrospect, I’d like to have back. If you go this route, make sure before you get going that both you and the company are clear about what elements you and they will be responsible for. And write it down! This is a contract and best not left to a verbal understanding. If you either don’t have, or prefer not to work with, a company then you’ll need to come up with the money on your own–from finding an outside financial backer like a rich uncle or through donations and crowd funding.

In the early going with Villa Thrilla, I had a theatre company interested in a co-production. We spent months going down the road on the details: How many company members would I need to cast? Who will be responsible for what portions of the budget? Who would direct? Sadly, we couldn’t come to a meeting of the minds on much of anything and we parted company. I didn’t want to hand off a lot of (what I thought were important) decisions to someone else whose opinions, though valid, were so divergent from my own. Unfortunately, this decision came late in the going, leaving me with a rented theatre space and not a lot of time to put it all together. I recount my experience here to point up what to look out for, not to scare you. Plenty of other playwrights have nothing but good things to say about the arrangements they made with companies. But the rift had me scared and questioning whether I’d made the right decision. I almost bailed on the project out of fear I couldn’t pull it off on my own. Ultimately, I decided to forge ahead, somewhat blindly.

Next up: Crowd funding and where I got the money for Villa Thrilla.

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