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Article by Leana Sherwood & Dawn Richmond-Gordon
As most relatively young theatre company’s will probably tell you, forming a company can be stressful, there are lots of things to take into consideration before going ahead and making it official. Before taking the plunge we gave ourselves plenty of time to do our research and give thought to our options… and yet… we still made a fair few mistakes along the way. Here are a few things that we’ve come up against on our journey so far that we hope will be helpful to companies just starting out.
Do you absolutely need to register as a company in order to function and make work? Consider if you are actually ready to become a limited company, there is nothing wrong or less legitimate about practising as a collective until you absolutely need to become legal. How long term are you thinking – if you have come together for a particular project and haven’t thought much past that then you probably don’t need to be a limited company. Have you looked into alternative ways of working before deciding that this is the best thing for you?
2. REMEMBER THE LEGAL STUFF
Running a theatre company is about 30% making theatre and 70% running a business that requires lots of administration. Incorporating as a theatre company makes you a legal entity which lots of implications that have not a lot to do with making theatre. Make sure you have the capacity to take this workload on before signing up to it.
Who are the core members of your company? This is perhaps the most important consideration to make; forming a company with someone will test your relationship. You have to be sure that the dynamic is right before jumping in. Avoid mistakes such as lack of definition in roles and responsibilities. Consider the skillsets of your company members – are there individuals with strong organisational skills or a passion for graphic design etc. – these will come in handy! What can each member bring to the table and how will this help you to become a strong company? Allow the diverse skills of your members to shape your practice. Also, consider if there any organisations or venues you can partner with to support you creatively or logistically. Building strong relationships BEFORE you register will serve you well when you find yourself in need of help.
When first starting a company there are a string of small but significant payments to make and it’s important that you have a conversation about how you will raise the funds to pay for them before you have even started. Whether you divide things equally or not, money gets complicated if you don’t talk about it. And even once you have made it over these initial hurdles, the money situation doesn’t get any easier. Be realistic and be prepared to create a strategy for how you will manage without it during the difficult periods that come to us all. It is often worthwhile considering working for free or radially reduced rates in the early days to gain experience and build valuable relationships with partners and audiences, but make sure you give some real thought to your limits! You can’t work for free forever so at what point will you stop? And where will the money come from when you do? Attend workshops, talk to artists and funding bodies such as Arts Council England and soak up as much information as you can. And also don’t necessarily give up the day job, give as much time to your company as you can, but you remember you are allowed to put yourself first when you need to.
5. UNDERSTAND YOUR MARKET & FIND YOUR NICHE
Think about who you are making the work for, consider your audience. Is the market already saturated with lots of companies making the same work? Where does your work fit into the cultural landscape of your city/region? Consider your brand and how your artistic vision is communicated to your audience through your name, branding and online profile.
6. THINK ABOUT WHY YOU’RE DOING IT
This is important when the paperwork is weighing you down, you’re funding application has been rejected and you haven’t been creative in months – have a goal or plan and remember why you’re doing all the boring stuff! Stay motivated by having regular conversations with other artists, attending workshops and watching some theatre! Don’t just set up a company because you want to perform or make work – it’s NOT the easy option. You have to be passionate about your practice and see it as a long-term commitment not just as a means to facilitate short-term ambitions.
7. BE READY TO SPEAK TRUTHS TO YOUR COLLEAGUES
It is so important to be honest with the people you are working with. Be honest about the work you want to make. Where you see the company going. Your own personal aspirations. It can feel daunting to air these thoughts at first for fear of discovering that you and your colleagues are not actually on the same page, however, in our experience, it is better to air these thoughts in a planned conversation rather than allowing tensions to bubble under the surface later down the line. Remember – If your stars don’t align, its ok to call it a day and go your separate creative ways. Just be sure to get into the real nitty-gritty of these conversations before signing on any dotted lines.
8. NEVER BE AFRAID OR TOO PROUD TO ASK FOR HELP
Running a company can feel lonely at times, the workload is tough and the landscape is constantly changing so it’s not uncommon to suddenly feel out of your depth and alone. But you’re not! As tough as it is to survive in the creative industries, one thing you can guarantee is that help is never very far away. For every stupid question, every midnight panic and every ‘I just need someone to look at this before I lose my mind’ there is always someone who has been in the same situation and is ready and willing to help. Always remember you are part of a community, and it is one of the most supportive ones you can find so never struggle with a problem on your own.
Visit eggboxtheatre.co.uk for more information on Eggbox Theatre and the work that they do!
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