Since the start of this year I have been working with the theatre company Pip Productions on a piece of pedal-powered theatre called The Bicycle Thieves. We have just finished our run at the View Tube as part of CREATE 11 festival and the show is transferring to Folly for a Flyover on 17 July. As these six months have been a traineeship for me I thought I would take a moment to think about the greatest lessons learnt…
Working on the budget and funding has been the biggest eye opener. They affect every part of the producing process and there is sadly no escape. Deadlines for funding applications can’t be missed and each one is like a job application, you have to tailor them individually to the funding body – copy and paste is not the answer. This is also not just an evening’s work, it can take weeks. And you need details about the venues you will be using so applying before you have approached theatres is tricky. This then becomes a Catch 22 as you often need money behind you when approaching theatres, especially if you are hiring the space. And of course there is the wonderful moment when, after weeks or months of waiting with your hopes building, they say no.
Lesson One – Funding applications are a pain in the ______ (feel free to fill in) and you shouldn’t rely on them to financially support your show. You need to find other sources of income. This may be a good time to start eyeing up banks and investing in scratch cards.
Six months ago I knew you needed money to put on a show but I had assumed I could do it on a very minimal budget. Say,
£1,000 tops. Now I am definitely re-evaluating my budget. Everything you need will have a price and not always a foreseen one. You can avoid some costs but not on insurance, wages and licensing. You want to use music in your piece? Then watch
out for the PRS. You will (hopefully) have an audience so public liability insurance needs to be paid too. If you want to do it right you have to pay for it. Although having a list of friends with useful skills and who owe you favours can also cut a few financial
Lesson Two – When thinking of your budget probably best to times your initial figure by three. Then maybe times it again by
Another lesson learnt was that you must always plan for the unexpected. Last night just as we started pedal-powering
our opening music, it began to pour. For an outdoor show with bike stunts taking place, rain is a cancelling factor. Putting actors on bikes and sending them onto a slippery stage is never a winning idea so we had to stop the show, and I got a lesson in audience relations. Offering date transfer or refunds straight away as well as a free drink seemed to work well with our audience and they left happy albeit disappointed.
Lesson Three – As a producer you must learn the art of negotiation and a fixed smile that never reveals the truth behind that actor’s “illness”.
Being a producer in a small team also means you have to be willing to muck in with everything, be that setting up chairs,
manning the box office, or riding a bike and trailer to pick up sound equipment, it’s all in your job description.
Lesson Four – Producing can really involve anything depending on the scale of your show. So best to have many hats in your bag, i.e. a box office one, barmaid one or technician one.
Bicycle Thieves is showing at Folly for a Flyover on 17th July, 7.30 pm.
Image by John Morgan