In her last article dishing out advice to fellow young theatremakers, Holly Bond tells us what really helped in setting up her company, Wonderbox and especially what will help you. Take note!
This is my last article for A Younger Theatre and the feeling is a bittersweet one. Bitter, as AYT is brilliant and has created a unique voice for young theatre goers and being a part of it feels important. The sweet note is here because I have decided to stop blogging as theatre making is now taking up a lot of my spare time. Because of this, I find myself asking how my company, Wonderbox got here? When did we become a theatre company? And as I think this I realise that all theatre companies must feel similarly – with an inability to articulate how they created themselves, as companies always form over years of taking opportunities, trying new things and a pinch of luck with a group of people who wanted to do the same things. Perhaps therefore it can be tricky to give advice on how to develop companies, as everyone has different routes and avenues, trials and errors. So for my last article, I’m going to offer some advice and in turn, try to articulate how we got here!
FINDING THE ONES
A lot of theatre companies come out of university drama societies or theatre degree programmes, where finding like-minded people is easy and you have free rehearsal space and guidance to come out pretty much fully formed. If you haven’t been to uni or met anyone there who wanted to make a company, there are still a lot of people out there in the same boat. I’ve seen many a post on Bossy – largely writers – asking people to read their scripts. If you’re a director and know some actors, this could be the opportunity to get a theatre group together. It is better to think of your company’s first production as a group of people putting on a play rather than as a ‘theatre company’. The company bits will naturally follow when you go “who’s put the Facebook event up? “or “who’s doing the lights?” etc etc. I’ve met companies who formed out of theatre youth groups, acting classes and clowning workshops, many of which are free or cheap to attend. I recommend Script Space at The Space Theatre, The Almeida and The Young Vic Young People programmes.
So now you have a band of merry players, but you don’t necessarily have ‘your thing’ down with choosing who is THE artistic director or THE producer sometimes being unhelpful, especially in fringe where everyone must do everything. This industry obsessed by nouns, which as I said in a previous article, isn’t great for people who have to work full time elsewhere to make theatre on the side. So instead, break down into tasks, such as: create a Twitter or apply for PR companies. This way you can work out whose strengths suit what and who enjoys doing it the most. Trello is a great tool for this and is essentially an online office. If everyone gets on it then you can assign tasks to certain people and see when it is done and set deadlines. An online drive too, that everyone can access, to save scripts, photos and invoices in one place is incredibly helpful.
If I could go back in time I would whisper in my stubborn ears: “Don’t get caught up in branding!” When we sat around and decided to call ourselves Wonderbox, my mind immediately went to: “Oh and we can have a website that opens up like a box and digital confetti and Rihanna playing on the page!” Actually, the best thing for us was to set up a mediocre Facebook page initially and put our energy into making work. We still don’t have a website two years after starting, and that’s fine because we are still working on our voice. Our first ever show was in the foyer of a library, which gave us a bit of money to do a show in Birmingham, so we had to make a poster, which then led to us needing website copy. Branding naturally falls into place when you prioritise making theatre first.
I get ahead of myself when thinking about the future, so it was valuable for us to sit down and write out our company aims for the month, then the year. A good goal for the month could be to arrange a coffee with a company that you really admire or a producer you want to connect with. Goals for the year could be to become an associate company of a building, receive funding or to scratch a new play. Any goal that can be broken down and divided up (again, using Trello) is a lot more attainable and will allow your company to grow in an organic way.
GO FOURTH AND MAKE PLAYS
Now is the time to self-produce, write your own roles and build your own set. Small theatre companies are creating amazing new innovative work in writing, directing, and design. There are also more independent theatre festivals and cool scratch nights in which to try out new things in supportive environments. Find your group and set out attainable goals and keep going. Ask for help where you can and support the work of other young companies. The biggest piece of advice I have is exactly that: to ask for advice. Meet producers, directors, designers, writers, actors that you like and ask them questions. Most importantly: do the art first, and the rest should follow.