The last good bit of news I had was that my mum’s friend from work has a life size Idris Elba cut out. After scrolling forever through Amazon trying to find the ‘right Idris’ for a set piece and one that didn’t go over budget, it turned out my mum has a friend who brings Mr Elba out every year at her Christmas party. What are the chances? That was one prop down anyway.

Idris featured in our play A Womb of One’s Own when it first premiered at The Space Theatre in 2017. He was the literal poster boy of our lead character’s student bedroom.  He is essential to the play as the writer includes him in the script, and a great way to show the set change from the lead character’s upbringing in a strict catholic household to the sexual freedom of University.

Getting our own Idris poster proved problematic. A4 too small. A2 too expensive. A1 they didn’t sell.  So, do we cut the line out the play or make do with a tiny Idris in the middle of the stage? Cut a funny line or have a shoddy set?

This is just one of the many struggles with Fringe theatre. Not just having little to no money to buy props with, but feeling you have to restrain your creativity for the sake of the budget. When you read a script, and you get to a page with a very specific prop, there is a moment of intrigue but also a small niggling question in the back of your head: do we have the budget for that?

Here are some suggestions to keep your creative spending down:

  1. USE YOUR NETWORKS. This is one of the most useful things that I have learnt since creating a theatre company. I am in no way an InDesign pro, but there are plenty of graphic design students out there who would be happy to knock something up for you to add to their own portfolio. If you want to, pay them, or offer something in return such as a quick coffee or a credit in a programme. A graphic design student made our programme for A Womb of One’s Own and in hindsight would have potentially made an Idris Elba Poster too. Oh well.
  2. BOSSY. This is just the greatest thing for young, broke female creatives. There are plenty of women on there who want more credits, a stronger portfolio, or want to showcase their work in some way. You can also advertise an unpaid opportunity on their Facebook page (but make sure to keep the connection for when you can pay them in the future.)
  3. ONLINE PAGES. If you’re on a budget, pages like Freecycle and Free Stuff South East London have people getting rid of things you may really need as a prop. We got a ton of old baby stuff for a play that would have cost a fortune at Mothercare. Take time to ask around and scrawl the internet for freebies.
  4. This might not seem obvious, but amazingly there are so many free or cheap workshops in things like zine making, book binding or screen printing. If you can’t afford to print a programme, attending a workshop like this might be a way to create cool, DIY programmes, with materials provided while telling everyone there about your show. Win win!

The last time we performed the show,  we decided the free Idris cut out was too big, making do with a slightly blurry A3.  He still worked, as Idris is rather easy to make out through the blur. But, after a year of making our own theatre, Wonderbox has become adept at keeping creative on a budget. We hope now you can too.

Follow the links for more information on Wonderbox and Freecycle.