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How to produce a small scale play for the theatre

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The following guide outlines the main steps essential to producing a play for the theatre to take place in professional venues of around 50-200 seats either on the London Fringe or in smaller/fringe theatres in other cities. This ‘how to’ guide covers everything from conception to production including choosing a show, cast, creative team, planning your budget and getting an audience in. It’s important to realise that there are always problems, issues and decisions arising that are specific to each individual production, but below I have outlined the bare bones on which you can build your theatrical dream!
What you'll need: 
A creative vision
A great team
Being able to understand and create budgets and cash flow forecasts
Being able to ‘sell your show’ to your team, your actors, your potential audience, your venue and the press
A willingness to get your hands dirty and join in where necessary
Passion and belief for/in your project
To be proactive and good at networking
Access to money, funding, grants, donations, sponsorship etc.
BUDGET, BUDGET, BUDGET! Your first step is to outline your budget. There are a number of sources from which to find funding for your production including private investment, corporate sponsorship or arts council funding. Alternatively you might have decided to self-fund this venture. It’s important that you begin your process by outlining how much you are willing to spend on each aspect of the production by drawing up a cash flow forecast . Once you choose your venue etc. you will continuously be adding information and figures into this forecast, and you need to constantly keep your eye on your budget, cutting costs where possible and negotiating wherever you can. Your budget needs to cover actors’ costs (unless you can get them to agree to unpaid work/profit share), lighting/sound design and operation, stage management, director’s fees, publicity and venue hire. For accurate information regarding Equity minimums you can contact Equity and download up to date example contracts.
TIMETABLE YOUR PROCESS! Now is the best time to decide on your time span. You need an end date which will be the get in/pre-show period at the venue. Working backwards from that you should have a few weeks (around 4-8) rehearsal period, and prior to that, casting, production meetings etc. You must work religiously to this timetable and make sure you share it with your cast and crew straight away.
CHOOSE YOUR PLAY! Your budget will already have determined what you can afford in terms of actors, set and venue, so your choice of play will need to reflect this. It’s better to go for a smaller cast as far as possible. This will incur less cost, make rehearsal plans easier and mean you can work in a smaller space if necessary. Plays that demand too much in the way of extras (e.g. a band, special effects, stage violence) might turn out to be too much work and expense, especially if this is your first production. Once you’ve chosen your play you need to make sure you can purchase the rights to it, and that it’s not recently been performed in the vicinity of where you wish to put your play on.
GETTING YOUR CREATIVE TEAM TOGETHER! As Producer, your role is to make everything happen! Your job is to put together a fantastic team that will do justice to your project. One you’ve put your creative team together your main role will be to keep an eye on the business side of the project (eg. Budget, publicity, administration etc.) and making sure that it’s running within the right time frame, and that your expectations of quality are being met. Who makes up your team? You’ll need a) a director, b) a lighting designer and operator, c) a sound designer and operator and d) a stage manager plus assistant stage managers if necessary.
VENUE Again, your venue size will be somewhat determined by both your budget and your play. Once you’ve established what you need, there are a variety of ways to find appropriate venues. You might approach small theatres, look at rooms above pubs or use a licensed outdoor space. Whichever one you choose you need to make sure that it can house your show appropriately, that the seat numbers will allow you to make a profit, find out if they have their own technical equipment (otherwise this is an extra expense you will need to add) and make sure that it’s accessible. Then you need to make a good agreement with the theatre that works in both your favours. Whether you agree on a door split, whether you pay them a fee or whether they pay you a fee, you must get the final agreement in writing and signed by both parties. When you input this information into your cash flow forecast you need to calculate potential profit using firstly a) 60% capacity and then b) full house and c) minimum sales, to make sure that you will at least make ends meet even if the show doesn’t sell well.
CAST YOUR PLAY! You might already have actors in mind, in which case lucky you! If not, leave plenty of time for casting, but don’t do so until you have an actual show and funding in place. Use websites such as CastingCallPro or The Spotlight to find actors. You’ll generally get far too many applications and will need to cut them down significantly to find the ones you actually want to audition. To decide upon this, look at a number of attributes including their look, their experience and their training. For the auditions, it’s best to work out how you want them to run well in advance, printing off sides for them to read or organising improvisations and workshops. You’ll probably need to rent a space so it’s best to keep the auditions as fast paced as possible. Leave time and a second day for recalls.
REHEARSALS You will know from STEP 2 that you’ll already be working to a timetable. You will have shared this will your actors during the audition process and they will have made a commitment to this timetable. You will by now have also gleaned any necessary information from them regarding days they might not individually be able to make etc. From this you and the director can now draw up a rehearsal schedule, send it out to the actors and follow it. You’ll need to include days for the lighting/sound and stage management to sit in on the rehearsals. You yourself don’t need to be in each and every rehearsal. But the Director and Stage Manager should be keeping you updated on their progress and, when possible, it’s good for you to pop in and attend the odd rehearsal.
PUBLICITY Publicity is usually generated through flyers and posters. You might have hired a designer to make these or you might do so yourself using imagery or photographs from early rehearsals or production meetings. You need to calculate how many to get printed based on your area and where you’ll be allowed to advertise. Some venues might offer a door to door flyering system or you might want to do the flyering yourself on the high streets and in places where you might find your ideal audience. Posters and Flyers should be out by the time you begin rehearsals, if not before. You can also set up a website or blog to advertise on, or submit your information to your venues website. You might also use online networking such as Facebook to market your show or pay for advertising in newspapers. It’s also worth phoning your local newspapers and radio stations and asking for interviews or features to be written on your production. Make sure to organise press night well with the venue and get your invitations to the press out there well in advance and attractively presented.
GET-IN Depending on your venue, budget and a number of other things, your get-in time (the period in which you organise the technical aspects of the show within the theatre, when the set is erected, the tech and dress rehearsals are completed etc.) could be a couple of days or a couple of weeks. During this time the Stage Manager will be in charge of the venue and the show, but you’ll need to keep an eye on proceedings and check everything is running to schedule. This’ll also be your last chance to organise the opening night (party, gifts, cards) and the press night (what press are coming, are you organising a press party etc.) prior to the show opening!
SHOWTIME! Everything leads up to this moment… your opening night! The role of a producer is to oversee everything, much like you’ve been doing throughout this entire process. Since this is a small-scale production and you’re less likely to have understudies or extra hands available, you must always be ready to jump into action.
Theatre is being produced all over this country, in massive venues like the National Theatre right down to tiny events in people’s living rooms or above pubs. It’s important you start small and make your mistakes and misjudgements while there’s less at risk. There is so much to learn about producing and arguably the best way to do this is to jump right in there, starting small-scale and making theatre happen! Your role as Producer is just that, ‘making things happen’. So if you’re proactive and passionate, there should be nothing to stop you having a go at it!
As wonderful as theatre is, no matter how excited you are about your project, and no matter how much hard work you put into it, there is no guarantee you and your show will be successful.
It’s a very hard industry to make money in and, although people like Andrew Lloyd Webber and Cameron Mackintosh make it look easy, you need to go into this profession with an open mind and realistic expectations.
Don’t let this put you off, as there are always exceptions to the rule, and many people make a living as producers having started off on small-scale productions such as yours.


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