Our Associate Artist, Anna Harriott of Tall Tree Theatre, recently shared her knowledge and experience with us during her Artist Talk about starting a theatre company from scratch. Here are her thoughts following her talk…
What a joyous thing it was to see lots of little boxes popping up on the screen, smiling faces, fellow creatives waving back at me via Zoom! The Theatre Community is something I’ve sorely missed during lockdown and it featured heavily in the Artist Talk I gave that evening, for Forest Forge Theatre.
Being asked to talk about making a theatre company meant that I took the time, in the days leading up to it, unpicking, analysing and looking closely at the journey we’ve been on. What struck me the most was that every step of the way, each crucial moment or turning point, we’ve received help from someone within the Theatre Community.
We strive to pay people properly, we aim to make work that pays for itself, we apply for funding and wrangle budgets but we also lean on others. From people popping in to support rehearsals, to script feedback, budget advice, rehearsal space and the lending of props. If you can find ways to pay it forward then you can learn from and lean on the community of wonderfully creative people who work within our industry. For me, sometimes just an email with ‘what do you think of this idea?’ can give me the supportive reply I need to keep going as I forge ahead, often working alone at home, on our projects.
So, what are the skills that we can hone to support our work as theatre makers? Which skills are especially important when, as is common with theatre makers, we take on multiple roles? (And I don’t mean on stage!)
You embark on your creative journey but very quickly find yourself also being the Producer, Marketing Manager and HR Department, to name a few. The good news is that the skills needed for these roles are learnable and you can learn by doing them. Over time you’ll figure out how to layout a budget or make a tour schedule, all you need to do is start writing things down (on a computer, not paper!) You’ll need online content, copy and images, tech specs and more to be able to sell a show. So, take the time. Start at least 18 months ahead of touring, give each step of the process the care and energy needed and you’ll be able to achieve it all.
While you should be strict with yourself in the admin-heavy roles, it pays to keep your flexible, responsive head on at the same time. You can hold dear the creative vision for your work while still being open to adjusting it in order to take more opportunities. Sometimes flexibility is physical; making theatre sets that can shrink and change shape to fit all spaces. Sometimes it’s to do with trusting that theatre works in many settings, that a few tweaks to a show can enable it to go anywhere – if the heart of the work speaks to people then it will speak to anyone. We’ve toured our work to theatres, village halls, hospitals, yacht clubs and many other communities and have found that, in short, everyone likes a good story!
And shouldn’t this always be at the heart of the work? Amazing storytelling, something meaningful to say, a human to human message? Getting to the point of lights, costumes and a big cast is wonderful but the journey to get there can be long and we don’t need to rush. Each step should be led by our creativity, our passion to make something excellent, our determination to create a brilliant show. A low budget with a heartfelt story will triumph over fancy staging without a love for the craft itself.
And a love for the craft is what is needed. Because it’s hard work and lots of it, it’s daunting and scary but isn’t that what we’re all about? Our creative industry is bold, we step out of our comfort zone regularly and have faith in ourselves to deliver. In an industry where we often sell a show before we’ve made it, just imagine how driven, passionate and gutsy we must be!
Perhaps you’re here because you have a passion for telling good stories, a spark of an idea inside you that you want to expand. If so then you can start doing things now, small or big, to begin your creative journey. Write some copy, create a marketing image, chat to someone about it or start a project timeline. It will be up and down, of course, it will be both scary and exciting but if that sounds rewarding to you then I say you should go for it. Take that leap of faith, we welcome you to the wonderful Theatre Community and if you need anything along the way, just let us know!