How to Produce a Theatre Show

Advise from seasoned professionals who have seen it all.

Here at The Empty Space Theatre in Manchester we have a combined experience of over 75 years in the industry. Putting on a theatre show can be an exciting but scary time especially if you have not done it before. Here at The Empty Space; a Manchester Theatre venue, we have put together a guide to help. Taking tips and tricks from a range of different people who have a multitude of experiences and a wealth of knowledge. Even though we all have our own styles and techniques when it comes to putting on a theatre show, we all know exactly what it takes.


Choosing the Show:

Creativity and passion should be the drive of everything you do when putting on a theatre show. The first part of this exciting journey is picking the show!

The first decision is whether to choose new writing or published work. Getting the rights to the work is the first step.

New Writing:

Benefits:

You can find an untapped gem. Maybe you’re working with a local writer at the start of their promising career.

Cost. It is often significantly cheaper to get the rights to a piece of new writing.

The writer will be accessible. You can reach out to them if there is anything you don’t understand in the show.

Challenges:

The material doesn’t have an audience or marketing. It’s easier to market a theatre production that everyone knows and loves. You’re also more likely to sell tickets.

You know it’s good! It has already stood the test of time. You know that the material works.

Published Work:

Benefits:

The material can sell tickets. It already has an audience that enjoy watching it.

The marketing is easier. If you get the rights to a theatre production that has won awards, you can include that in your marketing material. Again, making it easier to sell tickets.

You may have seen previous productions of the show. This can help inspire you when you are staging your own version. You can read reviews, see pictures and be inspired by other production companies.

Challenges:

Cost. It is will always be more expensive to get the rights to an already published work.

You will have less creative freedom. Work that has been published will give you more stipulations. You may be subject to keeping the show in a certain way, and you may not be able to change anything, such as the gender of characters or the locations.

Creative Team:

When putting on a theatre show you are going to need a creative team. You may think you can do it all yourself. Trust us - you can’t. You will need all the help you can get. We’ve listed some of the key roles you will need for getting your theatre production up and running.

Playwright

You will need a script for the show. This is everyone’s bible. You may be working directly with a playwright who is writing a show for you. If you choose to work with a playwright, this can mean that they rewrite the show during the process. They can amend it base don the actors or the theatre venue itself. If you are working on already published material - you don’t need a playwright.



Producer

If you’re reading this article. This is probably you! You are in charge of hiring the creative team. The budget, the marketing and hiring a theatre venue. You are in charge of the process.

Director

One of the key roles for any production is the director. Make sure you find a director that shares your ambitions and aims for the show. If they have a different vision, this can lead to creative differences further along the line.

The director is the person that will decide the staging for the show, the lighting and will be in charge of the rehearsal process.

When hiring a director, make sure you do your research. You want to look at their experience, and the types of productions they have directed. They ought to be someone that you trust. You may not want to hire a director who has only worked on modern comedy plays when you are producing a 15th century dramatic musical - see what I mean?

Musical Director

If you are putting on a play - skip to stage manager!

Your musical director or MD (as they like to be called) is in charge of all things singing. They will be responsible for teaching harmonies and ensuring that that the performers are getting the music correct. The director and the MD will work hand in hand for the musical numbers.

The MD will often orchestrate the band on larger performances. Making sure that the theatre production sounds exactly how they want it to.

Choreographer

Just like the MD is in charge of all things singing. The Choreographer is in charge of all things dancing! In the word of the great Bob Fosse “When you have too much emotion to speak, you sing, and when you have too much emotion to sing, you dance.” A choreographer will put together all the dances for the production. They will again work closely with the director and MD to make sure that the overall vision is being portrayed. They also tend to whip the cast into shape!

Stage Manager

Boy are they important! The best stage managers are like gold dust, and if you find one, hang onto them for dear life. They will be the rock in your theatre production. They will make sure that the director has everything they need from props to schedules. They will also be in charge of making the show run smoothly.

Technician

Without technicians no one would be able to see you! You will need a technician for your theatre show as they will plot the lights and be in charge of any lighting changes. Depending on how technical your show is, you may require a lighting and sound technician. If you are keeping it pretty basic, just one technician will suffice.



We have only included the bare minimum you will need for your show. If you are putting on a larger budget production, you may also want to hire - lighting designer, sound designer, intimacy director, fight director, assistant director, dance captain, assistant stage manager, & stage hands.



Casting:

Finding the best actors for the parts is one of the most important parts of any show. A well cast actor can do wonders for the show. Here we’re going to talk you through the casting process from start to finish.

The first thing to decide is whether you want to hire a casting director. It may be an added cost, but it can be worth it. A casting director knows what to look for in an actor, and where the best place to advertise the casting is. Remember they are also experts in the field. They will help you with the process from start to finish.

Next you will need a cast list. Make sure you include all of the parts that you need to cast, and information on the character. You will also need to include what kind of actor you are looking to cast in this role. This will help you find the best actor for the part.

Diversity. I feel like this is the perfect moment to quickly talk about diversity. It is everyone’s responsibility to ensure that your creative team and cast are inclusive. You always want the best person for the part, but you need to make sure that your casting and your creative team are open to diversity.

Casting Calls:

Once you have the parts you need filling. You will need to create a casting call. This must include the information on the parts, the age of the character and the fee.

You will then need to publish your casting calls. There are a few reputable casting websites. These are; Spotlight, Mandy & StarNow. There may be fee’s to post the casting call on these websites. If you hire a casting director, they will be able to post it on these websites for free.

Applications:

Once you have posted the casting call, don’t be surprised if you get hundreds of submissions. You will then need to filter out the applications to those you wish to see for an audition. Look at their headshot, their showreel and their CV. This will help you get an idea whether the actor will be suitable for the part.

Auditons:

First off you will need to hire a venue for your auditions. When hiring a venue it is important to remember that first impressions count. If you make sure you hire a nice theatre for the auditions the actors will take your production seriously. This is your first impression on the actors.

Once you have found a venue you will need to organise:

A schedule; how long will you be seeing each actor for? We would recommend at least 15 minutes. Preferably 30 minutes. This will allow you time to get to know the actor as well as see their audition piece.

Audition material; what would you like the actors to prepare? Usually you should ask the actors to prepare a monologue of their own choosing. This helps you to see what the actors strengths are, and means that you’re not watching the same scene over and over again. If you are putting on a musical theatre production, you will want to ask them to prepare a solo.

Recalls: You may wish to consider doing recall auditions. You may have whittled it down to 5 actors per part and you want to see a bit more before making that final decision. For your theatre production we would recommend getting the actors to perform parts of the production that you will be doing. You can also do chemistry recalls. So get the actors that would be working together audition together to see how well they work.

Then you will need to cast it! The best bit. Once you’ve chosen your actors, you will need to let their agent know they have been successful and send them a contract. Make sure they know the dates of the production and rehearsals so there are no scheduling conflicts.



Rehearsals:

Now you have your actors and your creative team for your theatre production. It’s time to start rehearsals! Make sure you have a suitable rehearsal space. At The Empty Space Theatre we have our main stage, but we also have two studio rooms available to hire for rehearsals. You will often want a studio as it is much cheaper to hire than a theatre for the rehearsal process.

As a producer your job is to find the venue to hire and to organise the schedule. Make sure you check in with the director, the stage manager and the actors to make sure there are no scheduling conflicts.

Then let the director do their job! You’ve got plenty of other work to get on with.

Finding a Venue:

When finding a theatre to hire there are several things to bear in mind; capacity. How many people does the theatre hold? Cost; how much does the theatre charge to hire? Some theatres have a hire fee, and some theatres will offer a fee and take a cut of the ticket sales.

Make sure you go and see the theatre before hiring it. You will need to know if it is appropriate for the show. Check the lighting and the sound and all the facilities. It’s also worth checking if the theatre is accessible. You don’t want to exclude any of your audience.

Location is also key. Finding a theatre that is easy to access and has parking available is also important.

This probably goes without saying, but we’ll say it anyway. What are they like? Are they the right kind of people? If you hire the right theatre, they will support you as much as possible. They may be able to help you find a technician and help with the marketing with your show.

Once you have chosen a theatre you will need to decide how many days you would like your show to run for. This will need to be budgeted. Theatres often offer a discount for longer hires of the theatre, however you need to make sure you can get the bums on seats. If you are new to producing we would recommend 3 shows. This gives you plenty of time to make a profit and to make sure you have plenty of audience. Too short a run and you’re likely to lose money. Too long a run - you’re also likely to lose money.



Organisation:

An important trait to have when wanting to put on a theatre show is Organisation. You need a schedule from start to finish that is easy for everyone to understand. This helps establish everyone’s availability as well as check the availability of the venue you are using for the show. This will help with time management. You need to find away to be efficient as well as consistent theatre shows should work like a well-oiled machine. This is so you have a contingency plan for every little thing that could possibly go wrong. This means if you come across a problem or hurdle you can remain calm and find the more efficient way to solve it. Putting on a theatre show can be stressful when problems arise but how you deal with them count for a lot, it’s important to remember to stay calm, stay focused and stay creative.

Some key organisational lists you will need:

  • Props List

  • Lighting & Sound Cues List. Make sure these are marked up in the script for your technician.

  • Contracts. Make sure EVERYONE signs a contract. Yes everyone working on the show might be your mate, but there’s a reason it’s called show business… get them to sign a contract so you protect yourself and your company. Trust us on this one.


Scheduling

Schedules are going to be your best friend.

Make sure you have a full schedule from the day you pick up that play to the day you’ve done your get out of the theatre. This will help you stick to deadlines and know if you have long enough.

Rehearsal schedule. Make sure you know how long the director needs. Remember you will also need to be paying everyone for this time. Too long and you’ll overcook your show. Too short and it may not be as good as it can be.

Tech run & dress run. You will want to be in the theatre you’ve hired for the dress and the tech. Make sure you allow plenty of time for technical changes and for plotting lights. It always takes longer than expected!



Budget:

Let’s talk turkey.

You’re going to need some cash to put on a production. We hate to say it, but it can be really difficult to make a profit in theatre. Now we can’t tell you exactly how much money you need, but what we can do is list some of the things that will cost you money. Make sure you know your production so you can accurately work out the cost.

People! The biggest expense will be the people you hire for the show. This is from the playwright through to the actors and stage hands. They will all require a different wage based on their seniority and their experience.

Set: the bigger the set, the bigger the budget. If you’re doing something small, just remember our namesake Peter Brook. He said: “I can take any empty space and call it a bare stage. A man walks across this empty space whilst someone else is watching him, and this is all is for an act of theatre to be engaged.”

Theatre Hire: The longer the run and the bigger the theatre the more expensive it will be. Make sure you know how many people you think will come and how much marketing you will be doing.

Rehearsal Room Hire: They’ve got to rehearse somewhere. No, they can’t rehearse in your living room.

Props: Make sure you know what props you need and how expensive they will be. If the show needs an authentic 10ft by 10ft Banksy artwork - it could set you back a touch.

Advertising. You want bums on seats, you’re going to have to advertise. Again you’ll need to work out how many seats you need to sell before deciding your budget for advertising.

Contingency. We can’t stress enough how important it is to have a contingency. We would recommend adding an extra 10% to your budget in case things go over. They normally do!

Marketing:

When it comes to marketing you will need to make sure that you are marketing to the correct target audience this is especially important when putting on a theatre show that contains adult or possibly triggering themes.

This is also where you need to make sure you have a clear vision when it comes to your publicity. You will need to ensure that you have a strong Press Release. A strong press release will include; an eye catching poster, a blurb about the show, any reviews you’ve had, images and videos.

Your Poster:

Make sure that your poster is eye catching and gives a clear image of what your show is about. If you can, include images of the lead actor(s) as this can help sell tickets. It will also need to include key information; The Theatre or venue, the time of the show and ticket prices.

Your Written Blurb:

This is a chance to really sell what your show is about. Make sure you include; an overview of the story, who the main cast is, the director and creative team. It also helps to include any reviews of the show or quotes about the show. It always helps if you’re working on an award winning show!

Images & Videos:



People will always respond well to images and videos of the production. Make sure you get photos and videos during the rehearsal process. This will help with your social media marketing. Videos are one of the best way to sell your theatre production, especially on social media.

How to Publicise:

Social Media:

Social Media is a really easy way to reach a large audience for your theatre production. Make sure you use all of them. Facebook, Twitter & Instagram. There are plenty of groups on Facebook that you can use to advertise your show. Look for local theatre groups. Make sure you are using photos and videos.

If you have a marketing budget, you can look at doing paid adverts on social media. This is a great way to reach a large audience. Make sure you are specific with your advertising and target a theatre going audience, local to your production.

Leafleting:

Some times the old ways are the best ways! Make sure you print out plenty of leaflets. They are normally smaller versions of the poster. Make sure you go to local businesses and ask to put the leaflets up in windows or on reception desks.

Friends & Family:



Always pester your friends and family to come and support your show and to spread the word. A little help, can go a really long way.

The Venue:

Your venue will want to publicise the event for you. They can only market what you give them. Make sure you send them your press release in full. This will help them know what the show is and to promote it to their own audiences. The less you give the theatre, the less they can publicise your events.

Tickets:

Depending on which theatre you hire for your show will depend on how you manage your box office. Some theatres will insist on their own box office, and some are more flexible. Allowing you to manage your own ticket sales. There may be an admin fee if the theatre manage the ticket sales.

So, as you are now undoubtably aware, putting on a theatre show requires a lot of thought and effort but if you make lists, keep notes and stick to deadlines you will come to find that a once daunting experience now become a quite enjoyable. Try not to stress as that takes time away from problem solving remember you are doing this because you love it, and you feel the need to share your story or your interpretation of someone else’s show with the world. Here at The Empty Space, we will always be here to help where we can as we want you to achieve your theatre goals!


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