3 Tips for Funding a New Theater Company

It may not be too long into your actor hustle before you start to think, “I just want to do a show. Let’s put on a play!” Suddenly the romance of casting yourself in your favorite role expands into imaging yourself at the helm of a real arts and culture institution. Yet, the biggest hurdle as a start-up theater maker is often the same thing driving you to want to create your own work: money.

Through my work as a money coach for creatives, I’ve developed three innovative approaches to raising the cash needed to launch dream projects. By straying from more traditional paths of fundraising, my clients are able to generate out-of-the-box solutions using their creative skillset as a superpower. You too can use my funding framework to create unique ways to bankroll your new theater company.         

1. Embrace the power of money.
Celebrate where you are now. Resist the urge to paint your vision too large. Over half of all non-profits fail after a few years. It’s not from a lack of ideas or good intentions. The audience base and funding pool are shrinking. The time between idea and execution, shoestring budget, and fully funded season may seem like an impossible gap to breach but there’s great power in starting small.  

Begin to think of yourself as the chief investor in your artistic dreams. You are the visionary leader that you’re asking others to believe in. Demonstrate the power of your leadership by applying your well-honed creativity to the problem at hand: funding your theater company. Original approaches to generating financial support are often rewarded by those with deep pockets.  

2. Determine your current resources.
To create your money-making master plan, you have to figure out what’s available. It’s easy to say you have nothing and leave it at that. Focusing on what you have now gives you a sense of control that can free your mind and kickstart problem-solving mode. Challenge yourself to make a list of who, what, and where you might have a resource you can use. Label each entry using the following three categories:  

PEOPLE: Ignite to Excite
This could mean people you know or the people they know. It might be money people, a tight-knit community, or mentors who can help. Scroll through your contacts list and start to brainstorm who you have that might support you. Make a note of how you might approach them. Your enthusiasm is key so make sure you approach them from a place of passion. Ignite their excitement by sharing why you think your latest project is just the thing for them.  

THINGS: Delight in Discovery
Consider what raw materials you have that could be transformed into something to sell. Maybe it’s that pile of wood you’ve been “collecting” or colorful fabric scraps, even foodstuff. Experiment with what you could make to thrill buyers. Picture where they might go to purchase it. Perhaps it’s an Etsy shop or a tasting booth at a local event. It could be a website where you sell virtual singing telegrams featuring handcrafted crazy costumes. Whatever resources you have, harness the power of your imagination and make something you know your buyers will take delight in discovering. It might even spin out into a little side business for you, win-win!  

PLACES: Built to Last
Do you have access to a space, physical or virtual? Support your star project by doing smaller shows: maybe late-night sketch shows, cabaret Mondays, or streaming open mic nights. Focus on quality so you can grow your reputation while bringing in ticket sales. Consider also cultivating a relationship with another non-profit. Some organizations foster nascent non-profits as part of their mission. If you find the right fit, they might even help you submit grant applications and funding requests. Forging a strong presence (concrete, virtual, or organizational) endows a sense of legitimacy. It suggests that what you are constructing is built to last.

3. Create a plan of action. 
A clear-cut path can spell the difference between a flash in the pan success and a career-defining breakthrough. Chart out how you will produce your first piece and include your best ideas to generate the cash flow you’ll need. This is what people with serious money want to see: that your success is sustainable. Create a roadmap to demonstrate how. It doesn’t have to be perfect and it doesn’t have to be fancy. It does need to make sense and be easy to follow.

Schedule out the ways you think you can get cash flowing and make sure they have dates attached to them. As many people have said, if it’s not scheduled, it’s not real. Make your vision a reality by putting your ideas on the calendar and take timely actions to make them happen. Life is a lot easier with money in the bank and running a theater company is no different. 

Funding your fledgling theater company demonstrates the innovation our industry needs right now. With the recent theater closures, we’re actively looking for new ways to create tomorrow’s breakout hit. If you can chart a course of support for your creative vision, you may just find yourself sailing into richer horizons in the future.

First appeared on Backstage.com April 14, 2021.

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Published by Rhianna Basore

I tell stories of all shapes and sizes.

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