One of the most surprising of all the hats I wear is that of the beleagured theatre producer. Think of Mel Brooks…this may cause me lots of excitement and headaches, but it also creates great curiosity on the part of my friends.  Everyone wants to know how these shows are  put on, and more to the point, why does it cost so much?  I thought I’d give  you a run-down:

You find a play. More often than not, especially if you produce it in the fringe, you pay the playwright next to nothing, or as if often the case, actually nothing (you can imagine how I feel about that). Then you find a director and together you convince a venue of the literary merit and marketability of your play. Do note that the two can be mutually exclusive — which is, let’s face it, why the fringe exists. If you are going for a West End venue, like we did for Sh*t-M*x, they may also require a famous actor or celebrity, especially if the play is new and by an unknown playwright. Once you’ve found your venue, you put down a down payment of anything from £800-£1,500, which is the price of a fringe venue for one week.  You will book the venue for at least 3 weeks. Any less than that and the play won’t get reviewed and you need reviews to get people to come. Then you rent rehearsal space which can be difficult to find and also expensive. You will most likely need to rehearse for 3 weeks.  You then find your cast — you may need to join Showcase in order to find your actors or put out a call for auditions. And you’ll need a place to hold the auditions – that room rental will also cost something. How much will you pay your actors? We at CurvingRoad started out trying to pay Equity minimum, which is now around £380/week (which includes rehearsal weeks of course) plus expenses.  Alas, that has become financially impossible.  The fact that we pay our actors anything at all is a rarity in the fringe. Actors often work for free.  It’s either that or not work at all.  But this is also a reason that, unless you’re the National or the Old Vic, you try to keep your cast to 5 or less (budding playwrights, take note).

Then the fun starts — you get together your creative team and begin to work on the production.  The team will include a set designer (often paid as much as your director), lighting designer, sound engineer (sometimes), pr team (to arrange for the reviewers to come, press night, interviews if you’re lucky), printer for flyers and posters. Sometimes you’ll need a composer for original music or you may have to pay royalties for precomposed music. You’ll also need a stage manager who is the person to keep track of everything and everyone, and who will run the show each night.  And of course props and costumes.  And insurance. And inevitably the van to carry the bench donated by the local council to the theatre (or equivalent).

So what does this add up to? A fringe show in a venue that holds about 60 people  and is well-respected enough to get regularly reviewed, has a cast of about five, minimal sets and a frugal hand at the till will likely cost about £20,000.  You can do it for less if you don’t pay anyone in the creative team anything, if you hold auditions and/or rehearsals in your lounge, or if, like Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney, your father has a barn.  And of course, for a West End show this bottom line will more than double. In the West End, the venues are much more expensive and you have to pay everyone.

Now, ticket sales will offset some of this, of course.  Let’s say your theatre holds 60 people. Each ticket is £10-12. You do 6 shows a week. The most you could make, if each performance is a sell-out (which is impossible), is £12×60 people= £720 per show, x 6 shows a week = £4320, x 3 weeks of shows = £12,960.  Oops…..

So tonight CurvingRoad holds its fundraiser for our new production of two one-act plays which goes up in June.  It will be a fantastic and fun night with drinks, canapes, and a show with some of our favourite actors. We expect to raise about £3,000.  Our budget is about £20,000.  That leaves about £17,000 more to go.  Hmmm…..

So why do we do it? Because we love it. Because we believe in the power of the theatre and the importance of the arts in our lives and our society. Because we know there are other people in the world who agree that it is worth it to find new artists and bring their work to the public. And admittedly, because we are a bit nuts. Anyone want to join us?

It’s  a crazy job, but somebody has to do it. No wonder the people who do are often like this: