Elspeth, Three Left Feet's founder, company director and creative producer, is laying down some cold, hard, mildly theatrical truths about starting a creative company.
So, you want to start a theatre company?
Well, first things first*, you should absolutely do it! Why? I’m glad you asked.
You get to decide (for the most part…) how you run things, who you work with, and what you make (can I get a holler from all my control freaks out there?)
Not to be a huge downer, but jobs in theatre were already preeetty hard to come by before Miss Rona hit – if you start your own company, you’re making your own job! Don’t get me wrong, there is obviously a lot of extra pressure and financial instability that comes with this. Still, if you can manage to push through the tricky early stages, one day, hopefully, you’ll have created job opportunities for yourself and for others (look at you, contributing to the economy)!
Because what’s stopping you? Is it money? There are a lot of funding opportunities out there; you just have to take the time to seek them out and apply**. Is it fear? Guess what – we’re all scared! Was there ever anything worth doing that wasn’t a little bit terrifying?
What you need to know:
You are not alone if you ask for help. Starting a business is intimidating – especially for us creative folk who feel like we don’t have a businessy bone in our body. There are so many wonderful people out there offering guidance and support for budding entrepreneurs like yourself. You just have to track them down and get in touch! If you don’t ask, you don’t get.
If you’re a Lancaster University student or alumni (and I cannot express this enough), go and speak to Work in Progress! They are a fantastic team who want nothing more than to help aspiring companies achieve their ambitions. Other universities may offer similar schemes to their alumni too. Didn’t go to uni? No worries! Other organisations are providing similar support, and these are often regionally focused, e.g. Boost Business Lancashire.
Seek out a mentor! Some lovely, established theatre companies would love nothing more than to share their wisdom with some plucky, young whippersnappers. Shout out to Slot Machine Theatre (go check them out, they’re awesome!)
Are you staring in horror at your screen? Did she say “business” and “entrepreneur,” you ask yourself? That’s not me, you continue, indignantly, I am an *artist*!
Yep, you heard me. Starting a theatre company is not all rainbows, jazz hands and the transcendent power of art. Sorry not sorry for the real talk. Yes, that stuff is all part of it too - of course. However, if you want to run a successful theatre company, you have to do the company part too. This means you must register as a charity or a business with Companies House, keep control of your finances***, buy insurance, etc.
If this makes you want to throw your script in the air and go running for the hills, let me refer you back to point 1. Do you think I knew about any of this before I started Three Left Feet? Of course I flaming didn’t. But I went and found out, and it wasn’t nearly as horrifying as it might sound.
It’s hard, it’s confusing, you’ll feel like you’re failing half the time and like an imposter the other half. But you know what? It’s totally worth it. Along with all the trials and tribulations that go with starting any business (but mainly a creative one IMHO), you get to make amazing creative connections and start building an exciting professional network. There are massive highs when things go right – you got that funding, that show you made got a 5-star review, you created something you’re all incredibly proud of. Sometimes you take a step back and look at what you’re doing and realise that you are quite literally living the dream.
Now, who doesn’t want that?
I know I’ve only briefly touched on a whole bunch of things here, so keep your eyes peeled for my follow up posts where I will do a deep dive into the nitty-gritty of funding, finances, business shenanigans, you name it.
Drop us a comment if there’s any part of setting up a theatre company you’d like a blog post to specifically focus on, and we’ll do our best to provide!
*I’m the realest
**I would start with the Prince’s Trust (if you’re under 25), the myriad of available business Kickstarter schemes and local grants for small businesses are endless!