One of the most frequent questions asked of us here at the Green
Room is "How do I go about starting a theater company in
my area?" Great question -- but to my mind, there's another
question that must be answered before you should even think about
the logistics of starting up a company. That question is "Should
you start your own theater company?" Forthwith, our observations
on the matter.
If You Build It, Will They Come?
The first thing to do
is think about your reasons for wanting to start your own company.
New companies that succeed do so first and foremost because they
are meeting a need in their communities. For some communities,
it may be that there is no local theater at all; in that case,
the need for a new theater company is obvious. Or maybe there's
a need for better theater -- this can happen when there
are other theater companies in the area, but their level of expertise
is not what it could be. Perhaps the productions are amateur,
or they are unable to offer a full season schedule. Finally,
maybe your local company has such high standards that parts are
available only to a select few. In that case, maybe your community
needs a theater troupe for Everyman, a non-exclusionary company
that lets everyone who's ever dreamed of being on a stage realize
that dream. This type of company has a broad, community-based
view and a strong desire to teach theater arts to anyone with
a desire to learn.
Cutting-Edge Theater, Egos and Other Voids
The above scenarios take into account that there
is a void in the community arts scene, and that your new theater
will fill that void. But are community needs all that count? How
about fulfilling the needs of the actors who are fed up with the
trite old chestnuts or lightweight fluff that their theaters prefer
to do? What about theater as education? There's more to
theater than Neil Simon and Annie -- how about the need
to shake up a complacent community that needs to learn how to
Theater that tackles tough issues and doesn't
flinch from presenting a sometimes ugly, difficult, or painful
reality seems most often to be the answer for actors and others
asking these questions, and it is frequently the type of show
that readers who want to start a new theater company seem to prefer.
It's interesting, but the majority of folks who've written us
to ask about starting their own company are not doing it because
there is no theater in their area; there is one, but it has problems.
Most commonly, we hear that the resident theater company is:
a) run by a bunch of timid old fogies
b) interested in producing nothing but fluff
c) afraid of offending anyone
d) afraid of intellectually challenging material
e) all of the above
Rather than dismissing theaters that don't do cutting-edge works
as a bunch of dim old dinosaurs, it might not hurt to ask why
your local community theaters are so convinced that this type
of fare won't sell. Often this assumption is based on the fact
that comedies do a bang-up business, while dramas play to half-empty
houses. Don't make the mistake of thinking that the local companies
prefer to do fluff simply because they're afraid of doing anything
else; they may have learned that they can't do cutting-edge theater
and also pay their bills.
Next: The Theater Biz