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Joined: 4/25/10
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bullet Topic: On Partnership agreements, staff, attitudes etc
    Posted: 7/09/10 at 5:25pm
(More stuff for start-ups to think about from yet another letter to a friend...)

Me again - I thought I'd address the aspect of theatre partnerships, especially the kind involving a third party besides someone in your family.

There are lots of different forms of existence that a theatre can take - non-profit corporation, for-profit corporation, sole proprietor, limited liability corporation (LLC), and formal partnership, as we were at the Melodrama before switching to corporate status shortly before I left.

Partnerships are common because theatre usually takes the combined resources of a few key people to start up, and they aren't as much work to set up as a corporation.

But before any of you commit to that kind of drain on your finances, time and energy, make sure you have a partnership agreement that SPELLS OUT every aspect of the partnership. Most people are loathe to do this.

As someone who has been down that road and who has spoken to others who also made the mistake of a "handshake" partnership, I can assure you that THINGS WILL CHANGE FOR THE WORSE WITHOUT A LEGALLY BINDING PARTNERSHIP AGREEMENT. EXCLAMATION MARK!

As icky as it feels to have to talk about this stuff, do it anyway, and get it out of the way before you jump in with both feet. It will save hard feelings down the road. It will show whose children will inherit what in the event of tragedy.

It will spell out ways to leave the partnership, ways to take in a new partner, who owns how much stock and at what price, how that stock may be disposed of, who can legally spend the partnership's money and for what purposes, etc etc etc. The cost of a lawyer in this case is well worth the price.


Think it all thru as well as you can, then sign and notarize that damn agreement.

Then put it aside and work day and night to build the theatre and remain good friends. THAT'S really the difficult part, because well-done theatre is often GRUELING and takes a toll on your goodwill, peace of mind, and ability to play nicely with others.

If it all gets to be too much for anyone (girlfriend or boyfriend relations sour, or you discover you really wanted to become a mime full-time, or one of your partners eats his boogers or something, someone wants to take his ball and go home, etc) then there will be no question about how to relieve the pressure, because the agreement will be something into which you all had input, agreed upon, and is legally binding on all parties.

Anyway, DO think clearly about this part of "show biz". The Biz part gets neglected, often to lasting regret.

There are a couple of things to strive for no matter what kind of theatre you do. Give people more than their money's worth, or at least more than what they expected. This can be done at little or no cost, is part of the "fun factor", and also incorporates the illusion of theatre.

Keep the place absolutely clean every day, because women especially will not attend if they think the bathrooms, seating or floors are dirty. Empty ashtrays and clean the front of house mercilessly. Do the windows. Hose down the sidewalks. Smile at EVERYBODY.

Keep internal disagreements private and resolve to handle staff or management problems behind closed doors. Don't publicly humiliate anyone on the staff. Patrons do not understand anger directed by staff at anyone else, and will avoid coming again if they see it displayed. Again, all things learned the hard way! I pass it on to you.

Make the evening casually fun if "Melodrama" style, and elegantly fun if dinner theatre. Build in surprise and delight. Have the entire staff dress in period costume (even box office), or in some hip kind of "theatre" style (usually involving black).

NEVER give a patron attitude for any reason. Listen to them without interruption when they have an issue, and make it okay for them by the time they leave. They will remember and return if you do that. ALWAYS handle people professionally if there's a problem, even when they are completely obnoxious. There are a million books on how to do this. READ THEM and agree on a system. Use it unfailingly once you do. You'll win your patron's respect that way, even the sour ones.

Remember how Scrooge's nephew Fred "kept his good humor to the last", even in the face of insult and miserliness? Do that too. Easy, huh?

As far as individual salaries, in the case of paid actors, if the theatre provides housing it can help cut down on the amount paid in salaries. We usually avoided any Equity contracts. Pay a little above minimum wage to younger, less experienced actors, find them places to stay or shared housing, have one communal meal a day, that kind of thing.

Pay a bit more to older, more experienced full-timers, and give them more responsibility. Maybe even a title! And a funny hat. No, forget the hat...

No, YOU wear the hat, Mandie! Or the hubbie...

A good full-time musical director (who plays the shows, does choral and vocal direction as well as putting together acceptable revues) will cost at least two grand a month if you will be holding the kind of schedule we used to (five shows a week, sometimes more); a stage manager a little less.

If someone in the acting company has choreography chops, then add a fixed amount, maybe a couple hundred dollars budget allowing, to their monthly salary per project.

If you hire a choreographer from outside the company, many can do an acceptable job for 300-600 bucks, depending on the scope of the show. It's one of those things you have to feel around for a little bit, and ask around in the area for what's considered the standard fee. Sometimes you'll discover a jewel in the rough at dance studios and the like.

Give young talent a chance, but work closely with them to get pro results (without micro-managing). Bring new talent up as often as you can, but be sure they can handle it if you are going for professional, instead of community, theatre.

One tactic that works well, if you have someone you admire in mind, is to go to them with a certain figure and say "This is what our budget will allow - will you be able to do it for that? Challenge people a little - truly creative people often respond favorably to challenge. We all do, really.

Ask, ask, ask and ask. That's how you get to yes. That's how all the answers are found. And remember to follow up any services rendered with thank you letters, signed pictures of the cast, flowers, a bottle of decent wine, comp tickets - anything that will create a positive, pleasant memory of you in their mind and make them want to help you again. Be genuine, and people will rise to your aid. Share your genuine vision, and they will want to be part of it.

More later in another letter!
"It's never too late to be who you might have been..."
George Eliot
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