Read an Excerpt
... And How to Produce Them
By David Carter, Sharman Horwood
Oldcastle BooksCopyright © 2009 David Carter
All rights reserved.
STARTING A DRAMA GROUP
What kind of drama group you set up and how you set it up depends upon a multitude of factors. It is best, therefore, to sit down with a number of like-minded enthusiasts and brainstorm about what you really want to achieve, before even taking the first steps in getting a group together. For the brainstorming, a small, informal group of friends is better than a large group, or you will never agree: with a large group you are likely to spend fruitless hours trying to please everybody, to be all things to all people, and probably become overly ambitious. There are many good arguments for democracy in artistic productions, but there are also times when the Gordian knot has to be cut and decisions made. Hence there is the necessity in virtually all kinds of dramatic productions for a director to provide cohesive form and a vision for the whole. Having someone who is likely to be one of your directors in at the start, therefore, during the setting up of the group, is a good move, if such a person is available at that stage.
The aim of the initial brainstorming should be to produce some kind of programme, a list of aims, a 'mission statement', which can be put boldly and confidently to potential members in your advertising for the group.
There are, of course, some decisions which cannot be made until the capabilities and interests of the group have been assessed. But you should have some concrete proposals at least to discuss with prospective members, and be reasonably sure of the practical arrangements for rehearsals and performances. Otherwise initial enthusiasm will wane rapidly.
First and foremost, information has to be gathered about what facilities (rehearsal spaces, performance areas, etc) are available and whether they can be used by your group, be it free or at a cost. This really is a matter of high priority, because it will define and possibly limit your choice of plays and the general scope of any production.
The first consideration should be the performance venue, because one can afford to be flexible about requirements for rehearsal space (scaling the whole production down if necessary, or making do with a square space instead of a rectangle).
If the group is in the process of being set up, you and a few like-minded friends will have to do some ringing around to possible local performance venues: churches with halls, schools and colleges, pubs with performance areas, hotels with reception rooms, community centres, arts centres – any organisation, in fact, with a hall and/or meeting rooms. Some established theatre groups with their own facilities may also be able to take you under their wing. The use of such venues may or may not have to be paid for; it will depend on circumstances and the generosity of individuals. If your group is located in a small village, your choices may be more limited, but, on the other hand, you are more likely to encounter good will and support among the community.
Once you have a found a venue that is available, looks attractive and seems to fit your general requirements, it must be checked for certain facilities and any limiting conditions:
Lighting arrangements (Over the stage and in the auditorium? Is there a lighting control box? Can you bring in your own equipment?)
Sound equipment (Is there a sound system installed? Where are the speakers? Is there a sound control box? Is it near the lighting control box? Can you bring in your own equipment?)
Power points (Precise locations? Near or on the stage? In the auditorium?)
Curtain (Drop or drawn apart? Is there one at all? Can you fix one up?)
Access to the stage (Side and/or back? From the auditorium? Room for shifting scenery?)
Dressing room/space (Adequate size? Separate for men and women? Washing facilities? Access to toilets? Access to the stage?)
Storage space (Enough room for scenery, furniture and props? Can items be left there between performances? How easily can you gain access? At all times or only during performances? Can it be locked securely?)
Auditorium (What is its capacity? How is the seating arranged? Is it fixed or movable? Is the floor flat or raked? Are there aisles? Where are the entrances and exits? How can they be controlled before and during the performance? Is there easy access to toilets? Are there windows and can they be blacked out? Is there a bar or refreshment counter, and who will take the profits? Or are you allowed to provide one? Don't forget to check the current legal requirements relating to the sale of alcoholic beverages.)
Safety and security (What are the fire precautions and regulations for the building? Where are the fire escapes? Do they function well? Check both backstage and in the auditorium. What arrangements are there for opening up and locking the building? Who has responsibility? Is it safe to leave personal possessions overnight?)
Availability (Can the venue be available for the dates you prefer? Can it be available for technical and dress rehearsals? And for any other rehearsals? From what time and until what time can you use it? Allow at least one hour either side of a performance, and longer if possible.)
Cost (Are there any rental fees? Any extra charges? Any hidden costs?)
Written agreement (Is there a document to sign? If not, it might be wise to compose one specifying all important requirements and obligations after settling all the details, signed by a group member and the person responsible for letting you use the venue. Signed copies should go to both parties.)
Yours might be one of those lucky groups allowed to use the performance venue for rehearsals too, in which case most of the concerns in this section will not be relevant. Such good fortune is rare, however (the classic case would be a village group using a church hall). While a good venue is crucial to a good performance, inadequate rehearsal space can mean that, although the performance will certainly take place, it is unlikely to be good. Most amateur groups cannot hope to find more than an adequate rehearsal space, and hopes should not therefore be raised too high. It is unlikely, in fact, that a space will be found which corresponds precisely in shape to the eventual performance space. There is, however, a bottom line, a few basic requirements without which rehearsals will become very difficult.
The area should be, albeit roughly, as close an equivalent as possible to the area of the final performance space. You can lop off a bit here and there – a foot or two, a yard or so – but then you must always keep in the back of your mind, whatever your role in the production – actor, director or crew – that you are only working in a scaled-down version of the final space. It is debatable whether a space that is slightly smaller than desired or slightly larger is to be preferred, but most amateur groups are unlikely to have much choice in the matter. If it will have to serve for a variety of types of production, then a larger space will obviously be more adaptable, and will enable the marking out of a fairly precise equivalent area on the floor. A scaled-down space will mean constantly bearing in mind that distances to be covered on the final set will be longer and must be allowed for. If an actor has to stride across the set while speaking and punch someone on the nose on a particular word, the distance will be all important. (Better to take a specific number of small steps in rehearsal which can be expanded to strides in performance!)
The rehearsal space does not have to be completely empty to start with. Such spaces are, in any case, hard to find. A little clutter can be useful. Some chairs and boxes can be used to double as sofas, pieces of furniture and even rocks in outdoor scenes. Even a space that at first appears impossible can often be adapted, provided that one first seeks permission to move things around, and on the understanding that everything will be replaced as it was found at the end of the rehearsal period. For many years I conducted very successful rehearsals in a university professorial lounge, full of sofas, armchairs and coffee tables. We moved all the furniture back to one end, utilising some pieces for our own purposes, and taking care to make a sketch of the original layout.
A little extra space, not part of the acting area, is also useful, where people can wait and relax when they are not 'onstage', and where props and other items, including clothing, can be kept. It should be noted whether there is a handy drinks-dispensing machine or at least a socket for an electric kettle, so that everyone can take refreshment when needed. If all else fails, encourage everybody to bring flasks of hot drinks. These may seem to be trivial matters, but during long, exhausting rehearsals refreshment will be very welcome indeed.
It is also important not to forget certain crucial practical concerns. If you are begging or borrowing space from a local company, institution or other organisation, certain facts and conditions must be checked:
Are the building and the room open at the times you have reserved it for? If not, how can you gain access? Can you be loaned a key? Under what conditions?
If you are rehearsing in the evenings or at weekends, will the lighting and heating/air-conditioning be on? If not, can arrangements be made to have them functioning?
Are there adequate toilet facilities?
What are the emergency and security procedures? Where are the emergency exits? Who should you contact in case of emergency, and how?
If the group is given the responsibility of opening up and closing the room and/or the building, make sure that one person is designated to do both, checking that no one is left inside at the end.
Are there any costs involved? Do not bring this matter up unless the other party does! Usually most organisations are willing to help out free of charge, and you can always tempt them with the offer of free advertising through a mention in your programmes and on posters.
Although they will have to be taken into account very soon, financial concerns are of only secondary concern at the beginning, when you are setting up a group.
First, you should get your enthusiastic, motley group of would-be actors and crew together and present them with your ideas for productions, venues and rehearsal space, with all the supporting evidence you have gleaned. Do not encourage anything too ambitious to start with: a modest production with a simple set, roles for everyone who wants one, and plenty of things for the crew to busy themselves with. Above all, try to keep it cheap, finding a play which is out of copyright if possible. Do not get mired in financial worries and bureaucratic concerns at the start or you will lose many members very quickly. If you happen to know of any likely sources of finance, mention them, but you can reassure everyone that for the first production it will be possible to cover costs by sharing them as initial membership fees among everyone involved. The more people involved, therefore, the cheaper the whole enterprise will be.
There is no need to rush into any decisions about fees and start collecting money too soon; people are likely to be reluctant to part with any hard cash until they perceive that things are really happening. Get everybody involved first, then, once the group has been functioning successfully for a while – but prior to the first production and before any important bills need to be paid – a meeting can be held to decide what should be charged for annual membership. At this initial meeting it is also a good idea to find out if anyone present knows of any individuals or organisations who might be interested in supporting the group financially. This might be easier to arrange if the group is already part of some larger organisation: a drama group organised within a company or educational institution, for example, might well qualify for some financial support from within the organisation.
Any profits from a production should, of course, be put back into the group fund to support future productions.
Once you are up and running and have demonstrated that you are a viable and successful group you can investigate the possibilities for reliable long-term financial support.
Payment for performing rights, or royalties, is a crucial part of any production's budget. It must be stressed that any drama group which attempts to put on a play without paying for performance rights is undertaking an illegal activity. It is not worth trying to get away without paying, because if you are caught out, your whole standing as a legitimate group will be in jeopardy. It is also extremely unfair to the author of the play or his or her heirs. Playwrights obtain little income in any case from their work.
Details of the amount payable can be obtained through the author's agent, whose address is often included at the front of the edition you are using. If it is not there, the publishers should be contacted. The laws concerning copyright are complex, but the publisher or agent can inform you of the legal situation relating to the play in question. They will also be able to tell you whether a production of the play is being planned by any other group in your area, thus enabling you to avoid clashes.
It is possible that the play you are interested in is out of copyright. This is likely to be the case if the play is from the nineteenth century or earlier. Some old foreign plays, however, which have been translated into English more recently, may still be in copyright. If it turns out that the performing rights of the play you wish to perform are too expensive for your budget, it is worthwhile considering something which is out of copyright.
It is wise not to proceed with any aspects of planning the production until the issue of the performing rights has been settled.
If you want someone to sponsor your group, you have to have something to sponsor: a truism, but it means essentially that you have to be able to present evidence of a promising, if not yet fully flourishing, organisation. No one is going to sponsor dreams and ideals, so you need hard facts presented on paper (preferably well organised and in an attractive file) to convince your would-be sponsor that you are a worthy cause. In all likelihood, you will not attract a sponsor prior to your first production, because, although you may have many high-quality ingredients for your pudding, the proof will only come when it is served up. A sponsor will be impressed to see that you have actually realised your first dream with success. However, it is always worth a try before your first production, especially with a local organisation with a reputation for supporting the arts. In your file of evidence, along with any other pertinent information, should be a list of your members, with descriptions of their abilities and any relevant qualifications, advertising expenditure, details of venues and any rental costs, a full budget for your first production, with expected profits, arrangements for ticket sales, and how you will display the sponsor's name.
For more detailed advice on sponsorship, from the point of view of the sponsor, I have been able to consult someone with considerable experience of sponsoring theatre groups from an executive position within a major UK company. As Director of Corporate Affairs for Allied Domecq, a FTSE 100 company, Anthony Pratt negotiated the UK's largest arts sponsorship ever with the Royal Shakespeare Company, and also at various times arranged sponsorship for leading pub theatres such as the Gate and the Bush, as well as the Chichester Festival Theatre.
SPONSORSHIP ... BY ANTHONY PRATT
Amateurs and professionals
There are likely to be more similarities than differences between amateur and professional companies in trying to get sponsorship. The sponsor's objectives are likely to be similar in both cases: exposure for the company's name (corporate reputation, brand or service), association with quality and relevance to corporate priorities (geography, creativity, entertainment, hospitality, good citizenship, etc).
The amateur drama group, however, can make a virtue of its lack of resources by stressing its closer relationship with a local community, etc. A potential sponsor will believe they can get more for less in terms of the transformations which their money will make possible. Sponsors want to know that their money will be well spent and for clear objectives, the more specific the better. Special rewards may in fact be available for the amateur company which is on the way to becoming professional, as this gives the sponsor the opportunity of getting in on the ground floor and being associated with enabling the emergence of a new company (likely to generate public interest).
Evidence sought by a sponsor
Quality of work, actual or prospective. Will association with the group bring a benefit to the company? Favourable prior reviews and convincing plans may be important in this, as will word of mouth.
Indications that you are sponsor-minded. Have you thought about the benefits that a sponsor might gain and the means to deliver them? Provide a menu of possibilities, everything from a credit in the programme to the sponsor's name on a production, in association with the theatre or even as part of your group's name. And think about giving a price tag for each. Don't ask for the earth.
Excerpted from Plays by David Carter, Sharman Horwood. Copyright © 2009 David Carter. Excerpted by permission of Oldcastle Books.
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