Apologies for my third blog post being a bit late but we spent the weekend at the NODA Scotland conference in Peebles representing Threepenny Theatricals. For anybody who doesn't know, NODA is the National Operatic and Dramatic Association and is the organisation that looks after the interests of all the amateur theatre companies in the UK who wish to become members. It provides a huge amount of invaluable advice and support on every aspect of running an amateur theatre company.
The annual conference in Peebles is a highlight and there are workshops and discussion groups on everything from Vocal Technique to Techie Talk as well as a ball on the Saturday night, a midnight cabaret from a guest company and a sing-along in the bar every evening. We went as new members to introduce our company and publicise our show and, quite frankly, to find out what all the fuss was about! We had been hearing about it for years from friends in other societies who told us what a fantastic weekend it was. Well they weren't wrong! We had a great meal on the Friday night with live showtunes accompaniment on the piano (which of course everybody sings along to when they don't have their mouths full - and sometimes when they do)! On Saturday we went to a discussion group called 'It's Good To Talk' where representatives from lots of companies get together and discuss anything that they might be having issues with. It's really interesting to hear from other societies who might have found solutions to the same problems you're having. A major topic of discussion seemed to be online marketing and translating it into bums-on-seats! Lots of interesting tips and ideas came out of that. I then let Ross go to the Techie Talk in the afternoon and he found out some useful information on set-building and get-ins. The ball in the evening followed and then we were treated to a fantastic cabaret by Carnegie Youth Theatre who showed us a phenomenal amount of young talent. After a late night we didn't have to get up too early for the AGM on the Sunday morning which marks the end of the conference.
All-in-all it was a great weekend but the thing that I actually found most valuable was getting a chance to talk to members of other societies and share ideas. Not just at the official meetings but at all the 'unofficial' drinks in rooms we were invited to by various friendly groups and chats around the dance floor or the bar. It's amazing how supportive all the amateur companies are of each other and joining in and being part of the NODA community makes for much more collaborative relationships. When you can tell your story face-to-face and other companies can understand your aims and your issues then they really do make an effort to help you where they can.
This sounds like a bit of an advert for NODA but it's actually an advert for a closer amateur theatre community, however we may make that happen. The NODA conference just demonstrated how valuable the amateur companies are to each other and how we should all make the effort to support each other. It shouldn't be a competition because we are all in the same boat. We obviously can't all go to every other amateur show in the country but it is definitely worth going to as many as we can. Even if we might not see a production as 'our thing' we might be surprised at a different interpretation or find a new favourite show! Most importantly we will be helping the other companies to survive and carry on that business of showbusiness that we all love so much!
If you want to find out more about NODA you can click HERE.
Blog post number 2! This week I thought I'd talk about the importance of family and friends in getting any venture like ours up-and-running. At first glance it may not appear that the people around you have the necessary talents to help you with setting up your theatre company - but that's where you might be wrong.
I was luckier than some in that my husband and most of my friends were already involved in the theatre in some way or another but it isn't just theatre talent you need.
If you think of all the jobs involved in running a company and putting on a performance there are actually very few of them on stage. You're going to need people who can do accounts to help organise the finances of the company and keep the budgets on track. You're going to need people who know the ins and outs of social media to make sure that your public profile is kept in the forefront. Artistic people to create your flyers or paint your set. People who love sewing to organise your costumes and do repairs. The list is pretty much endless. The point is that your family and friends will probably want to help but might think that they have none of the talents you need. However, even something as simple as a fantastic smile and a warm personality can be put to great use front of house selling programmes or raffle tickets and helping people to their seats.
In Threepenny we're keeping quite a lot in the family because they have an amazing array of talents. My husband is Production Manager for example because I'm the artistic one. I know how I want the set to look, I can even design it in 3D and give everybody a great picture of how it's going to be - but I can't be bothered with the measurements. He'll go along to the theatre, measure the space to within an inch of its life and then plan my set out on graph paper and work out exactly how many flats we're going to need and all their sizes. He then hands that to my Dad who is the king of DIY and has been doing joinery projects all his life. He is now over half way through building the set. My brother-in-law has a degree in Sound Engineering and loves all kinds of music both listening and playing. Although he doesn't use his degree in his day job, he still has a keen interest and is going to help out as our Sound Designer, providing all our sound effects. My Mum has already been assigned a job front-of-house because she has a really warm personality and will make people feel welcome. She's also our assigned wardrobe mistress in charge of repairs (we don't need costumes per se as our play is modern dress) because she's been a keen seamstress all her life and has spent many years making costumes for me. She's also keen to help out with the edible props and devising ways to keep the costs down on copious amounts of Christmas cake! My sister is very artistic and will (although she may not know it yet) be drafted in to help with the dressing of the set. Our company Business Manager Gillian is also helping out with props because she has the talents of persuasion and resourcefulness. She is our chief haggler and telephonist. I have a distinct aversion to the phone (possibly something to do with not being able to gauge people's true reactions to what I've said because I can't see their face) whereas Gillian has absolutely no problem talking to people in any way.
That neatly brings me on to something else I think is important. Don't be scared to ASK people for help - even complete strangers - because you'll be amazed how much some people are prepared to do for you when you tell them what your project is. An example of this for 'Elephants' was when we were thinking about building our own set. The set is split into two parts - the main part being a living/dining room and kitchen and a small side set of the inside of a shed. We thought it would be much easier to use an actual shed for the walls rather than trying to manufacture something. My husband and I were driving to our local garden centre one weekend and they have a shed company right next to them. I spotted a dismantled shed lying on the ground which made me think of the show. I suggested we go in and ask if they had broken bits of shed that they might be able to sell to us cheaply. My husband duly went in and asked and it turned out that the shed lying on the ground was brand new but had been returned because the slats in the walls had started to separate. We explained what we needed and a few phone calls were made. To cut a long story short we ended up buying a whole brand new shed (minus the roof) from this lovely company for only £60. It definitely pays to ask!!
Having said all that the most important thing once you have all those lovely people helping you out is to never take them for granted! The words 'thank you' have an amazing amount of power and cost you nothing (although a box of chocolates and a few beers or a bottle of wine would probably be appreciated too). Much as you may want to, it is virtually impossible to do everything yourself, so ASK for the help you need, APPRECIATE the people who give it and remember that everybody has a talent for something.
My first ever blog! Bear with me folks! I was going to publish yesterday then realised it was Friday 13th! Although I'm not particularly superstitious it seemed silly to tempt fate.
So, a blog! I just thought it would be a good idea to try to give regular updates on our 3-T progress. We're a new company and setting up was a daunting process. As we work towards our first show we're just learning as we go along. Although we've all been involved in shows on stage and have helped out on company committees and with marketing, when you suddenly find that you're wearing all the hats at once it does take a bit of juggling and it's a new experience finding out that the buck always stops here! Not that it's all bad of course by any means. Having the final say on pretty much everything from direction, to posters to set design and costumes is actually a great feeling.
I have to say that as a first time company founder and artistic director I was astounded at the level of support from friends I have made over the years who work in theatre, particularly backstage, and I received messages when we launched offering help on all fronts. I can't thank those people enough and hope that we can continue working together for many years to come.
I am very lucky to have a fantastic invited cast for my first play. I wanted to launch the company completely organised with a first production on the cards. Setting up my own company was something I'd talked about for years, become enthusiastic about on and off but never really had the courage to take that final step and just do it. Obviously finances were also an issue. Producing any kind of show is not a cheap business. This time I'd made up my mind to go ahead but I didn't want to announce it before it was certain, given I'd talked about it so many times before. The only way to make it certain was to pick the show, book the venue and find a cast before I launched the company and then there was no way I could change my mind. I was delighted that there were people out there who liked me and trusted me enough to want to work with me and I have ended up with an amazing bunch of people who are all working their socks off.
I know some people might think 'Elephants' is a strange choice for a first production but I wanted to choose something people could come to see without any preconceived ideas about how it should be done. I read lots of scripts before choosing but when I read this one I fell in love with it immediately.
The progress so far is really exciting. The contrast between the first readthrough where nobody really knew their characters at all and our last rehearsal on Thursday was massive. Everybody has found the basis of their character and they are now adding those little quirks and idiosyncrasies that give them depth and make them human. It's been a fascinating process to watch and guide and I really can't wait to introduce them to the public.
Now we just have to sell it and get ourselves an audience!
Although I've worked quite a lot on marketing and publicity for other companies, I'm finding that the hardest thing to keep up with. I think it's mainly because there are just so many social media platforms out there now and keeping them all regularly updated is almost a full time job in itself. I know there are automated apps that are supposed to update them all at once but since the format of one can be very different from all the others, I find it much easier to get the right message across by doing each one individually. Getting interesting content for posts is another issue and something you have to continually think about, particularly in the early stages of rehearsal when there's really not too much exciting stuff happening. There is nothing worse than spending ages creating posts and then getting nothing but tumbleweed blowing across your social media profile pages. I'm looking forward to the month before the show when everything will really start to move fast and there should be a constant stream of exciting material. Having a large cast is obviously an advantage because they will all interact with your pages and posts. Unfortunately with a cast of just 7 in our first production (one of them being me) we don't have that luxury.
I would like to think that we will get support from other amateur theatre companies. As we all do this theatre thing for the love of it and sometimes breaking even on a production is exceedingly difficult if not impossible, then we should all support each other as best we can. The more companies that are out there producing a huge variety of material then the more choices we have as performers, directors, choreographers etc. Hopefully Threepenny Theatricals will grow in the Edinburgh Theatre community and be able to provide lots of opportunities both on stage and off.
So that's a little bit of the background about me and the company. I'm hoping to post regularly with all sorts of news and views, experiences and observations. I hope you'll join me on my new theatre journey. I'm always happy to receive comments and advice so feel free to add any thoughts below. Please keep it clean and polite! :)
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