Top 5 Ways to Stay Fair & Sustainable When Producing Low-Budget Theatre

t’s a sad fact that all of us producers/creators have had to ask for “free” labor at some point in our creative careers. In a country that is sadly lacking in financial support for artists, it is often necessary to start off with an energy share model and have artists work on a project together with no guarantee of pay. So how do you do that and remain fair and equitable? Here are the key things to consider.

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It’s a sad fact that all of us producers/creators have had to ask for “free” labor at some point in our creative careers. In a country that is sadly lacking in financial support for artists, it is often necessary to start off with an energy share model and have artists work on a project together with no guarantee of pay.

So how do you do that and remain fair and equitable? Here are the key things to consider.

1. Be Transparent

There are more shows I’ve done for little-to-no money than ones I’ve done for a fair wage (or really any at all). But there was one key thing they all had in common: transparency. When I am asked to work for an honourarium or profit share the first thing I request is to see the budget. Sometimes this is met with, “oh, well we don’t have a budget, really, it just needs to be cheap as possible”. ALWAYS a bad warning sign. If a producer hasn’t worked out their budget before approaching you (unless it’s just to ask, what would you want to be paid for something like this?) then they may not be accurately valuing their artists. Would I work on an interesting show, that has a budget of $1000, a venue that costs $700, and is asking me to work as a stage manager for a profit share? Probably. Would I do the same on a show with a budget of $10 000? Definitely not. Now, it’s not like there’s some magic number – that’s why a budget is important. A $500 show that has no venue cost and has budgeted to give the lead actor $400 and have the rest of the cast and crew work for free is not reasonable (to most of us). Likewise, there could potentially be some majorly exciting but expensive thing planned for that $10K show that really leaves no room for wages, but could provide an opportunity to work with an exciting new medium, or to be in a show likely to make lots back in ticket sales. And that’s the other thing any good budget should include – profit projections. If your “budget” shows you magically selling out a 500 seat venue for six weeks for your new work by an unknown author, I have some bad news for you. We could do an entire post on proper profit projections, but in short, if you’re a new group without the name power of a big star or popular show, you’re best to plan for 30% of your venue being filled for each show. Of course, in a 20 seat venue, that’s likely higher, but in a 500 seat one probably far lower. I like 100-200 seat theatres myself: good size for indie and generally safe to assume 30% capacity.

If your “budget” shows you magically selling out a 500 seat venue for six weeks for your new work by an unknown author, I have some bad news for you.

2. Be Flexible

When you’re paying your actors union wages it’s reasonable to ask them to follow a typical schedule – be there all day for rehearsal, not miss a day for an audition or any non-emergency reason – but when people are accommodating your budget it’s important you accommodate their schedule. That not only means working out a schedule that doesn’t interfere with their work or other commitments, it also means being approachable and flexible enough that they feel they can come to you to request a change or time off to go to an audition, or accept a one-off paid gig. My general rule of thumb is that each of my shows need about 80 hours of rehearsal. Since I can’t pay people enough to take 2 full weeks off to focus solely on a show, I spread those hours out over 2 months (up to 2 and a half if there are major holiday breaks in there, like over Christmas & New Years), and give them the entire schedule by the first rehearsal so that they can fit their other things in around it.

…when people are accommodating your budget it’s important you accommodate their schedule.

3. Be Thoughtful

One of my biggest pet peeves is when people are just thoughtless or selfish, especially when you’re the one doing a favour. Of course we all feel our shows are important, maybe they’re the greatest thing to come out since Hamlet, but if you are not paying your cast or crew a full wage, you are not doing them a favour – they are doing you one. Let me say that again: a profit-share or small honourarium is not the same as a wage, and if you talk to your cast or crew like they owe you something you’re going to have some very unhappy people, and likely some subpar work because of it. Too many times I have been offered a $50-$100 honourarium for what is upwards of 60 hours of work, and yet if I insist (or even request!) on taking a day off in my schedule to do something else, I’m met with furious emails about how I’m “being paid to do a job”. No, I’m not. I’m being asked to work for free with an agreed upon “thank you” that works out to about $1.60/hr. When I’m the one producing I make sure to remind myself of this, even if there are times when your worker is making things very difficult, because again, at the end of the day, it’s a group of people agreeing to put in time and effort with no real compensation all because the group feels it’s something worth doing. To keep up that kind of energy do things like bringing snacks to rehearsal (I’ve never met an actor who will turn down food), buy everyone a coffee, any little pick-me-up that you can fit into the budget, do it. And you know what goes a long way and is totally free? A thank you. Say it earnestly and say it regularly, and at the end of the show write out a card that lets them know how much you’ve enjoyed working with them, and that you appreciate all they’ve done.

And you know what goes a long way and is totally free? A thank you.

4. Be Improving

Not as catchy sounding but I wasn’t sure how else to phrase it – what I mean is, recognize what you could be improving on and each time you do a show make sure you are doing better in at least one of those ways. For this list we’re talking primarily about budget, so think to yourself, ok, I couldn’t pay everyone this time and I tried a profit-share – did that work? Whether it “worked” is of course subjective, but try these as benchmarks: 1. did you make what you projected and what you told your cast & crew you were aiming for? 2. if not, did you make enough to give the actors the equivalent of at least minimum wage for at least the time spent performing each show? If not, I’d say no, it didn’t work. There are certainly shows where everyone is happy if they get $100 at the end of it, because they are going into it not expecting anything and are ok with that, but even if your cast seems content this show you want to be doing better for the next one, because that’s why you asked this group to make a sacrifice: so you can mount something ambitious that will help you do something even better next time (and that “better” needs to include better pay if that’s something you’ve negotiated here).

…recognize what you could be improving on and each time you do a show make sure you are doing better in at least one of those ways.

5. Be Honest

Similar to being transparent, make sure you’re being honest, both in the lead-up and run of the show and in the reconciliation afterwards. When you’re showing your cast and crew the budget and profit-projections, be honest about where that information is coming from – did you make it up with numbers that sounded right? Is it based off your past shows? Off someone else’s? A best case scenario, or worst one? As you go through the show and work on things like fundraising and selling tickets let your cast and crew in on how that’s going, and how they could help. Don’t go over budget, BUT if somehow you think you absolutely HAVE to, talk to all involved in the profit-share first, and get their consent: they have agreed to a certain budget and you as producer no longer have total control over that as long as their pay is somehow dependent on how that budget changes. Plus, in indie theatre, we’re all used to asking favours, and that great deal that you had on a set piece that has now fallen through? tell your team! They may know how you can get an even better one. Ticket sales during the run of the show are a little tricky – some people want daily updates so they can worry along with the producers and some want to focus on their own roles. I always tell the team that I won’t be announcing it, but they are free to ask me and I will share all numbers, provided they keep that to themselves until the end of the run. It can be tempting after a good selling show to go and announce you’re well on your way, but be sure not to do that unless you know you’ve met your goals for the whole run, because ticket sales can be varied. Likewise, chances are your team knows if the audiences are small and the show is going to lose money, but that isn’t a worry to share with them. Keep morale up, tell them you as producer have things under control, but know that it is your responsibility to answer them honestly with any questions about things like their profit-share.

This should go without saying, but the same is true after a show: let everyone know the money situation even if you think it’s obvious to them. I was once hired to stage manage something and offered either a small up-front honourarium or a profit-share that, with a sell-out run could have been higher. I chose the later not because I thought there was a chance of a sell-out, but because I know how hard it is to get funds up front, and thought it was likely I could get close to the same amount with a share. Ticket sales weren’t great, but this was one my earlier shows and I didn’t bother to ask for a detailed budget up-front, and to me it didn’t seem like a very expensive show, so it was hard to judge. The run finished, I heard them saying in passing sales weren’t what they hoped, and then that was is. No follow-up, no final reporting with an apology that there were no shares but a note that they were happy with what we’d achieved, nothing. That became a team I decided not to work with again. I once had to write to my cast and admit that their profit-share amounts were going to be something like $7.85 per person – seems trivial, but, for one, they were owed that, and two, there have been times where that money would have been significant to me because it could feed me for a day. Thankfully that cast was not as desperate for money, and I believe they all offered to donate it back to the company, but had they requested it I would have been writing out several very small cheques, because that was what was agreed to, and you need to be honest about that.

They have agreed to a certain budget and you as producer no longer have total control over that as long as their pay is somehow dependent on how that budget changes.

I don’t agree with the people who say you should never ask artists to work for low or no wages, because I think there is more you can get out of art than just money, and because nearly every one of us has had to start out with nothing to try and build something to get enough attention to help us make something bigger. It’s a sad necessity of theatre in Canada. However, there are right and wrong ways to do this, and as an artist the last thing you want to do is contribute to the idea that somehow artists don’t deserve pay, or to the fact that most of us are continuously precariously employed (at best). To keep theatre sustainable we need to sustain our artists, and recognize that if they can’t continue to make their art, no other part of theatre sustainability really matters. The next time you decide to mount a show, first ask yourself, what is the least I can use to get this across? By doing that, can I pay everyone well? If you still can’t and you still think the art is worth making, be sure to follow these steps to ensure everyone you involve feels the same way and understands the same things – be a part of the sustainable solution, not the problem.

E.

Building a More Sustainable Stage Manager Kit

For the first of our Sustainable Sunday posts, we’re going to look at environmental sustainability and how we can work towards that in theatre. First up! Stage Manager kits.

For the first of our Sustainable Sunday posts, we’re going to look at environmental sustainability and how we can work towards that in theatre. First up! Stage Manager kits.

ECO Highlighter Pencil Highlighters Ecological and 100% image 1

Highlighters:

I’ve never known an SM who doesn’t have a wide variety of highlighters in their kit – unfortunately, on top of being made of plastic, these can be prone to drying out, creating a lot of unnecessary waste. Try for pencil highlighters instead – no plastic, no risk of drying out, fit easily in your pencil case. Check out Etsy for ones like these.

Sticky Notes:

As much as I hate the waste, I’ll admit, sticky notes are a big part of my life. Ideally, of course, you’d use none, or at least fewer than you likely do now, but if you’re like me and find every prompt book is doubled in size by your stickies, try some like this: 100% recycled material, 100% recyclable, and plant-based adhesive. And after the show, recycle those bad boys!

Staples:

Instead of staples, try using paper clips! I was pleasantly surprised to find these recycled ones on a Canadian site, made with 90% recycled materials.

Staples Binder Clips - Classic Colours & Sizes - 30 Packs | staples.ca

Staples (Again):

If you’re looking for something more heavy-duty than paperclips, binder clips are a great alternative. I like to have a variety of sizes and colours as I use that to sort things as well. After the show, just pop them back into your kit! I haven’t had any luck finding recycled ones, but if you come across some, post the link in the comments.

Batteries:

All SMs need at least some AA batteries in their kit, for things like flashlights, on-set practicals, what have you. These eneloop pro rechargeable batteries are praised on several sites for having great charging power and capacity – and look! You can get them somewhere other than Amazon.

Brown Kraft Paper Packaging Parcel Tape Eco Friendly image 1

Spike Tape:

Another SM necessity, unfortunately there aren’t too many eco-friendly types out there (it’s the nature of the glue needed). While you may be stuck with the usual glow & electrical tape, when you’re blocking rehearsals try for something paper based, like this.

Gaff Tape:

As mentioned above, it’s difficult to produce a truly eco friendly tape as the glue needs to be something that sticks to surfaces, without sticking too much to itself on the roll. The best I’ve found so far is this UK import that uses recyclable packaging, rubber-based adhesive and reduced chemical agents. (Of course, if you need to import it from overseas, consider the environmental costs of doing that – no perfect answer for us Canadians, yet).

LastyBands: 6 Handy and Reusable Elastic Fasteners for image 2

Cable Ties:

Now, if you’re looking for strength, admittedly, the typical plastic zip ties may be what you need to use, but when it comes to organizing your cables and keeping them safely bundled away, there’s no reason not to go reusable.

In addition to these you can also save by investing in quality items. Instead of grabbing a binder from the dollar store that needs to be replaced every show, try for a sturdier one that can be used time and again. Use pencils instead of pens (don’t forget to pack a sharpener!) or try for refillable pens. Bring your refillable water bottle, pack it all in a sturdy kit and you’re good to go!

Got more ideas for sustainable SM kits? Let us know in the comments below.

E.

Will You Be A Booster?

Will you be a booster for Wayne & Shuster?

Will you be a booster for Wayne & Shuster? Bygone is looking for people who want to share their fond memories of the men or their work. If you have something you’d like to share, email us at info@bygonetheatre.com. We’ll be doing a series of short interviews to be posted on our social media channels, and possibly our future documentary. Please share the word!

School Workshops

Bygone is thrilled to be offering three new student workshops for our 2021/22 season – available in-person or online.

School Workshops | Grade 7-12 | Online or In-Person | $175 per class of 30

Bygone is thrilled to be offering three new workshops for our 2021/22 season.

Careers in the Arts: 

Interested in working in the arts, but don’t know where to start? This unique workshop will provide students with a realistic view into the arts world, guiding them through a host of career paths and the steps to follow to get there. Bygone Artistic Executive Director Emily Dix will cover topics such as;

  • Post-secondary programs here and abroad
  • Skill building without formal education
  • Unconventional arts related careers
  • How to network in the arts
  • How to build a resume or portfolio, and more.

This workshop can benefit not only arts students, but any senior high school students who are considering future career paths. Also available as a large-scale presentation for an entire grade or school; contact us for pricing. 

The Audition Process:

There’s so much more to auditioning than what happens in the audition room, and how you prepare is just as important as how well you perform. Director Emily Dix will walk students through all the key aspects of the audition process, including;

  • Where to find auditions
  • How to get an agent
  • How to pick a monologue
  • How to format a performance resume
  • What to look for in a headshot
  • How to build your “brand” online
  • Audition etiquette, and more. 

Something From Nothing: How To Produce Your First Show:

Recommended for senior high school students, this workshop is a crash-course in indie theatre producing. Topics include:

  • Picking the right show
  • Casting
  • Creating a budget
  • Dealing with venues
  • Raising funds
  • Marketing, and more.

Workshops are available both in-person (in Toronto) and online via Zoom starting September 2021. Email emily@bygonetheatre.com for more details or to register a class. 

A Note from Our Artistic Executive Director

A message from Artistic  Executive Director Emily Dix regarding Bygone Theatre’s commitment to diversity and accessibility;

When I started Bygone Theatre back in 2012 my main goal was to produce engaging, character-driven theatre from the early 20th century – there were stories I wanted to see onstage that were only available at big companies, like Soulpepper, Stratford or Shaw, and I wanted something similar but on a smaller, more accessible scale. I set about making theatre with whomever I could find, and focused more on the work than those involved. Now, as Bygone Theatre enters our 9th season, it is clear we need to expand our focus and work harder to prioritize our commitments to diversity and accessibility; simply saying “all are welcome” and using wheelchair accessible spaces is not enough. We need to make concrete, measurable changes in order to better serve our community and our work.

As a company that produces “vintage theatre”, we are in a unique position when it comes to diversity. We have the opportunity to re-examine stories through a more authentic lens, looking at them not from the perspective of turn-of-the-century, primarily white audience members, but through one of historical insight, that acknowledges that the world has always contained diverse communities with fascinating stories, even if they weren’t being published or produced.

Plays from the 1920s-60s often feature racist stereotypes, that or they completely white-wash the story and show no diversity at all. When re-staging these stories it can be easy to fall into the trap of eliminating the overt racism while still maintaining the subvert – colourblind casting, 2-dimensional characters, or tokenism. Does that mean these stories are no longer relevant, or not worth retelling? No. But they do need to be redone. And that needs to be done with care.

While diversity and accessibility have always been important to us, we have admittedly existed in a bit of a bubble. Attempts to engage communities outside of my own have rarely been met with much success, and to be honest, the difficulty in doing this lead to me not making it a top priority. I do the majority of the work for Bygone on my own, and I did not know how to engage people past simply putting the message out there, and I never had time to really learn how.

Then COVID-19 happened.

After the initial upset of coming to terms with the uncertain year ahead of us, we at Bygone came to the realization that this “break” in the regular programming is exactly what we need. We are taking this time to learn and improve, not just as artists, but as people, and a part of the Toronto theatre community. We are listening to the voices speaking out against discrimination in the arts (the #InTheDressingRoom thread on Twitter was eye-opening and deeply upsetting). We are listening to the voices telling us how to be better allies. And we are taking time to make important changes and commitments, and to share that with you now as a commitment to change and accountability. This is not a final comment, it is a series of first steps. As we continue to learn and grow we will readdress these commitments, make more, and do more. I will make these a priority, and am working on learning how to do more. The following statements come from myself, and the Bygone Theatre Board of Directors:

Bygone Theatre believes Black Lives Matter.

Bygone Theatre sees the racism faced by BIPOC communities, believes their stories and stands with them in solidarity.

Bygone Theatre sees the homophobia and prejudice members of the LGBTQ2+ community faces, believes their stories and stands with them in solidarity.

Bygone Theatre sees the women who face sexism and discrimination, the members of the #MeToo movement, believes their stories and stands with them in solidarity.

Bygone Theatre sees the challenges and discrimination faced by Mad/Disabled communities, believes their stories and stands with them in solidarity.

We are making a commitment to support all these communities, prioritize their members and stories in our work, and to continue to work to become better allies. The following is our Commitment to Diversity and Accessibility, as of June 30, 2020.

BYGONE THEATRE DIVERSITY & ACCESSIBILITY STATEMENTS

OUR COMMITMENT TO DIVERSITY

Auditions & Casting

  • 50% of all audition slots will be reserved for those who self-identify as BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, Person of Colour)

  • Our Diversity & Accessibility statements will be included on all audition postings

  • We will begin our casting process earlier than we have in the past in order to make time to submit postings to diverse communities currently outside of our network

  • We will continue to provide character breakdowns that do not include physical attributes or race (unless essential to the story) and will promote colour-conscious casting

  • Casting will prioritize actors that have the shared experience of the character ​​

Rehearsal Process​

  • The first day of rehearsal will include a talk about equity, diversity and inclusion​

  • All cast members will be required to sign a contract that includes a code of conduct which addresses equity, anti-racism and sexual harassment – this will include a clear structure breakdown for a complaint and resolution process

  • Should we produce a show that centres around a character or story about a diverse community, we will hire a consultant or creative team member from that community to address any issues both in the play and the rehearsal room

Production Process​

  • We will prioritize the hiring of female, LGBTQ2+, Mad/Disabled and BIPOC production artists*​

  • We will prioritize businesses run by women, LGBTQ2+, Mad/Disabled and BIPOC folks when purchasing items for our company or productions

  • We will research the companies that we patronize to ensure they have values consistent with our own

*At the time of writing Bygone Theatre is without any consistent funding, and so our productions rely heavily on the support of volunteers. When we achieve a status that allows us regular operating funding we will re-address this and make a more concrete commitment to diversity numbers, but at the moment many roles are filled by our Artistic Executive Director (who often produces, directs and designs our shows) and whomever chooses to volunteer.

OUR COMMITMENT TO ACCESSIBILITY

Auditions & Casting

  • We will provide accessible auditions by prioritizing accessible spaces, and, when not available, allowing self-tapes or other opportunities for audition submission

  • We will clearly state the accessibility issues with any space we use, and will provide accommodation whenever necessary

  • We will clearly state all accessibility issues and potential solutions on all casting and production calls – for example, roles that can be fulfilled from home or that can be completed on a flexible schedule​ will be stated clearly so as to encourage those with accessibility issues to apply

  • We will continue to hold rehearsals in spaces that are accessible by the TTC

  • We will continue to create flexible rehearsal schedules that value actor’s time

Rehearsal & Production Process​

  • We will continue to encourage open communication especially around issues of accessibility, and will provide accommodation as necessary

  • We will continue to provide a judgement-free zone and will consult with cast and crew privately to ensure all of their needs are being met

  • We will provide all cast and crew with a clear breakdown of roles, responsibilities and hierarchy in order to ensure clear communication, and will include protocols for submitting concerns or complaints

Audience & Community

  • We will continue to prioritize accessible performance spaces and advertise possible accommodations

  • We will continue to provide ticket discounts to disadvantaged groups

  • We will continue to offer Relaxed Performances (dependent on show)

Bygone Theatre Rentals – Office Furniture

Vintage office furniture available to rent through Bygone Theatre.

We recently did a production of His Girl Friday, which meant acquiring a LARGE volume of vintage office furniture and supplies; here’s some of the furniture pieces we now have available to rent.

 

  1. Vintage Wood Office Chairs: see individual pictures for details
    Rental Price: $20.00 each/wk
  2. Burgundy Faux Leather Executive Chair: see individual picture for details
    Rental Price: $30.00/wk
  3. Small Telephone Desk: see individual picture for details
    Rental Price: $15.00/wk
  4. Wood Arts & Crafts and Mid Century Modern Desks: see individual pictures for details
    Rental Price: $40.00 each/wk
  5. Metal Cabinet: see individual picture for details
    Rental Price: $15.00/wk

The styles we have available would be suitable for someone looking for something from the 1920s-60s, or something modern day with a vintage twist. Discounts available when renting multiple pieces at once, prices listed are for a single item, before HST.

Stay tuned to see some of the smaller set dressing items we have as well.

Bygone Theatre Rentals – Appliances

Rent vintage appliances for your film, photoshoot, or play. Check out Bygone Theatre for pricing & details.

Bygone Theatre has finally gotten our  storage space sorted, which means we are ready to start renting out some of our great vintage pieces! Take a look at some of our larger items here; all prices listed are before HST. Please note that we are able to negotiate payment structures, and that discounts are available when renting multiple items at once. Email us at info@bygonetheatre.com with any questions, or to place an order; we require a minimum of 3 days notice for all prop rentals.

  1. Vintage Fridge: used in Wait Until Dark, gorgeous late 50s/early 60s white fridge with dusty rose interior. Inside latch has been modified to make for easier opening. Rental Price: $75.00/wk

2. Vintage Stove: used in Wait Until Dark, charming late 1940s white stove with oven.
Rental Price: $75.00/wk

3. Vintage 1950s Ringer Washer: used in Wait Until Dark, white General Electric washing machine with wringer, mid-50s, excellent condition.
Rental Price: $75.00/wk

Bygone Theatre - 1950s Wringer Washer Rental

4. Vintage 1950s Red Mini Fridge: Late 1940s/1950s, bright red mini fridge with chrome handle. Great for a photoshoot, or for a cafe/soda shop look.
Rental Price: $75/week

Bygone Theatre Red Mini Fridge

Stay tuned for much more, including vintage office supplies, props & costumes.

Cheque, please!

Our director (and production designer) Emily Dix quickly walks you through the process for making a faux cheque for theatre.

Till Next We Trod The Boards

I get a kick out of little details in things, which is why I often spend too much time on small prop details that likely won’t be noticed by anyone but myself. Today’s example? The certified cheque prop needed for Bygone Theatre’s upcoming production of His Girl Friday.

Really, it’s a pretty simple one, and since we’re seeing the cheque before it’s cashed, I’m not going to the trouble of embossing it, I did however want something from around the right date, and double-sided.

Since this show will be on a real stage, and not something that requires the same accuracy as was needed for shows like Rope, which practically happened in the audience’s lap, I just searched for 1930s or 1940s certified cheques and settled on one from 1933;

walter-winchell-signed-check-issued-to-international-news-photos-1933-16

I found this through a memorabilia site – it works great as it doesn’t have a big distracting…

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