Crash Course in Indie Theatre & Fringe Festival Producing

Join us for another free workshop, a crash-course in indie theatre & Fringe Festival producing!

Artistic Executive Director Emily Dix & Bygone Chair Conor Fitzgerald run this condensed version of their popular Producing 101 workshop, with a special focus on producing for Fringe shows.

Learn about scheduling, creating budgets, fundraising, marketing, and more in this interactive workshop that invites participants to come with their own show-specific questions.

Open to all, aimed towards artists working in the Greater Toronto Area.

Participation is free, but donations towards our 2022/23 season would be appreciated.

ACCESSIBILITY:

The workshop is being delivered in English with visual aids and automatically generated captions. If you require specific accommodation, please email us in advance (info@bygonetheatre.com) and we will do our best to provide you the full experience.

REQUIREMENTS:

Access to a computer with internet connection. Participants are encouraged to turn on their cameras to ask questions or make comments, but this is not required. Questions may be submitted via text as well.

No experience necessary, but will be most beneficial to those with at least a cursory knowledge of Toronto and the indie theatre community.

Please register here if you plan to attend.

Advertisement

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.

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.

What It Really Costs To Be An Actor (and to put on a show)

I came across an interesting Business Insider article today on the costs associated with working as an actor; even as someone who is well aware of the small return on a huge investment (of both time and money) I was shocked by some of the numbers.

Consider the cost of training and promotional materials, for one;

School: some go the 4 year BA route, which will cost about $20 000 in total, but even if you are forgoing traditional education for workshops or conservatory programs, expect to spend thousands here.

Headshots: these are essential for any actor and can cost a pretty penny. Expect $500+ to have them shot, plus the cost of printing. It isn’t unusual to spend close to $1000 for good quality headshots, and then of course they need to be updated whenever you change your look.

Personal Website: while free avenues like facebook and wordpress are frequently used, a lot of people choose to have a custom domain name as well; add another $100 or more a year for this.

Then of course there is the cost of any additional training you do along the way, things like haircuts, makeup etc. to keep you looking pretty, expensive dance shoes – you get the idea. It’s not cheap. And there is really no guarantee of a return.

It was the author’s salaries in the article though that really caught me by surprise; even at the high end, performing at Madison Square Garden in a multi-million dollar performance, the author was only making $527/week. $527/week for 52 weeks in a year is a whopping $27 404 annual salary; not exactly a celebrity lifestyle. Plus, consider the fact that not only do most actors not get big gigs like that, but the majority of actor’s contracts are not for a full year. So even if you’re raking in big dough for the duration of your contract, you may need to stretch 2 months of pay over an entire year.

The author was only making $527/week. $527/week for 52 weeks in a year is a whopping $27 404 annual salary; not exactly a celebrity lifestyle

Our upcoming production of Rope is certainly small budget compared to the shows mentioned above, but it’s still a considerable amount of money for those of us who are funding it while working minimum wage jobs. Our overall budget is $4500.00, and that does not include paying the actors. You can see a detailed breakdown of our budget on our FWYC campaign page.  As someone who is certainly used to working for no pay (I put hundreds of volunteer hours over 6 years into theatre work on campus before finally getting a paid, part-time position this year) I went into this knowing I likely couldn’t pay anyone involved, but still feeling really guilty about it. So that’s why we started a Fund What You Can Campaign.

Our goal is to raise the entire cost of our production – $4500.00 – so that any money we make on the show itself can be split among the cast and crew. Of course there is no guarantee of ticket sales, but if we were to sell out all of our shows we could potentially be paying everyone about $380; not a Broadway level salary, but it’s a start. To put that further into perspective, all of actors are putting in about 14 hours of performance time plus 40-60 hours of rehearsal time. So let’s say that they are working a conservative 54 hours and make at the very most $380; that’s still only $7/hour. Considerably below minimum wage.

Our goal is to raise the entire cost of our production – $4500.00 – so that any money we make on the show itself can be split among the cast and crew…that’s still only $7/hour. Considerably below minimum wage.

As a producer it is important to me to put on a successful show and to compensate those involved. As an artist and student myself, I do not have the money to do that on my own. That’s where you come in. By making a donation to Rope you will be helping to further the careers of 8 talented actors, our wonderful stage manager and Bygone Theatre itself. Every little bit counts and gets us one step closer to realizing our dreams while earning a decent wage.

Check out our Fund What You Can Campaign for Rope to make a donation to the production.

-E.

Dial M For Murder – Crew Spotlight – Grace Semedo Mendes

Check out our interview with one of the “Dial M” team – Grace Semedo Mendes!

Grace Semedo Mendes
Grace Semedo Mendes

1. How did you get started volunteering for theatres?

I’m passionate about theatre and as my day job is far from anything related to this area, I needed a little more creativity in my life. Three years ago, 2 friends of mine decided to create a non-profit theatre company in order to raise money to help children in hospitals (mainly by financing some equipment) and help with medical researches on rare diseases (by donating money). I offered my help and ended up acting in the shows, helping with stage management, with grant writing and doing the administrative work.

  1. What is your favourite part of volunteering in theatre?

What I like about volunteering for theatre companies is to be around people that share the same passion for theatre as me. I also like the fact that there is so much to do that you can get involved in a lot of different positions.

  1. Any advice for other people looking to volunteer in this field ?

« Just do it » 🙂

  1. What are you most excited for in regards to “Dial M For Murder”?

I can’t wait to work for this show and see the actual results. That would be my first time volunteering in Toronto so I am excited about every aspects of the show as everything is new to me!

We here at Bygone are thrilled to have Grace on board for “Dial M For Murder”! Stay tuned for more cast and crew spotlights!