Five things you need to know before you produce a show

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By Pip O’Neill

Nineteen Eighty-Four Rehearsals, back in ancient 2014

1. A rough timeline your production (And storyline)

Luke and I first produced shows at the University of Kent during our time there. The University has an AMAZING drama society which operates like a small company funding directors and casts to perform in professional venues around Canterbury. The shows work on a termly basis, so you generally have three months to go from inception to completion.  This system of having to order our thoughts and be accountable to a committee from the very beginning of our career has been hugely influential in making sure we have things adequately planned. Do not underestimate the time it takes to read, digest and stage a 70 page script, or plan all of the technical aspects of a show.

Having said that, the actual timeline of a story can take a lot longer than three months. Our first professional production with Unmasked was a retelling of Euripides ‘The Trojan Women’. Both of us were working full time, and writing every spare hour on the side. Piecing together a coherent timeline of events we were both happy with took around 9-10 months.  Audience members sniff out plot holes like sharks sniff out blood.  Make sure you give yourself enough time to double check that all of your character and production choices make sense, everything needs to have a justifiable reason.

2. Funding

You can do productions without any funding. You just have to be prepared to extend your overdraft if that is the route you would like to take. Productions cost approximately 30% more than you think they will. You can have a budget drawn up by the best accountant in the world and you will still need 100 more fake flowers that originally planned. Leave room for your imagination to build beautiful things without being too restricted.

There are hundreds of schemes geared towards providing funding for the arts. Most notably Arts Council England if you have a longer term project (and a lot of time to write the application) and O2 Think Big are brilliant if you’re under 25 and need some immediate funding and support from a really great, well organised team.

The link for applying for funding for both o2 think and big and Arts Council England are here. >

3. Concept/Mission Statement

The image of the eyes during our production of the Great Gatsby gave us some cool marketing posters, but also a constant set piece to return to

What is the point of your production? Are you making a comment on consumerism in the modern age? Are you showing how Shakespeare is still very relevant 450 years on? If you have ANY worries and concerns about your plot timeline, your concept will help massively. It’s like having a very specific essay title. It allows you to focus only on things that are relevant.

For the Camden fringe last year we produced a 1930’s Cabaret adaptation of Antony and Cleopatra. We portrayed Marc Antony as a politician facing fierce opposition in inter war Britain, failing to make decisions between his duty to the country and his love of the beautiful socialite Cleopatra. The concept for the show was so strong that it allowed us real freedom with the script. Enorbarbus became a fierce female secretary struggling against a tide of sexism, Lepidus an aged official from a bygone era.

Once you have your concept/mission statement set, everything else will become a hundred times easier.

4. Marketing/Audience

This is one of the most important aspects of a production. If you have spent damn near a year planning a beautiful piece of theatre, don’t let yourself down by not having people to come and see it. It is easy to be terrified of marketing, ESPECIALLY if you don’t know the area. Most venues will have a marketing manager and it is literally their job to sell shows. If I can give you one piece of advice it is to find this person and covet them for they are worth their weight in gold. If you spend money on anything for your production, let it be marketing.

This beautiful marketing deity will also know how best to market to the target audience of the area. We toured a show about five writers in Soviet Russia (more on that in a couple of months) in Bromley, a town known for wonderful, large scale, musicals. Through the help of Katie at The Churchill, we doubled our expected audience figures, and all it took was her marketing expertise and some clever social media.

(On a side note of Social Media, it is worth developing a twitter account. Almost 25% of our audience in the last 12 months found out about us on twitter, and we found four, brilliant actors that way too!)

Theatre Friends

5. Support Network

I am a writer, a director, a musical director, a set builder, a proscenium arch painter. I am not a poster designer, or a lighting expert, nor do I have access to a big industrial printer. The support network of a production will save you time, money and effort. They will be bright stars in the occasionally dark night of pre performance weeks. Source: printers, designers, technicians. Ask your friends to sit in on dress rehearsals and give you their honest opinions. Be honest and kind with yourself and these people. Leave good reviews. Talk them up on your (newly flourishing) twitter account! People help other nice people. They are MUCH less likely to help scowling, stressed people who demand five thousand flyers in 24 hours. Ask other theatre companies for their recommendations, their advice. There is enough room for us all to shine and the best way of us doing that is to help each other.

On that note: Our door is always open for advice, a helping hand or an honest opinion. You can contact either Luke or myself at: or

We are on twitter @UnmaskedT and you can find out what we’re up to next at

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