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Dear West End Producer: ‘What’s the best way of putting on a new play? Is Edinburgh worth it?’

West End Producer West End Producer. Photo: Matt Crockett
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Putting on a new play is a perilous task, but frankly one of the most rewarding things you can do. It puts you in the driving seat of your career, instead of having to rely on others giving you opportunities. Many actors say the best decision they ever made was producing their own work. It allows creative fulfilment and full control of their vision instead of working for £100 a week making another person’s vision a reality.

One of the first obstacles you face – unless you have a rich daddy – is finances. It is essential to know your costs and do a thorough budget. You don’t want to put on a new play only to realise that it’s impossible to recoup costs.

Go through the fees for everything: cast, rehearsal space, PR, marketing, director, lighting designer, biscuits during rehearsals (this will take up most of the budget), travel, make up, costume, and gin for the casting director. Then work out the potential ticket sales for the run, and deduct the venue’s split (this is usually something like 60/40 in your favour). And if you aren’t very good at adding up, ask a colleague who owns a big calculator to do it for you.

There are lots of different venues in London and beyond, all with varying costs. Some are keen to help co-produce new work while others require you to sort it out yourself. This is when you beg for money off producers, investors and family members who live in Chiswick.

You ask if it’s worth taking a show to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Yes it is. Edinburgh is the hot bed for new work, and if you happen to do something that really resonates (and has nipple tassels) then you could be the hit of the fringe. This is the place to be spotted – with directors, producers, talent scouts and cub scout leaders all walking around watching young actors gurn in their tight costumes. And it’s great fun, but it is essential you’re prepared.

Planning for Edinburgh begins as soon as the previous festival is over. So don’t waste any time (I say this because of my own habit of leaving things too late). Go online, research suitable venues, and apply as soon as possible. The main and biggest venues are the Assembly Rooms, Underbelly, Pleasance and Gilded Balloon – they all have a big buzz around them.

If you don’t have the budget, Edinburgh also has a ‘free fringe’ – where venues are free, obviously. The venues tend not to be as well placed – but it’s a great way of getting a show up there on a shoestring. Be aware that accommodation is very expensive – expect to add about £2,000 on to your budget for this, depending on numbers.

As well as Edinburgh there are other festivals such as the Camden Fringe, which is a marvellous alternative. The deadline for applying this year was March 31, but apparently late application is still possible, so don’t delay.

Whatever you decide, Edinburgh and other fringe festivals offer a brilliant way of putting your work in front of a new audience, and will possibly be the best thing you’ve ever done.

Send questions to your dear agony aunt via Twitter @westendproducer. Read more of West End Producer’s weekly advice columns every Wednesday at thestage.co.uk/author/westendproducer

Backstage: Lyn Gardner on what theatremakers need to go to Edinburgh next year

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