I didn’t even know there was a curse (Again. Ignorance. Just dived right in). I only found out about the existence of the “four year curse” when I received an email from the Alliance for Arts & Culture advertising an upcoming workshop entitled “Surviving the First Four Years: Starting a Production Company”. It was being moderated by Kim Collier (Electric Company) and Maiko Yamamoto (Theatre Replacement), both of whose work I highly respect, so I signed up hoping to learn a little from their success.
What did I come to realize? How have I managed to survive this long (four years this September)? Budget. Budget. Budget.
Ok, that is one word repeated 3 times but it is that important that it deserves to be said over and over again.
Now, talking about budgeting isn’t glamorous or terribly exciting, but it is absolutely essential. Up to this point we’ve secured all these wonderful sponsorships, gotten individuals/companies to donate to our production and participated in some lucrative fundraising events but how are we now going to manage these funds? Wisely and with restraint.
Of the few companies that I do know that have gone under (unfortunately) management of money is usually a key factor in the decision to dissolve. Us artistic types are not well known for our money-management skills. I am just lucky that I grew up with a family business where I learned the ropes while working for them throughout high school and university. My last position with my family’s business was doing the Marketing so I had a little edge when I started my own company; however, Theatre is no different than Healthcare (in terms of the business aspect). A business is a business, artistic or otherwise, and if you don’t manage your money well you go under. That is the bottom line.
So how do I manage my money?
1) I never EVER budget for more than 30% audience attendance for estimated box office returns. Is that my aim or my goal? No. Do I hope for more? Yes, but I don’t count or rely on it.
2) Unless someone has written me a cheque, I have put it in the bank, and the money is sitting safely in the account, I never EVER count it as part of the Revenue stream.
3) I never EVER spend more than I have. Now, this might seem like an easy concept but in the age of consumerism and instant gratification this is a little harder to grasp than it would seem. For example, the first year our summer show went up, I couldn’t afford to have someone professionally design the graphics and posters so one of the members of the production team (who also had considerable skills in graphics [which I noted when she sent in her resume and was part of the reason I hired her]) designed them. The next year through contacts and the securing of a corporate sponsor I was able to hire a professional to design my posters and graphics which leads me to the last item on my list…
4) Set small goals. I firmly believe slow and steady wins the race. Don’t take on the whole world and do an entire season of 4 shows your first year out of the gate. I didn’t even attempt to add a second show until I felt like I had the summer show under control. Even then, our additional winter show isn’t a huge production. It is a fraction of what the summer production is (in terms of budget). And for now, the two shows are enough. I have other small goals to attain before I would even consider adding more. One thing at a time.