‘We just never pay anyone.’
‘I got left a lot of inheritance.’
‘We got a lot of funding from Europe. God knows what we’ll do now.’
All of the above are answers that I have heard in response to the same question:
‘How did you get funding to run your theatre company?’
Setting up your own business is no mean feat as any company director will know. But, when your own business is in the theatre industry in times where less and less importance is being placed on the arts and education, the honest answer is that it’s very tough. It’s not impossible, but it’s just important to work out your niche and remember why you are doing it.
These are some of the routes that I have gone down to make my company, Untold Arts, work:
COLD HARD CASH
Public Funding – you can apply to grant making bodies like the Arts Council England, Big Lottery Fund, or Peabody Trust. This requires a lot of 90 page application forms and ticking boxes, but if you manage to get the grant it can mean the difference between a project going ahead or not. It is also good for proving to other potential funders or partners (who may not know your company first hand) that a reputable body believes in you.
Corporate sponsorship – most corporate companies have a social inclusion policy or a commitment to supporting charities or local projects. Look at their website, call up the office, and see how you can help each other.
Celebrity donations – does your project tap into a cause or an issue that you know a celebrity is passionate about? 99% of celebrities have worked exceptionally hard to get to where they are today, and do often like to give something back. Do your research and be considerate about how you contact your chosen celebrities. Also, go through their PAs (not their agents) if you want to have the best chance of reaching the person and avoiding inciting anger.
Crowdfunding – tread carefully with this one. Everyone is continually being asked to part with money on social media, and if you try to crowdfund too much it can feel like you’re hassling people. But, if your project or business idea is unique, crowdfunding could help to change things for the better, so it’s worth a shot.
Top tips for doing this include; launching the campaign on a Tuesday (statistically, it’s the day of the week that the most people click on crowdfunding links); launching the campaign at the start of the month (so, shortly after pay day); opting for a flexible funding campaign so you get some money whether you make your target or not. Crowdfunding works best when the campaign idea is interesting, so people will want to support it regardless of whether they know you. Also, choose to give out some perks that people will want and that you can provide eg. free tickets to the show, a press night party invite, a signed programme.
SUPPORT IN KIND
Think outside the box – perhaps there are ways of saving money by not spending it. Can you get free performance space and share the box office revenue to avoid a hire fee? Can you get fruit and veg donated to use onstage in the kitchen scene from the local grocer in exchange for publicity in the programme?
In the past, I have swapped an hour of babysitting for an hour’s rehearsal space. I ended up with central London rehearsal space for two days in exchange for 14 hours of babysitting for the director’s daughter, and I didn’t have to part with any physical cash.
I recently did a swap with a director who was also running her own company. She told me how she successfully fundraises, and I told her how I successfully got venues on board. We met up for an hour between jobs, and felt connected as two individuals going through similar quests – to take political theatre around the UK.
BLOOD, SWEAT, AND TEARS
A lot of people that work with Untold Arts put in serious overtime in order to get projects off the ground. From building a website, to calling up schools, to booking workshops, to developing a script which involves travelling around the country to interview people. I would not be able to run my company without substantial help and support from my Untold associates.
Since January, I have worked one to two days a week running my company on an entirely voluntary basis. This sometimes means that I am up at the crack of dawn writing funding applications before work, or that my lunch breaks are spent on the phone chasing venues, or (worse case scenario) that I have to solve an issue for an employee rehearsing in London just before I go onstage in Northampton. But I do this because I believe in the work we do – there is nothing more empowering than creating your own work.