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5 Tips for Saving Money on Productions

Planning a creative and productive season, even on a budget

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5 Tips for Saving Money on Productions

Choosing a show with a small cast and simple set can save you a bundle when it comes to production costs, and it still makes for powerful theatre.

Photo © Flickr user Cuchipinoy Productions, Inc.

It’s no secret that the economic challenges of the past few years have been tough on those in the performing arts. Smaller audiences, dwindling box-office profits, fewer grants, and (worse) fewer volunteers can make it more challenging than ever to bring your productions to life.

But don’t give up! There are ways to plan a satisfying season while still saving money on your productions, and following are just a few suggestions:

1. Think Minimal

  • Choose shows with smaller casts. There are plenty of shows out there for a small cast of just three or four performers. Or maybe it’s time for a one-man (or woman) show! One caveat, however – many of my friends in the performing arts swear that larger casts still pay off with larger audiences when it comes to ticket sales.
  • Stage something from the public domain. From Shakespeare to Greek tragedies to a host of fairytales, there’s a wealth of material out there from the public domain. Of course, do make sure that whatever you choose is in fact actually in the public domain – just because an author is no longer with us, it doesn’t mean their works are able to be staged for free.
  • Reinterpret and reimagine. Choose recognizable shows with potential for bare or simplistic stagings, like basic sets, limited costume changes, and few props. Pick recognizable shows with name awareness that nevertheless offer room for creative interpretation.

2. Downsize

  • Consider downsizing a bit to keep things going. It’s an immediate fix to cut your production schedule and reduce the number of shows to your upcoming season, and can be a valuable way to stay afloat through lean times or simply through the growing pains.
  • Stage revues, showcases or concerts instead of full-scale musicals. For theatres, the big musicals are often highly popular but often incredibly expensive to stage, while showcases or revues are easier to cast, produce, and stage – and they’re far cheaper from a production standpoint.
  • Stage improvs or staged readings. It’s another great way to keep production costs down, and if you've got some funny and available improv talent, then improvs can be fun, inexpensive, and popular – read this to get ideas on how to exercise those creative improve chops in your performers. Meanwhile, staged readings are a terrific yet inexpensive opportunity for showcasing exciting works.

3. Team Up!

  • Tough times mean creative solutions, which means there's never been a better time to explore the idea of teaming up with another local theatre or arts organization. So take a look at other theatres or groups in your area to see if any are staging seasons or works that would be symbiotic with yours. By sharing sets, costumes, and equipment, you cut costs while adding considerably to the potential creativity and richness of your upcoming productions. This way, you both win.
  • Teaming up also allows you to save valuable dollars on printing and materials, on everything from posters and banners, to advertising, direct mail pieces, and more.

4. Think Outside the Box on Props and Costumes

  • Try trading or borrowing major props or set elements from real providers. This is a great way to keep costs down, and it provides yet another way for local businesses to support the arts. As one example, I once worked on a terrific production of Wit on the West Coast, and we were able to borrow all the medical equipment we needed for the production by giving a local hospital prominent status in our programs and ads. In return, we ended up with everything we needed, from the wheelchair, IV stand, hospital bed, and hospital gown, to the hospital curtains and doctor’s coats. Best of all, it gave our production an added dash of realism, too.
  • Generate revenue with costume and prop rentals. If teaming up isn’t a possibility, instead consider renting out your sets, props or costumes to other performing arts groups or theatres.

5. Cut Down on Advertising Costs with Trade-Outs Instead

  • Many newspapers, magazines, and online news sites are both supportive of the arts and open to mutually beneficial trades. So if your budget is tight, don’t simply cut out advertising – instead, approach various media and request advertising in trade, in return for advertising presence in programs and other marketing materials on either a show-by-show or seasonal basis.
  • Do the same thing with local radio stations, many of whom are happy to produce and run a short 15 or 30 second Public Service Announcement (PSA) about an upcoming show in exchange for program visibility. Don’t forget to talk to local TV stations, as well.

I hope these tips help to spark even more cost-cutting ideas for your organization – or that they simply help you to ensure that the show will indeed go on.

How do YOU cut costs and save money? Tell us about it by posting about your experiences in our forums.

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