How do I make money out of my theatre show?

So here you are, then. You’ve brought your show to the Edinburgh Fringe. It’s doing well, or it could do better. You’ve got reviews you deserve and reviews you don’t, both fair and/or foul. So what now?

Well firstly, of course, you’ve got to play this little commitment out. You’ve probably got just under a dozen shows left (depending when you’re reading this), and then you’re done. You can go home and fall to pieces for a few days, and then its back to your own personal grind, whatever that may be. I hope it’s industry based, but if it’s back to working on a regular or irregular basis for someone else, signing on, or back to gainful or not-so-gainful self employment, then that’s what has to be done.

But wait a minute. You pulled together every penny you could for this show. You begged, borrowed and stole. You spent sleepless nights and pressured days trying to pull it all together, and then brought it up to the festival and shared it with varying degrees of success to the fee-paying public. Whether you did well or badly financially, this time it wasn’t friends and family in a room above a pub, it was members of the public paying their hard-earned cash to come and see your show. Surely all this won’t be over in a few more days?

Well, here’s where you have to make a decision, if you haven’t already. I’m hoping you’ve laid plans to take the show on elsewhere, but I rather suspect that most of you (and again I speak from past experience) have not yet seen beyond the horizon of getting your show to the fringe, and getting it running.

After contact with audiences, if your show went well, you have to see beyond that horizon. If it didn’t, then let it die. There’s always next year, and another show to be developed. If your show did go well on contact with audiences, then you now have a Proven Product.

This is the important bit. A Proven Product with reviews, audience comments, and most importantly books that show decent ticket sales, is a commodity. You now have to start thinking of it in much the same way as a trader would if they came into a job lot of something fairly decent at an auction – where can I sell this?

There are regional theatres with days which are often dark. There are village halls, pub theatres in major cities, schools (if you have a childrens piece) and even prisons if your product is an appropriate one for that particular type of venue.

We came up here with two objectives. Firstly, we wanted to make a profit, but would accept a break even financially. Secondly, and incredibly importantly, we wanted to secure the product as having a future, profitable life.

Because, in many ways, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival for most companies has (or should have) very little to do with performing for a number of shows and then going home. It should be about trying to get the people who might buy your show into their venue, or offer you a venue split, or allow you R&D time to develop your project in association with their production company, to come and see your show and make that deal.

Now’s your chance. The festival is essentially now, for you, a trade show. You have your wares on display. You now have a number of days to get the people who might buy this whole product in the near future (not just buy individual tickets) to come and see your work. Then you take them for a drink, and you try to close a deal on taking your show to their venue. Or pencil some possible dates. Or, at the very least, open up a channel of communication with them so they’ll come and see your product (not your show) next year, with a possible view to taking it on.

You need to work out if you can tour it – Mid scale? Small scale? Even just a few of you in a van, contacting parish councils and putting together a pay-what-you-can package for village halls up and down the country, in places where they don’t have as much accessibility to live theatre as do those people in more densely populated areas. Perhaps you need to find a theatre who will give you a run in an area with a good location, who have a good reputation and a proven regular audience of theatre goers. You need to think about moving your show forward and selling it on. Try to make a living at it.

Because, if we’re not trying to make a full time living at this at some point in the future, then all we actually have is an expensive hobby. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. If you like coming up to the fringe, putting on a show, and don’t mind losing a few quid every year because you enjoy the experience, then there’s nothing wrong with that. In many ways, it’s completely in the spirit of the fringe.

If you want to make a living at it though, as well as selling tickets, you now need to start trying to shift the wider product, to a wider audience. The Edinburgh Fringe Festival is actually one of the biggest trade shows of its kind anywhere in the world.

You’re currently bang in the middle of that trade show. Find the contacts you need, and then go and sell your product to them, and into a longer term future.

You can do it. You just have to decide that you’re going to, and then follow it through.

And in that, I wish you every success.

Rafe

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