The Three Ingredients You Need To Start a Successful (!) Non-Profit Theater Company

It’s a big decision.

It’s like being at Robert Frost’s famed fork in the road.  Which path do you take???

Do you go commercial?  Or do you go non-profit?

I’m not sure which one is actually more traveled, but I do know that forming a non-profit theater company is one of the best ways for emerging Writers, Actors, Designers, Producers and anyone interested in creating for the theater to get themselves on the map.

It has worked for everyone from David Mamet to Alex Timbers to Gary Sinise and, the granddaddy of them all…Joe Papp.

Just imagine where the theater would be today if Joe hadn’t sat down and set up The New York Shakespeare Festival (which of course, morphed into The Public Theater).

Do you have the next Public in you?  Or the next Roundabout?  Or maybe you’re a rebel and you’re looking at becoming the next Bedlam?

Whatever type of non-profit you want to become, it ain’t just about getting your friends together, putting a flag in the ground and putting on a play.

There are rules and regulations and lots of not-why-you-got-into-the-theater type of stuff that you must know if you want to create a non-profit theater company.  And even more, if you want that non-profit theater company to survive more than one show, never mind one season.

And, like building anything, you need to start with a structure.  You need a foundation upon which you can build your theatrical legacy.

For me, there are three essential elements in that foundation that you must take care in building:

The Three Most Important Ingredients In A Non-Profit

1. Your Mission:

Your mission answers the questions:  Who are you? What are you about? And why should anyone care?

There’s more to it than that, of course, and a mission should be a finely tuned statement because done right, it’s going to be like your constitution, and guide you for years.  Take time with it and do lots of research before locking and loading your mission. (I could go on about the proper way to craft a mission, but we don’t have space for it in this short blog.)

2. Your Board

Your Board will go on this journey with you.  Because you can’t go it alone.  Who’s going to go on this journey with you?

It might be easy to just look around and see who you’re hanging out with on Friday night and ask them to start a theater company with you.  But there are a ton of reasons why you should NOT do that.  In fact, there’s a tactic I recommend for picking Boards that takes a different approach.

Just remember you may be putting on plays, but this isn’t “play” time.  A Board is about business.

3. Your Projects

A theater company ain’t a theater company without projects.

This is a common chicken-egg problem for most emerging companies, but my advice is not to file a lick of paperwork until you have at least an inkling of what you’re going to produce.  The choice of your first project is almost as important as your second.  🙂  Figure out why.

Starting a non-profit theater company can be one of the most sure-fire ways to get the attention you want for your art, no matter if you’re a writer or an actor or both.  But, there’s a reason most non-profits fail.  And there’s a reason most never even get formed, and the great inspiration for one dies on the bar stool where someone shouted, “Hey!  Let’s form a theater company.”

If you’re interested in learning more about starting a non-profit theater company, including the logistics involved, I’m holding an online workshop next Wednesday, August 9th 2017 at 7 PM.  You’ll learn more about all of the above, plus:

  • How to successfully raise money for your non-profit.
  • Why you have to stand out in a sea of non-profits and how to do it.
  • The 3 mistakes that bring down most non-profits before they even begin.

And a ton more.

To learn more about this workshop, click here.

This workshop is free for members of TheProducersPerspectivePRO.

NOTE:  Unlike previous webinars, this webinar is not available for a la carte purchase. 

If you want to attend this workshop for free, join TheProducersPerspectivePRO today.  You’ll get free access to the above workshop as well as over 20+ hours of other online training, exclusive content including a newsletter mailed directly to your home, lists of producers, agents (and yes, non-profits).

To learn more about what you get when you join pro today, click here.

(By the way, as you know every month I teach a new webinar as part of PRO.  In the past, I’ve offered these workshops to the public.  Going forward, all regularly scheduled monthly workshops will only be available to Pros.)

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Interested in learning more about topics like this? CLICK HERE to join The TheaterMakers Studio, an online community, certification training program, and resource for playwrights, producers, directors, actors, and theater makers of all kinds!

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Ken created one of the first Broadway podcasts, recording over 250 episodes over 7 years. It features interviews with A-listers in the theater about how they “made it”, including 2 Pulitzer Prize Winners, 7 Academy Award Winners and 76 Tony Award winners. Notable guests include Pasek & Paul, Kenny Leon, Lynn Ahrens and more.