Creating a Theatre Production Budget: the Full Roadmap
How to create a theatre production budget for theatre shows of any scale
So you want to create your first theatre production budget, eh? You can stop your search now. In this blog post, I will pour out everything I know about budgeting for a theatre production and everything that comes with it.
Creating a budget is a critical part of producing a successful theatre production. Duh. Producing a show without a budget would be like crossing the street with blindfolds and earplugs… high risk, let’s say. A theatre production budget will help you to stay on track, allocate resources effectively, and ensure that you don’t overspend. In this post, we’ll look at a theatrical budget in detail.
Before we dive in, let me clarify that there isn’t one correct way to make a show budget, and budgets change radically from show to show, in the same way that human DNA is radically different from person to person (unless you are a twin, but you get what I mean).
In this article, I will include what most theatre productions need to be produced, but depending on what your show entails, this may or may not be a complete list.
However, it is a great place to start, and I have included as many resources I could to help you get your theatre production budget to where it should be. Good luck!
Theatre Production Expenses
With theatre shows, always start with how much it’s going to cost. That will give you an indication of how much income you will need to raise through fundraising efforts, and/or earn through box office sales.
Here is a breakdown of the items that you should include in your budget:
1. Creative Team and Actor Fees
This includes the fees for the director, choreographer, music director, set designer, lighting designer, costume designer, sound designer, principal actors, understudies, and any extras or chorus members.
How do you set these fees? Well, this is a very delicate question, as there have been a lot of conversations in the theatre industry about freelancer pay. Several advocacy groups were born as a result of the increased cost of living that hasn’t been matched with an increase in pay to freelancers, on which the theatre industry heavily relies.
I won’t get too much into it as I want this article to stay on topic, but I do want to flag that paying your collaborators needs a lot of thought.
Guidance on budgeting for creative teams and actor fees:
Check the ITC (Independent Theatre Council) rates: these are rates that are negotiated by ITC on behalf of theatre workers, and although you don’t have to legally abide by these, they are considered a bottom line wherever possible.
Personally, I think both of these pay rates are quite low, especially for experienced theatre professionals: a daily freelance rate of £120 translates as a London Living Wage if they were salaried under an employer. No one would ever expect an employee with several years of experience to deliver highly skilled work for a living wage. On top of that, consider that freelancers and actors can’t be employed 100% of their workable days, and don’t benefit from holiday and sick pay, and pension contributions. My personal opinion is that a freelancer working on a theatre production should be paid a minimum of £175 per day (read this enlightening thread by Lily Einhorn to have a pretty good context for freelancer rates of pay in theatre.)
In any case, the rates I listed above will give you an indication of a baseline level for you to set your creative team and actor fees. anything below Equity and ITC rates, while not illegal (unless it’s less than minimum wage) is considered bad practice.
Ask your collaborators for quotes. This might be appropriate only for certain roles such as set designers rather than actors, as the formers will have the ability to estimate how much it will cost them in time and materials to produce the set you are asking for.
Speak to your collaborators about your fees upfront: try to be as clear and transparent as possible about what you have included in your budget, and be open to negotiating with them should they object to the rates you have set.
2. Rehearsal Space
This is the cost of hiring the rehearsal space. This includes the cost of any equipment required, such as mirrors, dance floors, or pianos. Seek out the rehearsal spaces that are available where you live, and estimate the cost by multiplying the weekly rate by the number of rehearsal weeks.
3. Production Crew
Whether you have a production crew will depend on how big your production is, ie: how big and complex the set and technical setup is. The production crew includes the stage manager, assistant stage managers, technical directors, Production Managers, and any other technicians required to build and dismantle the set, and operate the lighting, sound, and set.
4. Costumes and Props
The cost of purchasing or renting costumes and props will change from show to show, depending on its needs. Do your best to give an estimate for this depending on the Director’s artistic vision, and what the show entails. A good way to get to that estimate is to gain an understanding of what will need to be bought, and look up the average prices of those items.
5. Set Design and Construction
This includes materials, labour, and any rental fees for equipment. These should be quoted by the Set designer and dependent on the scale of the production.
6. Marketing and Publicity
This includes the design and printing of posters, flyers, and programs, as well as the cost of any advertising, or the cost of a dedicated marketing person you may hire to market the show. This also includes the cost of a PR firm (such as Mobius).
Remember that not all shows need an investment in PR, and you should consider if your show will have a return on investment if you pay for PR. The main job of PR is to manage a press release for your production, and to invite reviewers to see it. If you are producing a show that will only have a handful of performances, it won’t be worth investing in having reviewers see the show, as there aren’t enough performances for you to reap the benefits of a good review.
7. Theatre venue hire
If you are producing a show that isn’t commissioned or programmed by a venue, chances are that you will need to hire the theatre space you will be performing the show at. Make sure to include this in the budget if it pertains to your project.
8. Theatre performance insurance
Theatre performance insurance is absolutely vital to cover any accidents, injuries, or damage to equipment. An insurance that is often used in theatre is Showtime Insurance (in the UK).
You would need to have Public Liability Insurance (which covers the public) as well as Employer’s liability insurance (which covers anyone you are employing as part of the show). Very often, the venue you are working with will require you to have insurance, and will specify what kind of insurance they expect you to have in place.
When you request a quote, you will be asked what level of insurance you want to purchase, and the value of any equipment you wish to cover.
9. Ticketing fees
If you are producing a show and hiring a venue to perform it in, make sure you are aware of what the box office ticketing fees the venue is charging you for: this would be detailed in the agreement you will have with them, or you can ask the venue’s in-house producer.
Ticketing fees are fees that the venue incurs when selling tickets: normally credit card fees and cash handling fees. They almost always remit this cost to visiting companies, so you should be aware of how much these are. Usually, it is a percentage of gross sales.
It is always a good idea to include some contingency in the budget to cover any overspending or underachievement in sales.
A good level of contingency is usually about 20% of costs. This can be quite ambitious for smaller-budget shows, nonetheless, you should aim to have a minimum of 10% contingency factored into the budget.
11. Access and wellbeing
Access includes spending you incur to make the show accessible to disabled audience members, such as British Sign Language interpreted shows, or captioned shows, or audio-described shows. It may also include any access costs incurred for a disabled member of the creative team that might need some bespoke support.
You may also want to include a budget line for team wellbeing, depending on the nature of the show. This may include chiropractor sessions if the show is very physical, or some therapeutic support for actors if the show touches on sensitive themes.
12. Royalties, PRS, and other licenses
Depending on the script and other artistic devices used in the show, you may have to obtain the rights to someone else’s intellectual property. If this is the case for your show, make sure you have a legal contract that stipulates your right to use someone else’s script, music, or any other copyright you may need.
The cost of this will be different depending on what you are using, and is often clarified in the copyright agreements.
When creating a theatre production budget, it’s important to estimate the income that the production will generate. This includes the revenue generated from ticket sales, as well as any grants or donations received.
1. Ticket Sales
The primary source of income for theatre production is ticket sales.
This is what you will need to predict box office sales:
Average ticket price: consider full price and concession prices, and also any price ranges that the venue might offer (eg: stalls being more expensive than balcony seats)
Number of seats in the venue
Number of performances you will stage
Box office split with the venue: depending on your agreement with the venue, you might be able to retain 100% of your box office sales (this is normally true if you hire the venue outright), or if you are agreeing to a box office split (this is more common when the venue is taking on some of the financial risk for the production, for example by contributing with a co-production fee, or not charging a hire fee).
Target sales capacity: this is the percentage of seats you aim to fill with paying audience members, so it excludes any seats offered for free (such as complimentary or press tickets).
That last part is the trickiest: it is famously difficult to predict how sales will behave, especially for a new show.
There are some questions to ask when predicting audience attendance:
Do you or your production company have an established reputation?
Is the venue well-known, and easily accessible?
Do you have big names in the cast?
Are the Director or Writer well-known?
Will the venue support you with any marketing outreach?
How have similar shows performed in the past in similar venues?
How much specific outreach will you do to attract your target audience?
How far in advance are you able to start your marketing strategy?
Depending on what your answers are, you might want to consider hiring some marketing support that can focus on reaching your ideal audience and pushing the show a bit harder so that you can hit your sales target.
Unless you work in commercial theatre, grants are one of the main funding sources for theatre shows, especially for grassroots and fringe theatre companies.
The Arts Council offer project grants that you can apply for: I recommend reading their guidance to learn about their deadlines and how to apply. I also recommend checking out Christina Poulton’s resources page, as she has plenty of amazing tools that can help you navigate the Arts Council’s grant application process.
You can also do some in-depth development work and identify Trusts and Foundations that align with your company and show’s values, that might be worth applying to.
Donations from patrons and sponsors can also provide a significant source of income for a theatre production, however, it requires considerable effort and resources to attract donations for a show, especially if you are a younger company. This would require the expertise of a fundraiser who can advise you on a donations campaign, and it would also require you to start working on it several months before the project starts.
An alternative to asking for donations would be crowdfunding: there are several platforms such as Kickstarter where you can pre-sell your show’s tickets.
Do keep in mind that while donations are acts of philanthropy where donors don’t expect anything in return for their money, the funds you’d receive from Kickstarter campaigns are proper sales. Those contributing to your campaigns are not donors: they are customers who need to be treated as such, and they do expect something in return for their contribution.
Crowdfunding can be a great way to raise funds and pre-sales if you have an engaging show that the public can connect with and will want to support in its early stages, but it does require a whole lotta admin and customer service, so do go for it only if you have enough capacity to manage the campaign from start to finish.
Best practices to set up and manage a theatre production budget
Start early: begin creating your theatre production budget as soon as possible. This will give you ample time to research costs, seek funding, kick off your marketing strategy, negotiate fees, and make adjustments as needed.
Track actual expenditure regularly: monitor your budget regularly (at least once a week) to ensure that you are on track. If you find that you are overspending in one area, you will need to communicate this to the relevant people in the team and adjust your budget accordingly to compensate.
Be realistic: when estimating expenses and revenue, be realistic. Research and estimate your costs properly, and don’t set a sales target that is unreasonable for you and the team to achieve within the time frame you are working with.
Communicate: you will need to communicate about spending and income to the team. Specifically, anyone who is responsible for some of the budget lines (for example: designers and stage managers will often seek out and buy props and set items), and the producer and production manager. If there are any changes in the budget, the members of the team need to stay informed at all times.
Include detailed notes: include enough notes in the budget so that anyone looking at it for the first time would understand how you got to the figures you have set in it. This is for the sake of transparency, but also because in three months’ time you may have completely forgotten how you calculated your performer fees or your set costs! The more information you leave in the budget notes, the better.
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