Isn’t funding boring? Can we create sustainable businesses?  Where are the creative entrepreneurs in theatre?

Convener(s): Gavin O’Carroll

Participants: Phillippa Barr, Steph Allen, David Betz-Heinemann, Gary Campbell, Katherina Radera, Lyn Gardner, Isabel Carr, Michelle Reader, Pia Furtado, Brian Lobel, Charlie Davies, Heather Taylor, Caroline Pearce, Greg McClaren, Sam Pritchard, Gavin O’Carroll, Lucy Wigmore, Mandy Fenton, Mhairi Steenbock, Steno Vitale, Angela Winsworth.

Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations:

Does a funding model eternally make theatre a victim, why can’t we innovate to create a new model of theatre that is independent, sustainable and even profitable..?

So, making money.  We talked about how premises is useful as an asset to explore ways of bringing in revenue – Stoke Newington International Airport have been throwing parties, using the space, holding markets… at the core of this is collaboration, more of a co-op feeling to make this work without funding so far..  Brian asked isn’t this a very long process though that takes a lot of set up and that we need to be ready to do that and put that time in.  It feels a heavy process though.  And needs a strong vision. How can we make it less like soup, and more like stir fry.    Space is currency but is it really necessary to build a sustainable theatre business?  Network is also currency.

We talked about an idea of an economy of assets where the industry pools it’s assets and does more with what it already has. 

We spoke about perhaps what we need to do is expand the notions of our traditional working roles.  Why is creative business outside the role of a set designer, or actor, or producer etc?  Moving into the future do we all need to consider out work and roles also to be entrepreneurial?  If we do do this it was susgested that we have greater independence.  But where is the Dragons dean and the creative business mentors in the theatre industry?  Tassos spoke about how they are developing an ecolgy and community that helps people hone their pitches  and argument for what they do, to help break into that mindset and break into other sectors of the economy.  How can we, in what we do, expand our work by showing the value we have to other sectors?  Can we expand our palette in this regard?

We spoke about the framework of dependent roles (actors etc) vs independent roles.

There was worry about compromising the artistic integrity of the product – an example related to this was Stans Café – who very much think outside the box and ask “How can I make this commission fit my work?” rather than the other way around.  We need to be looking at other industries namely the Digital industry and the Music industry.

We spoke about how it was vital to create a strong community around your work and to give things away.  Citing the book ‘The Gift’.  Again the music industry as as precendence.  Example of Jasper Ford who has create such a strong community that people absolutely love to buy s things from him. ‘sell them things that let them prove how much they love you’. If we think about a model of asking ‘how much money do I need to free myself up for a year to do other things?’ then perhaps you need £20,000.  Then you need to sell 200 people something at £100 once a year to make this work.  Can you set up a business that does this and therefore free yourself to then make whatever work you like on the side? 

We talked about the power of branding to make this work (in a good way).  And the idea of how can you personally connect with the people in your community so they feel the value.  And how can you give the people in your community a gift, if you do then they in turn will give you one back.

We then wondered if there was a glass ceiling to the discussion so far?  This is all very low level really – what about making a hugely successful scalable global business that turns millions of pounds profit?  Scalability is a key word here, how can build a scabale product/service from theatre that people value enough to pay for?  We spoke about Circe De Soleil and Pot Noodle the musical in that they have made a large profit from what they have done.

“The Bottom line is that we want to make great work” But what does that mean for us?  Can we define that?  Perhaps there is something in that definition that might help us craft our value offer.

“Give the people what they want” vs “give the people a gift”

We heard how creative marketing agencies now want relationships with theatre to help advertise bigger brands in ways that people aren’t used to turning off from.

We spoke about democratic programming and the high tide festival. 

There was worry that seeking a business model meant that risky theatre would not be protected, but it was contended that a mixed model of business (where we offer the show and then monitise the services or experience around the show – example Stoke Newington International airport throwing parties around the show) could protect the show by surrounding it with a supporting business/value offering that people might pay for.

Eaxmples of success: Matthew Bourne, Punchdrunk…

We spoke about the ‘money/meaning model’ and why you can’t have a mixed/portfolio model of business where you spend half your time making products/services that people value and will pay for (being commercial as it were) and the other half of your time working on your own stuff with no regard for paid value.  Evaluating risk seemed to be key here and considering your longevity and relationship to pleasing people in a commercial way.

Could we start a NING for Entrepreneurial theatre ‘without compromising’ for sharing info networks and models?  Yes.

We spoke about how it could just be a simple as changing the mindset – business IS a creative act.  How can we be artful at creating new innovative business models for theatre. 

As an example, Shakespeare was mentioned as someone who was greatly commercial “write a play about a king” etc.  The Cistine Chapel and artists doing portraits as more examples.  So is commerciality really a compromise?

More examples – making a show for two people to listen wearing headphones in a restaurant.  Hugely scalable and successful – Ruta Zaza. 

How can we exploit our back catalogues of work?  Images we’ve made as part of development etc etc.  Exploiting our existing IP?

Can we sell DVD of our process to a niche audience via the web and google ads?

We spoke about contacting Arts in Business, and how Art Angel attracts investors by involving their investors as part of their development process. The investor love the experience and are happy to sponsor.

We spoke about how perhaps theatre should all be free (like how flying (Easyjet) and music is heading) and we make money from services, products and experiences surrounding the show, like Easyjet etc.    The idea of peripheral products.  Radiohead saying ‘pay what you want’ for our album then making money from the DVD, concert etc etc.  And actually most people paying more that they would normally.  Charlie spoke about how that really, in our society is kinda hard not to pay for things if they are offered free.  Try doing free work for a large company – they need a budget amount, and an invoice for their accounts so they end up paying you anyway.  Can we ask people “pay what you think this is worth?”

We spoke about how we have to innovate in the context of many other industries also changing – publishing is the next to be transformed with self-publishing and music industry already has been. 

To conclude we felt that there needed to be (or already it was occurring) a convergence of commercial and artistic product/service/experience in a way that was acceptable to us, and that this might likely take the form of a mixed model of business (one side that is audience value lead and the other that was more ‘risky and artistic’).  Again in the context of the internet focusing on finding things that we can offer that are scalable was key to this financially independent future.

Lastly we thought we could be proactive and take a leaf out of the book of how Gyms work.  You pay a subscription for the offer that the gym defines, then you can go whenever you like.  But most of us are quite lazy and don’t go very often.  The Gym has a sustained revenue model and we feel like we can go as often as we want for ‘free’.  Why can’t we in the theatre do this more often?