Things I Didn’t Know I Didn’t Know

I’ve recently set up a Patreon campaign where you can support my work “per epiphany.” Patreon is a new model for funding artists, based on a very old model for funding artists: patronage. Many of us currently work project-to-project, and it’s difficult to maintain a reliable income that way. So Patreon allows supporters to pay small amounts for small milestones along the way to those big projects. I’ve chosen the “epiphany” as my unit of measurement for progress towards my goals.

So here’s my first Patreon-supported epiphany:

I went to a course yesterday offered by the Independent Theatre Council, on starting a performing arts company. It’s only been a couple of months since I decided “Okay Okay, I’m Starting a Theatre Company” and now I’m getting into the nitty-gritty of it. The morning was a bit scary, a three-hour deluge of things I hadn’t thought of yet, that I would now have to deal with, learn more about, and fill out forms for.

When I first moved to London, I made peace with the idea that I was starting again in a new theatre world, with a new network to build and new systems to figure out. It’s been a while since I’ve felt as lost as when I first arrived. I’m not normally apprehensive about legal and financial best practices, having served for 3 years as general manager for the Cutting Ball Theater in San Francisco. I know my way around a spreadsheet and a contract. But the systems of a 501(c)3 non-profit organisation in the United States and the systems of various company structures here in the UK are not the same. At all. The funding landscape is totally different. Employment law is totally different. Even the names for things are totally different.

Around 12:30 I was starting to think: ooh. I didn’t know I didn’t know this stuff. Maybe I’m not ready for this. Everyone said it was not that big a deal to set up a company. But there seems to be a lot to get my head around. There’s already so much work to do, to create and direct a piece of theatre, and now all this about employment law and company accounts? And I can get funding from the Arts Council as an individual (in theory) so maybe I should just…not do this?

And then I had another cup of coffee, chatted with a fellow performance maker over lunch, and we realised that actually the scary things were to do with being responsible for other artists, employing people, treating our collaborators well. Which actually, whether I’m making my work as an individual or as a company, I need to sort that stuff out. And actually, the company paperwork is the easiest part of all this.

So I pulled myself together and turned a new page in my notebook. The afternoon was full of more helpful advice and greater detail about what we’d covered in the morning. There’s still a lot more to work out, but how will I learn until I do it? This is the journey from unfunded individual artist to professional performance company. I’m sure there will be a lot of epiphanies along the way. Not least: don’t do it alone.

If anyone else out there is thinking of starting a theatre company, I’m happy to share my notes and impressions from the course. ITC offers the course 2-3 times a year – keep an eye on their website for the upcoming sessions in August (Edinburgh) or later in the autumn (London). Or you can become a member and get advice year-round.