Learn how to start a theatre company of your own

Justin Michael Carriere acts in the play Medea

Sometimes we have great ideas that we want to share with the world. Sometimes these great ideas come from a realization about challenges in our community.

Being of mixed race, Jenna Rodgers noticed a lack of strong portrayals within her community of mixed-race people. She decided to address this lack of representation with her love for theatre and created Chromatic Theatre.

Back when Rodgers was in graduate school, she wrote a thesis on Chinese-Canadian theatre and how it overlapped with the 1974 Canadian Policy of Multiculturalism. This experience led to an internship with FuGen, an Asian-Canadian theatre company in Toronto.

Through her internship, she says, Rodgers learned what it takes to run a theatre within Canada and how to write grant proposals for projects.

“When I decided to come home, I looked around and thought maybe it would be neat to start a company that represents diverse populations in Calgary, because I didn’t see that one existed as an umbrella organization to represent all cultures,” says Rodgers.rehearsing for “Medea”. Justin Michael Carriere, Carly McKee, Jenna Rodgers, Chantelle Han, Makambe K. Simamba, Ali DeRegt rehearse for Medea.  Photo Courtesy of Kara Artym

She noticed that there were groups and organizations that represented gender rights or disabilities of an individual, but there were none that could bring all minority cultures together.

In the 2011 census of Canada, and national household survey done by Statistics Canada, about 30 per cent of individuals identified themselves as a member of a visible minority group.

That’s all the more reason, says Rodgers, to find ways to promote diversity in the theatre and elsewhere.

Starting a theatre company

Creating your own theatre company is challenging and will pose obstacles, says the founder of one such organization.

Jonathan Brower is the artistic director and co-founder of Third Street Theatre, a queer theatre company based in Calgary. The first step, he says, it to come up with a targeted audience and determine what type of message you want to portray.

“Know what you’re planning on creating, (and) if there’s a need for it” advises Brower.

After this, the process varies depending on what type of theatre you open, and on the resources available to you.

Money is key

Jenna Rodgers decided to start by writing a grant for Chromatic theatre

“We did a fundraising campaign that made over $4,000, and we wrote grants to the Canada Council and Alberta Foundation for the Arts,” Rodgers says.

With the money raised, you are able to find a venue that you can work in and that is also suitable to your company’s image. From there, you have to start looking for your cast members.

“I hadn’t been in Calgary for very long and so it was really important to me that it was local talent because it kind of casts my net a little wider,” says Rodgers.

For her first show, Rodgers wanted to look for talent all over Alberta, and since she studied in Edmonton, she already had a handful of connections. She decided to look for more Calgary-based talent for her second show, which led her to do an open casting call.Jonathan Brower, co-founder of Calgary’s Third Street TheatreJonathan Brower, co-founder of Calgary’s Third Street Theatre, sheds a positive light on the city’s LGBTQ community. Photo courtesy of Jonathan Brower

Extra, extra, tweet all about it

Once your company has its cast and crew in order, advertising is the next obstacle.

With advancement in social media, there are various ways to promote your company. Rodgers has taken to Twitter and Facebook to advertise Chromatic Theatre.

Like many other companies, she has also relied on word of mouth.

“We’ve done the traditional advertisement, we’ve made posters and we try to hire great designers,” says Rodgers. She also adds that those who work for the company and how they present themselves to the public is a form of advertisement.

“The intention is not to sell, but to raise awareness about this is who you are, and this is what your brand is.”

Put in the work

If you choose to open a theatre company, you should be ready to put in a lot of hours in order to keep it going. There is always something to work on, but Rodgers says the feedback she has gotten from Calgarians has been extremely positive.

To sum up the steps one needs to take in order to start a theatre company, she narrows it down to “think, plan, create, promote, and perform.”

“Pick up the phone, call people. Tell them your plan, get people involved, and have conversations about the work,” encourages Jonathan Brower.


 The editor responsible for this article is Masha Scheele and can be contacted at mscheele@cjournal.ca

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