What if Small Theatres Shared Administrators?

Every theatre company, no matter how small, has some need for people to handle a number of crucial, non-artistic administrative tasks: the money, the space rental, the legal matters, the website, the ticketing, the house, the marketing (which is a good half dozen jobs in one).  To put on a play at any level of complexity above inviting some friends into your living room is to require all of these jobs to be taken care of.

Most small theatre companies I know handle all of these tasks in-house.  There’s three approaches I’ve seen: 1) a large number of working, founding members, with a company manager and a marketing manager and an audience services manager in place from the start; 2) piling on these heavy and numerous tasks onto a trio or quartet of overworked founding artists; 3) piling on these heavy and numerous tasks onto a network of overworked supporting artists.

My question is: why don’t small theatres share administrators?

Why don’t, say, five or seven or ten local small companies all decide to pool some of their available funds to hire, say, a dedicated marketing person?  Perhaps someone who actually studied marketing in school?  Maybe a shared accountant, as well?  A shared web developer? 

Or, in the other direction – why don’t an enterprising marketer, web developer, accountant, and, say, business manager form a small business that hires out their services, hourly or per-show, specifically to theatres?

It’s all about economies of scale. 

(Not to mention the greater skill set of dedicated professionals compared to that of overworked theatre artists.)

The main reason small theatres do everything in-house is because it’s free that way, at least when they’re starting out and operating as an all-volunteer association.  But, theoretically, if enough theatres got together, the costs could be brought down enough to be affordable to even the newest companies, particularly if a sliding scale is used, or the work is truly calculated hourly. 

An overworked actor trying to handle the simple website for Tiny Theatre might put in four hours in a week and be burnt out for all of them; a dedicated web developer might be able to manage the same work in just one hour and could do a better job, and Tiny Theatre pays them $12 or $15 for that hour, no large cost.  At the same time, Medium Theatre requires ten hours a week to help create a new fancy website, and along with another dozen theatres with varying website needs, the web developer stays gainfully employed (especially if they freelance elsewhere). 

The size of the task scales with the theatre.  There’s not enough work at any one small or medium theatre for a dedicated accountant, but there’s enough amongst a dozen theatres put together.  So, until a theatre company gets so large as to require the full-time services of someone simply to manage their payroll, small-chunk tasks get loaded onto artists (or stuffed into one job description under a “Managing Director”). 

So – instead of Tired Actor A handling Tiny Theatre’s small contracts chunk and donations chunk and website chunk and Tired Actor B handling the marketing chunk and Tired Actor C , and, at Medium Theatre, Generic Marketing Admin handling the graphic design chunk and advertising and social media chunks and Multipurpose Untutored Admin handling all Medium Theatre’s other chunks, and the same kind of story being the case for two or three or eight people each at Little Theatre and Average Theatre and New Theatre and Small Theatre and Growing Theatre and Emerging Theatre and Former College Friends Theatre and Young Theatre and Specialty Theatre (requiring the partial services of, what, 30 or 40 or 60 people between them to handle all these task chunks) – why don’t they all pool resources and hire 1 management professional, 1 accounting professional, 1 web and graphic design professional, 1 marketing professional, 1 venue management professional and 1 customer service professional to do it all, for all of them?

The bigger theatres, requiring more work-hours from the professionals, will pay more (but not as much as if they hired their own dedicated people), and the professionals’ remaining work-hours will be claimed, at smaller cost, by smaller theatres.

(Preemptive Objection Response: Yes, different theatres have different needs.  But, if they are all good at their jobs, that means the professionals will be good at handling these different needs – which aren’t as different as the theatres would flatter themselves to believe.)

In other words –
why don’t we treat our theatre community as a shared, cooperative community
instead of a field of discrete, idiosyncratic businesses?

One comment

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