george r&d

R&D ‘George’ – January 2022 (downloadables)

In November 2021, I applied for a space at the New Diorama Theatre Broadgate (Liverpool Street) to organise a R&D for a work in progress about the subversive and forward-thinking French novelist George Sand. We got a space for the week commencing January 10th.

Below are a few takeways and downloadables to reflect on my practice as a producer and help fellow theatre makers with their projects.

@ New Diorama Theatre Broadgate

If you want to find out more about the project, I would advise you to have a look at the crowdfunder we set up. The video summarises it quite well.

I also wrote an evaluation document which was shared with the practictioners involved, to be transparent on the finances and the outcome. It’s also a good way to reflect on one’s practice, things that could be improve and also to share with potential funders in the future. This document will give you a good understanding of what worked well and what could be improved in the future.

Below are some additional thoughts I would like to share. I hope you will find some useful ideas/thoughts in there.

Fundraising

We went for a crowdfunder over an Arts Council England project grant application, because we learnt that we would have the space only 5 or 6 weeks prior to the start of the R&D (it takes ACE 8 weeks to review project grants applications). Also, because the money was to finance an R&D and not to put on a play, we decided to use a crowdfunder, more likely to be supported by friends of the artist(s) involved. As most of our friends are also theatre makers, they were more likely to understand what a R&D is and how useful it is for theatre makers, hence more willing to donate.

Is it possible to raise almost £2,000 in 4 weeks for an R&D through a crowdfunder? YES! Do you have to have a very solid fundraising/social media strategy in order to do so? I would say that it’s better, but to be honest we didn’t.

Two things I learnt from this crowdfunder:

  • Be honest, transparent and have integrity. One of my main values as a producer is not to take advantage of people’s time and to pay them as fairly as possible for their contribution. My budget was based on industry standards and we were also very clear in the crowdfunder about how important this was for us. The money would help develop a project, but it would mostly be used to pay theatre practitioners.
  • People tend to give to an artist rather than a producer or a production, especially at this stage of the process. I am sure that people were thrilled by ‘George’ and what it stands for, but most of the people who are going to give are friends of the artist(s) involved. Make sure to put the focus on the artist, their story and how it can benefit their practice. Also, does the artist have a big circle of friends? If not, the crowdfunder is unlikely to be successful.

On a side note, make sure that it will not take you time and/or money to deliver on the perks. They have to be attractive to donators but they can’t be a strain on your time or budget.

Update: I realised very recently that, as a producer I don’t have to pay people in line with ITC/Equity rates, but with the national minimum wage. Would I love to be able to pay people more? Obviously! Will I always be able to? Unlikely. Once again, it’s a struggle between your values (paying people fairly) and the sustainability of a project.

Paying participants

Not knowing ultimately if we would be able to pay the creatives involved and how much, we made choices that were not sensible and sustainable as a company.

The playwright and I (so the two project leads) wanted to be clear and straightforward about how we would be using the money raised. In the crowdfunder, we said that we would first aim to pay everyone their travel and lunch expenses, then pay each practictioners (playwright, producer, director, two actors) a £100 fee and £50 to the photographer. Ultimately, if we managed to raise the money we needed, we would pay everyone in lines with ITC rates.

We advertised this without really thinking things through. And the choice of paying everyone £100 was based on our willingness to pay others before ourselves. Although I knew it wasn’t smart, it’s a difficult choice to make (paying yourself more). Ultimately, we decided to use the same rate for everyone (£100 for a day, £494 for a week) and to pay everyone pro rata based on the time spent in the space. We were not paying people according to their roles but to the time spent working on the project.

It’s easier to explain and defend in terms of fairness. When we went for plan A (£100 fee), we didn’t realise that the actors would be paid fairly and in lines with ITC rates, but not the playwright, the director/dramaturg or the producer. Plan B (pro rata to time in the space) made more sense to us as project managers. It also meant that we had to have a discussion with the creatives involved to explain why we changed the way we would pay everyone. Because we were the ones making a mistake in the first place and changing our plans, we would have had to go back to plan A should this had been a disappointment to some practictioners. Fortunately, everyone was very understanding but as a producer, this is not a mistake I want to repeat.

In the end, we managed to raise all the money needed to pay everyone in line with ITC rates. But lesson learnt anyway: make sure to be crystal clear on if/how you will pay people and do not commit to something you haven’t thought through 🙂

Lesson #2: it’s not because you are managing the project that you do not deserve to be paid. The playwright and I spent the 5 full days in the space, on top of the hours spent beforehand to apply for the space, set up the crowdfunder, write all the prep documents, contact the press, etc. We deserve this money, we are not stealing everyone. Hard to understand, because we know how much actors are struggling, but fair anyway.

Participants diversity

I personally got to meet creatives as most of the people involved knew Léa in some capacity from previous collaborations, which was not my case. I also understand Léa’s need to be in a safe environment to create. Finally, we want to involve people with a strong work ethic (which is only possible if you know them beforehand).

But that also meant that we were bringing people on board that we knew already, hence not giving other people the opportunity to be involved. I know that can be a problem in this industry, relying on the same network of friends and collaborators, and definitely something I want to reflect on when it comes to my own practice.

Finally, we also got very few people from the global majority involved, something I am well aware of and want to work on in the future.

Downloadables

Resources

Photos: Annabel Ferguson