Ten Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me Before I Started a Theater

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players;

They have their exits and their entrances, and one man in his time plays many parts.”–William Shakespeare

  1. Name recognition is everything.  This is everything. Believe me, I didn’t believe it and I didn’t want it to be true.  Before I started Overshadowed, I used to work at my church and school that my children attended. We produced a major Easter production as well as the school play every year. Somehow we created quite a following and had people attending from miles away for both of these productions every year. I took that into consideration when making plans thinking that some of those followers would join us on this new journey. I soon discovered that the name Overshadowed didn’t mean anything to those past followers and that we had to build name recognition and a new reputation.
  2. Business skills might be more important that artistic skills. From the very beginning I just wanted to produce plays. I wanted to build a community where everyone was welcome and naively I thought if we sold x number of tickets we could meet the budget. I really had no idea if the budget I created was even based on accurate numbers. Thankfully, God surrounded me with people who did have the business knowledge that I lacked. These wise, talented people have been extremely patient with me as I have struggled to keep up and gain the knowledge that would have greatly benefitted us from the start.
  3. Advice comes in all forms. It is important to remember to listen to everyone. It is easy to have pre-conceived ideas that make you close your mind to ideas that don’t fit your originals goals. I remember the first time a friend of mine encouraged us to begin a younger camp. She offered to run it and also host it at her church. I really fought her on it because I believed we didn’t have the people who would be interested. We now fill two camps for that age  group and have even raised the minimum  and have a younger camp as well. I’m thankful for people who also dream the dream and push when the time is right!
  4. Take care of your health and encourage your team to do the same. My mom took a Bible study at her church years ago called “First Place.” The idea was that if God has first place in your heart, then you should take care of your body (which is the housing of the Holy Spirit) thus you should eat right, exercise, sleep etc. Then recently I attended a Broadway class where an actress explained that she felt the thing actors most take for granted is their health. She reminded us that they don’t sleep right, usually eat wrong and maybe even have a few other vices that are harmful. Put those two ideas together and I wish I had thought of that years ago. We need every minute we have sometimes to get a production together so we do take risks. I wish I had the nerve to say–“It’s time for everyone to go home and go to sleep.”
  5. Dividing your time is difficult. This is still a very difficult lesson for me. I tend to think I can do it all and honestly, sometimes think I have to if no one else is around. When you try to do too many jobs at once they all suffer. Instead, if you are the director, delegate running the backstage to someone else etc.. You need people who can help in all areas. Sometimes, you also need an outside eye.
  6. Getting Sponsors is difficult. When we started Overshadowed, part of the business plan was to have sponsors and ads in our playbills. I mean, when I look at a professional playbill that have pages of them, right? Over the years this has not gotten any easier.  I thought that sponsorship is a good form of advertising and perhaps even a tax deduction. I didn’t realize how often every business is getting asked to put ads in a variety of places and how precious those advertising dollars were. I am extremely grateful for the sponsors that we do have. Most of them have been with us since the very beginning. I am so thankful for their support and so excited when they get business from their sponsorship!
    Dawn and Mike Larsen. Dawn is one of our longest and valued sponsors. Need to buy or sell a house? Contact her at: Dawn.Larsen@bairdwarner.com
  7. Picking a season is one of the most important decisions for success. When it comes down to it–let’s refer back to number 1–name recognition is everything. People come to see the plays and musicals that they have heard of. The shows that become a little more challenging to sell are the unknown ones…especially when they are written by an unknown author…me.
  8. It’s tough. I mean really tough. On the surface it seemed that starting a theater was going to be hard work, but not impossible. The goal was to get sponsors, donors, ads, and people who had a desire for family friendly entertainment would come. Whew! Add all of the reasons I listed above and your realize that the cards are stacked against you. You have to make up your mind that this is a calling. Make up your mind that you aren’t doing this for recognition or money or fame or awards and do it for the love of your mission. Every time….let me emphasis that….EVERY TIME  I have become really discouraged God has given me such a positive note or thank you or blessing! Sometimes it is like manna in the wilderness, but keep your eyes on Him and the tough is not so tough.
  9.  I was going to have to “sell” what we do ALL of the time. Promoting myself and Overshadowed is not something I’m comfortable doing all the time. Sometimes people change the subject before I can even get the words out about what we do. But, I’ve learned that the people who are the most passionate about a mission are the ones that have to promote it…constantly. Hearing an unfamiliar name or recommendation just once isn’t enough for people to remember. Studies say a person has to hear the name of a place or person 7 times just for it to start to become familiar. I had to get comfortable with the idea that I have to sell who we are and why we are different and be proud of it!
  10. I am enough. That is a phrase that is popular these days, but it is so true. When I first started planning how to create this company I got a lot of negativity. People told me all the negative reasons it would never work…I mean, “You aren’t going to pay people? What?” All of the where? When? How? questions really got in my head so that even when things went well–at times the negativity was like cement on my feet. I wish that for every negative person there was a positive person to tell you to pursue that dream of yours!

Now….please don’t read all of this and think that I’m complaining or feeling sad! Not at all! Most community theaters close their doors within ten years of opening them. Overshadowed just began their 16th season! That’s pretty exciting! Also, I’m smart enough to know that even if I had known these ten things….there  would have been ten more that I wish someone had told me. I believe that I should never stop learning. Every play brings a new experience and every new volunteer makes our company better and stronger!

Now what about you? What dream are you letting go of instead of pursuing??

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Until next time!