When is a theatre company a Theatre Company

A couple of years ago I had to end a business relationship with an old friend. Something I would rather not have done. However, it was necessary when I realised that that person’s company wasn’t a company.  It was a legal fiction, necessary if he was to receive grants and commissions, it had no assets, no investors, and no long term plan. It did one thing (one set of tasks) and repeated it again and again – whenever it got a grant or a commission. Essentially this friend did one thing and hawked that skill around: they were a freelancer. Not a company. Not really. And this came as a shock to them.

This misunderstanding affects a lot of people in theatre – particularly when Council’s and local authorities insist on some legal vehicle as a recipient for larger funding.

So here’s what I would suggest: if your company exists solely because it has to in order to receive grants, if it exists solely to facilitate you doing the same thing again and again, if you are the only person working full time on this, then you don’t have a company. You’re a Ronin,  A Samurai with no master, a sole trader, a freelancer. Freelancing is great . Accept it, embrace it and move on.

If you have a Company, an actual company, then there will be a team of people with various skills, there will be assets (usually in the form of copyrights), there will be product development designing projects for small theatres, large theatres, participatory projects, education, business, there will be a long term plan (not an aspirational dream) that is not dependent on “funding decisions” or family charity, there will be cash flow and multiple revenue streams, and there will be an audience development plan because you really believe in the value of what you produce and you understand that people have to know you exist before they consider engaging with you.

As a final note, if you realise that you are not a Theatre Company but a Freelancer then remember that you are the product, the brand and the quality – don’t go looking for some meaningless company name to hide behind.

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