It’s exciting to be an improvisor right now. With more information on how to start a business available to us than ever before — and pioneers we can learn from in front of us — it’s like the future of improv is in our hands!
Often, the first question folks ask when they want to start a business is, “Should we be for-profit or not-for-profit?” Let me lay some serious truth down right now:
The FIRST thing any budding theatre company, festival or theatre venue needs to figure out is not what piece of paper to file. The first thing you need to do is agree with your leadership team on your theatre’s vision and soul.
Your vision and soul are the reason why you are in business. They are your ‘This is why we are here.” Are you here because you want to make the best improv? The most supportive ensembles ever created? The best place to get shitfaced and laugh? The place for families to spend time with their children in a safe environment for them?
Answering these questions, and even just bringing up the discussion, will give you and your team of amazing improvisors-slash-theatre owners an opportunity to get on the same page for what you are creating. Once you are on the same page, it is easier to make business decisions, determine what shows to put on, and create a great experience for your students, performers AND customers.
Here is a proposed way to get there:
Develop your company vision and soul: Why are you doing this and what do you want to do?
A way to answer this question is to go around the room at your next leadership meeting and ask everyone:
‘If money and time and resources were no object, what would our theatre/festival look like to you?‘
Allow everyone to speak fully, and do not criticize anyone’s dreams. After everyone has spoken, pull out the common threads and look for agreement. Perhaps you would get something like this:
Team member A: “I believe improv is a team sport. It’s important to me that our theatre is very supportive.”
Team member B: “I would build ‘nights out’ with our neighboring businesses so that everyone is benefiting in our small business community.”
Team member C: “I would pay everyone in our theatre enough money to live from doing improv full time.”
From these different threads, you could draw that your vision and soul might be:
“We are a community and student focused theatre that is committed to bettering our community’s ‘night out’ experience and creating an environment that supports art as life. Experimentation is encouraged.”
If your leadership team agrees on your goal, you’ve created a guidepost everyone can check in with and maintain true to your vision. Now that you know where you want to go, survey the business options in front of you to see which best fits your needs. For-profit companies can put money back into their communities, and be just as benevolent as non-for-profit companies — the important thing is that the legal/financial structure supports YOUR goals, not the other way around.
Take action! If you are developing your company and haven’t filed paperwork yet, do this exercise with your leadership team and let us know what your “why” and “how” is! If you’re a theatre who’s been doing this for a while, when was the last time you checked in on your vision and made sure you were tracking to it?
Kate is an innovator working in business, product and customer development by day and an improvisor by night living in Chicago, IL. She blogs at unicornwranglerinc.com on creating companies that value innovation, employees and their customers. Having recently moved from Phoenix, she is looking forward to getting back to the improv stage in Chicago with a group of new friends. When she is back in Phoenix, she plays in Purple Monkey Dishwasher at the Torch Theatre. Tweet at her! She likes that. @xoticdonkeymeat