Towards Poetry Productions: An Arts Administrator Prepares

administration

Ziphozakhe Hlobo writes

In February, I was at work in our old offices at the Metropolitan Building in the Foreshore, CBD when I had a spontaneous idea to have a Poetry show for Mother’s Day, and so in that moment, I wrote a message on Facebook to Sinazo Peter, Christie Van Zyl, Ziqu Mthethwa and Nompumelelo Rakabe. It seemed doable at the time, a great enough idea which I knew would spark interest to the mentioned artists and they all agreed that they would love to be part of it.

At the beginning of March, I revived the idea again to them, prepared a script, sent it to them to fill in their art work and so, the project began. We all agreed that we wanted to do the Poetry piece a little bit different and make it more of a theatrical experience, but I don’t think we knew the work that was going to follow that decision. So, if you are also transitioning into the beautiful world of theatre, I thought I should share some of the things that you may also not know about a theatre work.

Schedule

From the moment you decide that you will implement your work, plan ahead and backwards. Have a schedule for the entire project. When is the performance date? How much time do you need for a rehearsal? How much time do you need to write the work? How much time do you need to workshop the work? All of these activities must be in a schedule, which (depending on how big the production is) can stretch from 3 month to 6 months to a year’s worth of work. Be very clear about this; start on the day you are meant to stage the work and the schedule backwards from then, this will show you exactly if you would rather extend the time or cut it. Advise – it’s better to have a few empty and relaxed days in your schedule than to have a sausage factory schedule with no time to breathe.

For each day that you will rehearse or workshop, have a set program so that people do not get there and waste time. Allocate time for breakfast, tea, rehearsal, feedback, lunch, etc. This will help all of you stick to time.

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Venue & Transport

Once you have worked these out, confirm a venue where you will meet and greet, write, workshop & rehearse. Book the space/s according to your schedule by e-mailing the theatre coordinator to tell them that you need to do all of this. Some space/s need to be paid, so ask them for their daily rate, work out how many days you need to be there and you can even negotiate a discount. Don’t underestimate this because art is very sensitive and any space you choose needs to be conducive for the creation and development of the work you want to stage. The next question immediately after this one is “how will my performers get to this space?” Work this out with your performers. Does your project have funding to provide for such? You can certainly apply for funding as per your schedule or you can, as a production, hire a car and fetch everyone every morning and then bring them back home. In small productions, people normally find their own way to the rehearsals and even if this is the case, start to think of these things, think like a big production. How can you overcome these? Sometimes, people do not show up to rehearsals when they have no money and this jeopardises the entire productivity of the production.

Food

In our production, there was a day when there was no food to offer people and therefore, rehearsal time was cut short because people were agitated and could not wait to get home. What’s your plan for food? This is very important as people cannot work on empty stomachs. If you have no money for this, speak to the team to try and bring their own food to rehearsals, hear what they say about it. Again, you can definitely get funding for this as per your schedule – there’s a lot of food outlets that might want to sponsor theatre productions so work this out.

Technical Requirements

The world of theatre is not like a normal poetry session where we boastfully say “our craft only requires a mic,” there is a lot to consider. So, have these technical requirements in the script you will submit to the theatre coordinator. They need to plan lights and sound for you if these are required. Ask them if they offer these services or if you have to pay extra for these. And remember that the people that are doing the technical details for you must be there in your rehearsals that are closer to performance day, speak to them about this. Book their time so that they know if you are recruiting them independently. They need to know the whole script and at which points they must add sound or light or a certain kind of light or no light.

Posters, fliers, tickets & social media

This right here is very important to think about before you go ahead and rehearse the show. Do you have a poster? what kind of a poster do you want? Speak to your graphic designer about it; let this person run all the visuals (posters, fliers, images) that will be associated with your production. This is important because this makes your production a recognisable brand. Do you have someone for social media? I did a bit of a talk at a Poetry Imbizo on 01 May (organised by Home of Poetry) and one of the things I touched on was how to write a good blurb. Does the person you have picked know how to write a creative and informative blurb? For social media, you must pick a person that has this skill of accuracy, detail and informativeness. One of the things that get on my nerves especially in Poetry circles is how people write long philosophical and poetic blurbs that, after reading them, you ask yourself; “what the fuck is going on here?” Things like “A spiritually enhanced & philosophically informed pool of catharsis adapting some formidable Brechtian techniques to shower your senses with an insurmountable experience of emotive transformation . . . ” don’t really work, unless you are selling to the elite who are knowledgable of theatre. This, you can add in your longer description because nobody really cares about what technique you used except for theatre practitioners. Just tell people the information they need to know for them to come to your show (details, performers, map/direction, date, price, venue, time) instead of wasting your precious poetry that will ultimately confuse people of what’s really going on.

You need to tell your client exactly what they need to know in the blurb, and 4 years of media studies taught me that one of the most important things in any event to sell it is the lead, what we call the 5 Ws & H in news journalism; Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?

Advise – hand out fliers one or two weeks before the actual show. Then determine how you will sell tickets; will it be at the door? will you partner with Computicket? Determine this, pre-sold tickets is always the best option to pick if you are willing to share the percentage. In big theatres, tickets are only sold at Computicket so figure this out with the theatre coordinator.

Costs

All of the above basically make up your production, now record each one of them in figures step by step. This will give you an indication of how much it costs to do a production. You may have asked favours from friends for some of these things, but record each cost so that even when applying for funding, you do not thumb suck costs, you know exactly what you are talking about.

Receipts, Reports & Records

This is so tedious and boring but someone needs to do it. Keep receipts, make narrative and financial reports and record them in a format that you have designed and that will be reader-friendly to all of those who were involved in the production. You can get templates for these on the internet. File these things and if you are on gmail, upload your files on Google Drive as well. There are other forms of soft files like One Drive or Sky Drive on outlook so pick anyone that works for you.

Roles

I have this problem as a creative where I often come out as if I am stepping on other people’s toes because I want to also bring in my creative input. If there is anything I have learned, it is to clearly define roles and stick to them. Don’t tell the director what to do creatively, tell them what to do logistically, be their time keeper, ask them for their reports and so on. So, it’s very important for people to know their roles and what those roles entail. Also, try not to be administrator and performer in one project, unless you have exhausted all of your other options. Respect each other, I am grateful to have the foundation of a TV production as work reference because it has taught me that every step in the development of the production is important; from pre-producers (researchers, writers, content producers, funding managers) to producers (camera crew, director, coordinators, financial managers) to post-producers (editors, archivers, reporters, etc). Respect this flow and treat everyone as very important.

Communication

This is one of the most difficult things to perfect. You must have a communication strategy that will suit everyone. What will the medium of communication be? In some productions I was part of, the administrator had a cellphone that always had airtime and all we had to do was send a call back and they call. In some, there is an e-mailing system created and everyone communicates there. Others open FB groups and WhatsApp groups so that everyone is on the loop. Think this through and remember that if communication does not reach everyone, a lot can go wrong. I have experienced a lot of this in my own lack of communication sometimes so be weary and have a strategy.

That’s just the internal communication. For external communication, have one person you will lead the media to, have one person you will lead funders to, have one person you will lead potential clients to and so on. In small productions, this is usually one individual, but the point is that the communication must be uniform and not confusing. People that must communicate to media are people that absolutely understand the brand full and who can represent it even if they were woken up at 2am.

images-5Last Notes

Don’t expect any artist to even understand just how much work you put into making a production, be firm in your position and focus on your job because you are the one that runs it. I can completely relate to often feeling undervalued and unappreciated, all administrators tend to feel that way, but that is often some of the things that go with your job; e-mailing, texting and getting no responses. You literally become like that annoying e-x that people want to run away from. Don’t take anything personal, just focus on the vision of the production. This is something I am still learning in my journey and it is far from easy. During preps, expect people to pull out, expect lack of commitment from others, expect egoes showing up and definitely expect others trying to claim credit for the show. Don’t take any of this personal, just remember the vision, stick to it and be ready to eliminate anyone who is detrimental to it.

Lastly, Pay yourself a pretty damn good salary if sponsorship is available. Don’t even doubt how important you are. Artists always boast about their really “dope” authentic raw talents and how this, and only this, is why the production is successful. They won’t understand you taking 60-70% of the money to cover logistical costs and pay yourself, but the reality is that without skill & strategy to implement projects, there are no projects. Don’t exploit, but be realistic about this, administrators (especially those who are also artists) like to pay themselves too little, hence the costs must be broken down so that everyone understands.