Building a Sustainable Theater: How to Remove Gatekeepers and Take Control of Your Artistic Career

Chapter 17: Introduction to Business Models

The last part of Peter Brook’s definition of an act of theater focuses on the audience (“…whilst someone else is watching him…”) and involves finding your audience, which is a part of a Business Model. This is the part of the book where things become a bit more business-y, but I will do my best to translate the information into theatrical terms.

There are a few books that you might want to consider getting for reference. The first three are from a series from a company called Strategyzer:While I’m at it, let me recommend a couple other books you might want to consider.All of these books are well-written, accessible, and enjoyable to read.

Enjoyable or not, these ideas are very, very important because to create an ongoing company that can sustain you and your colleagues, the central issue is how your company is going to make and spend money. And that’s what a lot of theater people prefer not to think about. We just get excited about doing a show and believe that, if the show is just good enough, well, people will flock to it and we’ll make money. (It’s the flip side of the magical thinking that talent, hard work, and desire will eventually lead to success.) “If you build it, they will come,” which is so often the mantra for theater people, is “really just a prayer,” according to Steve Blank. And he’s right.

No, if you’re going to invest time and money in trying to create an ongoing company that will allow you to focus as much of your life as possible on doing creative work that’s fulfilling, then before you even start thinking about plays and rehearsals, you need to be doing a LOT of planning. Not brainstorming, which is just dreaming with post-it notes; planning. And that means learning a new vocabulary. Once you learn this new vocabulary, you’ll start to have very exciting conversations about strategies and productions and tactics and audiences and… But it won’t just be pie-in-the-sky stuff—it will have a chance of actually succeeding.

The way I will teach you to plan is through the use of a tool called the Business Model Canvas. Created by Alexander Osterwald and Yves Pigneur (see above) and “470 practitioners from 45 countries” (i.e., it was developed through crowdsourcing), the business model canvas breaks down into nine boxes the important topics that need to be addressed to create a sustainable business model. This is what a business model canvas looks like:

Let me paint in very broad strokes. There are nine boxes on a business model canvas, and each has its own areas of focus. But they can be grouped into the following categories:Are you overwhelmed? Don’t be. You’re probably not as naïve as I’m painting you, but you are likely to think in well-worn grooves about “how things are done.” The questions built into the Business Model Canvas are designed to help you come up with creative answers, and to think through these issues before you’ve lost thousands of hard-earned dollars on a project that could have succeeded with a bit more planning.
Here's a video by Steve Blank that does a great job of explaining the business model canvas. My recommendation is that you watch this 10-minute video now.

The next chapter will start with “customer segments.”

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