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

Chapter 26: Putting It All Together

If you’ve made it this far, congratulations! This material isn’t easy to understand or apply, but I sincerely believe it is useful.

So each chapter has outlined a major part of the process, and while there is a general order, it isn’t carved in stone.

How might it look if it were put back together?

Start with You

You don’t need anyone else to create a Quality of Life Statement. Imagine what your life would look like if your theater company was fulfilling and providing a sustainable life? What does a day look like? What does a week look like? A month? A year? What sort of work do you see yourself doing?

Meet With Others

The next step might be to have a meeting with others who might be interested in participating in this journey. Consider what primary skills each has, and what secondary skills (remember, just because someone is interested doesn't necessarily mean they are a good fit for the company--be selective). At this point, there is no commitment needed from you or them—it is a general interest meeting. Explain the structure of such a company, the general vision for the future, and the process for getting to a sustainable and fulfilling theater company.

After you have finished, take questions and discuss things in a general way. This is not the point to get too specific about anything. Perhaps discuss how a life in an ongoing theater company would be different than the freelance life. You might want to have copies of this book (or the URL) on hand to distribute at the end of the meeting. Send them away with the instruction to think about whether they’d like to pursue this further, and tell them you’ll get back to them in a week.

Call Another Meeting

Call a meeting of those who express interest in further involvement. (For those who have opted out, you might consider asking their reasons, just to make sure there are no misunderstandings.) This is the beginning of the Creative Planning Stage.

Creative Planning Stage

For a specific amount of time—my feeling is somewhere between six months and a year—you all will plan the business model. At this point, I think you need to ask each potential company member to make a small investment in the company. This money will serve to cover small expenses when you get to the testing stage, so give them some time to come up with the cash, give them a receipt, and deposit the money in a separate account.


Now comes the fun part: imagining. Schedule a series of meetings to discuss specific topics—don’t let things go on too long or become unfocused (theater people love tangents and conjecture). These should not be bull sessions. If you don’t know how to run a meeting, there are many books that can help.

You could start anywhere in the Business Model Canvas, but I’d lean toward starting with either your Customer Segment or your Value Proposition. Describe your ideal audience. Describe the types of theater you’d like to create.

Discuss the primary skills of each participant, and their secondary skills. How will they further the living of the company? What skills might they be willing to learn in order to become useful on multiple fronts?

Brainstorm side hustles—businesses that could provide extra income to the company that would utilize talents and interests they already possess. Don’t forget about nonmonetary and passive income. Maybe somebody would grow a garden to provide fresh produce to the company!

Work your way through the Business Model Canvas. Make sure each member understands what each category is. Ask them to watch a couple YouTube videos or buy one or more of the Strategyzer books. At then end of each meeting, have the next meeting planned, and provide homework assignments. (At some point, you may want to set up a project management site to allow people to communicate and share information. This might be something like Basecamp or Slack, for instance.)

Formalizing the Company

When you have done a lot of this planning work, so that everybody is clear about what is being created, it is time to take the big step: buying shares in the company. Potential company members should have been warned at the beginning that this would eventually be coming; in fact, it might be good to set a specific date at one of the initial meetings. When that date arrives, it is time for commitments. I would suggest not doing this during a meeting. It is a big decision, and you don’t want peer pressure to influence the decision. Be sure they know the amount for a share, and the time frame for investment.

This is when you need to create a Limited Liability Company (LLC). There are forms online, and it isn’t an onerous process, but it lays out the rules of operation for the company. You’ll need a bank account for the LLC, which is where investments will be deposited.

If people with important skills decline to invest, then you will need to discuss with the company members how to proceed. Will you seek another member with those skills? Will you hire people later without making them company members? Will you forgo whatever those skills provided and ride with the skillset that remains within the company? Or will you go in search of another company member?


By now, you should be at the testing stage. Set a specific amount of time to run enough tests to grow confidence in the feasibility of the business model.

Set a launch date for your first production and do your best to meet it.

Your initial projects are still tests to some extent. After each performance or set of performances, discuss what you have learned. Never stop gathering information and trying new things. Set a clear goal for what you will consider a sustainable and fulfilling life and keep working toward it.

Once you get there, decide whether you have attained the scale that is best for the company members, or whether you should continue to expand. Expand until you've reached your sustainability goals outlined in the Quality of Life Statement.

Keep Going!

You’re making a sustainable and fulfilling living doing what you love!

I truly believe that following this process (adapted for your own situation, of course) will give you a higher chance of success than simply launching based on a shared dream. Nevertheless, even following this process, starting a theater is not a slam dunk. You'll have to be committed and determined, and willing to take risks and think outside the box. You'll need discipline in making decisions and spending your money. You'll need to balance the aesthetic and the sustainable.

But how exciting it is to be in charge of your career!

I wish you the best of luck in reaching for your dreams.


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