While motion pictures and television dominate much of the American entertainment industry, millions of people still enjoy live theatrical productions. Broadway alone attracted 13.27 million people in 2016-2017.
Theatre companies present plays and theatrical productions for live audiences. Some companies offer shows only at a specific theatre, which the company may own. Other companies tour to different theatres, putting on performances in many cities.
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Learn how to start your own Theatre Company and whether it is the right fit for you.
Start a theatre company by following these 10 steps:
- Plan your Theatre Company
- Form your Theatre Company into a Legal Entity
- Register your Theatre Company for Taxes
- Open a Business Bank Account & Credit Card
- Set up Accounting for your Theatre Company
- Get the Necessary Permits & Licenses for your Theatre Company
- Get Theatre Company Insurance
- Define your Theatre Company Brand
- Create your Theatre Company Website
- Set up your Business Phone System
There is more to starting a business than just registering it with the state. We have put together this simple guide to starting your theatre company. These steps will ensure that your new business is well planned out, registered properly and legally compliant.
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STEP 1: Plan your business
A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. It will help you map out the specifics of your business and discover some unknowns. A few important topics to consider are:
- What are the startup and ongoing costs?
- Who is your target market?
- How much can you charge customers?
- What will you name your business?
Luckily we have done a lot of this research for you.
What are the costs involved in opening a theatre company?
Although putting on a live performance involves a lot of work, it’s possible to start a theatre company with little upfront capital—if people are willing to donate their time for rehearsals and performances. If people aren’t willing to donate their time, starting a theatre company might not be financially feasible.
Third Angel, for instance, couldn’t afford to pay its performers until the theatre company’s second year. Even then, the company could only afford to pay people for performance days. It wasn’t until the company’s fourth year that everyone started getting a weekly wage from the company.
Assuming performers, directors and stage crew are willing to donate their time at first, the other potential startup costs can be kept extremely low:
- props and costumes can be made from items people already have or materials purchased second-hand
- rehearsals can be held in homes, parks, coffee shops, library conference rooms or any available public place
- performances can often be held in certain venues for free or a split of the ticket sales
What are the ongoing expenses for a theatre company?
The ongoing expenses for a theatre company are sizable. They include employees’ salaries, prop creation and costuming costs, building maintenance (if a company has a building), and the price of new scripts, among other costs.
Who is the target market?
A theatre company’s ideal customer is someone who enjoys live productions and has discretionary income. Such a person will be interested in seeing plays, and they’ll be able to afford to go to several shows each season.
While ticket sales usually account for just a portion of a theatre company’s revenue, the number of tickets sold may affect a theatre company’s ability to raise funding through other means. Therefore, getting people to pay for tickets is important even if a theatre relies on other funding.
How does a theatre company make money?
Most theatre companies have several streams of revenue. These frequently include:
- ticket sales
- donations from benefactors
- grants from government and nonprofit organizations
- merchandise sales
From 1990 through 2004, the National Endowment for the Arts reports that most nonprofit theatres received between $200,000 and $400,000 annually in contributions. Because it’s much more difficult to get donations and grants as a for-profit business, the majority of theatre companies are registered 501(c)3 nonprofits.
How much can you charge customers?
While a few Broadway shows command over $200 per ticket, the average theatre company charges much less. They often charge between $10 and $45 per ticket, with $10 and $15 tickets being special deals.
How much profit can a theatre company make?
The National Endowment for the Arts found that most theatres brought in between $800,000 and $1 million annually. This revenue included all funding sources.
How can you make your business more profitable?
Theatre companies can add additional revenue sources and increase their profits by putting on classes and renting their facility (if they have a building). Many companies offer acting classes and camps for youth. Churches and businesses may be interested in renting a large space that has a stage and seating.
What will you name your business?
Choosing the right name is important and challenging. If you don’t already have a name in mind, visit our How to Name a Business guide or get help brainstorming a name with our Theatre Company Name Generator
When registering a business name, we recommend researching your business name by checking:
- Your state's business records
- Federal and state trademark records
- Social media platforms
- Web domain availability.
It's very important to secure your domain name before someone else does.
STEP 2: Form a legal entity
Establishing a legal business entity such as an LLC or corporation protects you from being held personally liable if your theatre company is sued.
Form Your LLC
Read our Guide to Form Your Own LLC
Recommended: You will need to elect a registered agent for your LLC. LLC formation packages usually include a free year of registered agent services. You can choose to hire a registered agent or act as your own.
STEP 3: Register for taxes
You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
In order to register for taxes you will need to apply for an EIN. It's really easy and free!
You can acquire your EIN for free through the IRS website, via fax, or by mail. If you would like to learn more about EINs and how they can benefit your LLC, read our article, What is an EIN?.
Small Business Taxes
Depending on which business structure you choose, you might have different options for how your business will be taxed. For example, some LLCs could benefit from being taxed as an S corporation (S corp).
You can learn more about small business taxes in these guides:
- LLC Taxes
- Sole Proprietorship vs LLC
- LLC vs Corporation
- LLC vs S Corp
- How to Start an S Corp
- S Corp vs C Corp
There are specific state taxes that might apply to your business. Learn more about state sales tax and franchise taxes in our state sales tax guides.
STEP 4: Open a business bank account & credit card
Using dedicated business banking and credit accounts is essential for personal asset protection.
When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your business is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.
Additionally, learning how to build business credit can help you get credit cards and other financing in your business's name (instead of yours), better interest rates, higher lines of credit, and more.
Open a business bank account
Besides being a requirement when applying for business loans, opening a business bank account:
- Separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
- Makes accounting and tax filing easier.
Recommended: Read our Best Banks for Small Business review to find the best national bank or credit union.
Open net 30 accounts
Net 30 accounts are used to establish and build business credit as well as increase business cash flow. With a net 30 account, businesses buy goods and repay the full balance within a 30-day term.
NetMany net 30 credit vendors report to the major business credit bureaus (Dun & Bradstreet, Experian Business, and Equifax Business Credit). This is how businesses build business credit so they can qualify for credit cards and other lines of credit.
Recommended: Read our best net 30 vendors, guide and start building business credit.
Get a business credit card
Getting a business credit card helps you:
- Separate personal and business expenses by putting your business' expenses all in one place.
- Build your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise money later on.
Recommended: Apply for an easy approval business credit card from Divvy and build your business credit quickly.
STEP 5: Set up business accounting
Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.
Make LLC accounting easy with our LLC Expenses Cheat Sheet.
STEP 6: Obtain necessary permits and licenses
Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.
State & Local Business Licensing Requirements
Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate a theatre company. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.
Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, read our article, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.
For information about local licenses and permits:
- Check with your town, city or county clerk’s office
- Get assistance from one of the local associations listed in US Small Business Associations directory of local business resources.
Certificate of Occupancy
A theatre company often has its own building or space. Businesses operating out of a physical location typically require a Certificate of Occupancy (CO). A CO confirms that all building codes, zoning laws and government regulations have been met.
- If you plan to lease a location:
- It is generally the landlord’s responsibility to obtain a CO.
- Before leasing, confirm that your landlord has or can obtain a valid CO that is applicable to a theatre company.
- After a major renovation, a new CO often needs to be issued. If your place of business will be renovated before opening, it is recommended to include language in your lease agreement stating that lease payments will not commence until a valid CO is issued.
- If you plan to purchase or build a location:
- You will be responsible for obtaining a valid CO from a local government authority.
- Review all building codes and zoning requirements for your business’ location to ensure your theatre company will be in compliance and able to obtain a CO.
STEP 7: Get business insurance
Just as with licenses and permits, your business needs insurance in order to operate safely and lawfully. Business Insurance protects your company’s financial wellbeing in the event of a covered loss.
There are several types of insurance policies created for different types of businesses with different risks. If you’re unsure of the types of risks that your business may face, begin with General Liability Insurance. This is the most common coverage that small businesses need, so it’s a great place to start for your business.
Learn more about General Liability Insurance.
Another notable insurance policy that many businesses need is Workers’ Compensation Insurance. If your business will have employees, it’s a good chance that your state will require you to carry Workers' Compensation Coverage.
STEP 8: Define your brand
Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.
If you aren't feeling confident about designing your small business logo, then check out our Design Guides for Beginners, we'll give you helpful tips and advice for creating the best unique logo for your business.
If you already have a logo, you can also add it to a QR code with our Free QR Code Generator. Choose from 13 QR code types to create a code for your business cards and publications, or to help spread awareness for your new website.
How to promote & market a theatre company
In most cities, theatre-lovers are a close-knit community. Becoming plugged in with this community by attending performances and fundraisers is one of the best ways to promote a theatre company. The relationships built through networking can help a company secure donations from benefactors, which can help fund a company before ticket sales offer any revenue.
How to keep customers coming back
The scripts that a theatre company chooses have a great effect on the company’s ability to attract audiences. Both fresh scripts that address current issues and well-loved classics (e.g. Shakespeare) can draw audiences, as long as they’re well-written. Even if a great script costs more than another one, money used to pay for an outstanding script is often well-invested.
Still unsure about what kind of business you want to start? Check out the latest Small Business Trends to help inspire you.
STEP 9: Create your business website
After defining your brand and creating your logo the next step is to create a website for your business.
While creating a website is an essential step, some may fear that it’s out of their reach because they don’t have any website-building experience. While this may have been a reasonable fear back in 2015, web technology has seen huge advancements in the past few years that makes the lives of small business owners much simpler.
Here are the main reasons why you shouldn’t delay building your website:
- All legitimate businesses have websites - full stop. The size or industry of your business does not matter when it comes to getting your business online.
- Social media accounts like Facebook pages or LinkedIn business profiles are not a replacement for a business website that you own.
- Website builder tools like the GoDaddy Website Builder have made creating a basic website extremely simple. You don’t need to hire a web developer or designer to create a website that you can be proud of.
Using our website building guides, the process will be simple and painless and shouldn’t take you any longer than 2-3 hours to complete.
STEP 10: Set up your business phone system
Getting a phone set up for your business is one of the best ways to help keep your personal life and business life separate and private. That’s not the only benefit; it also helps you make your business more automated, gives your business legitimacy, and makes it easier for potential customers to find and contact you.
There are many services available to entrepreneurs who want to set up a business phone system. We’ve reviewed the top companies and rated them based on price, features, and ease of use. Check out our review of the Best Business Phone Systems 2023 to find the best phone service for your small business.
Recommended Business Phone Service: Phone.com
Phone.com is our top choice for small business phone numbers because of all the features it offers for small businesses and it's fair pricing.
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Is this Business Right For You?
Anyone who is passionate about theatre but also has a strong business mind may be well-suited for running a theatre company. A love for theatre is necessary because starting a theatre company is hard work and frequently doesn’t return a profit for several years. Being well-versed in running a business helps keep a company financially viable.
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Take our Entrepreneurship Quiz to find out!
What happens during a typical day at a theatre company?
Running a theatre company involves a lot of work, including:
- booking tours
- marketing shows
- raising funds and finding donors
- scheduling and running rehearsals
- creating props
- getting press exposure
- actually putting on performances
Because there is so much to do, it is helpful to divide roles up among a theatre company’s members.
What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful theatre company?
Successfully running a theatre company requires a great deal of knowledge and diverse skill set, which is why theatre companies frequently have teams behind them. In addition to the artistic knowledge that putting on a performance requires, business owners must also know how to find and apply for grants, develop a budget, manage employees, run a nonprofit organization and much more.
There are several ways for business owners to learn some of these skills:
- The American Theater Wing offers networking opportunities and internships
- Many local theatre also offer internships
- The American Theater Wing also has a series of online videos that cover different aspects of theatre
- The American Association of Community Theater (AACT) has many online resources that discuss the business side of running a theatre company
- The AACT also puts on a Community Theater Management Conference
Several books have also been written on starting and running theatres. A few titles that have valuable insights include Theatre Management, How to Start Your Own Theater Company and Building the Successful Theater Company.
What is the growth potential for a theatre company?
How a theatre company grows depends on its business model.
Theatre companies that have a building to host performances can grow by adding more shows and bringing in more touring groups. For example, The Theater Company typically offers six different shows, and each performance had its own cast and crew.
Touring theatre companies that don’t have a building grow by booking more performances and larger venues. They might start in small venues that hold 100 people or less, and then eventually be able to book major performance spaces almost every weekend.
Take the Next Step
Find a business mentor
One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.
Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.
Learn from other business owners
Want to learn more about starting a business from entrepreneurs themselves? Visit Startup Savant’s startup founder series to gain entrepreneurial insights, lessons, and advice from founders themselves.
Resources to Help Women in Business
There are many resources out there specifically for women entrepreneurs. We’ve gathered necessary and useful information to help you succeed both professionally and personally:
If you’re a woman looking for some guidance in entrepreneurship, check out this great new series Women in Business created by the women of our partner Startup Savant.
What are some insider tips for jump starting a theatre company?
Offering a stake in a theatre company can help entice people to volunteer their time during the company’s first few years. Many people who love the theatre understand that companies frequently aren’t profitable in the first few years. They may be willing to work for free in exchange for the opportunity to do something they love and possibly make some money in coming years.
How and when to build a team
As mentioned, starting a theatre company requires a lot of work, which is often done by a team. Most theatre companies start with a team, even if it’s just a small group of individuals, who are able to handle essential tasks. They normally delay adding more members for several years until they’re more established and have stable revenue.