"I can't wait to get my first big job, I'm going to be someone, I'm going to make it!"
That's often the first train of thought for any just graduated actor and, occasionally, it happens. A lot of the time it doesn't. The commonly ensuing thoughts tend to be as follows (one impatient year on):
"Well, if I couldn't make it through auditions for West End shows and television, I'll just have to make it happen myself, I'll write my own play - in fact, I'll start my own theatre company! We'll be really cool and bohemian, and everyone will love us for our heart-warmingly persevering attitude and our raw talent!"
Well, comprehensible and admirable as these ideas may be, if you've ever felt this way, the truth is that, unfortunately, you're one of thousands to have these pioneering visions.
I do not wish to discourage the forming of new and enthusiastic theatre companies whatsoever, but rather to look at exactly why it is worth starting one, and how to be a successful one. I have been fortunate enough to speak to Hester Chillingworth of Getinthebackofthevan, Molly Roberts of Poleroid, Kate Stanley of Idle Motion, and Katy Lipson of Aria Entertainment. These are companies that seem to have originated for good reasons, and companies that I believe are making a bold stab at standing out in the crowded market of today. So what are my findings?
Why/how did your company originate?
Hester Chillingworth: We formed Getinthebackofthevan because we all wanted to be actively making our own work, and we found we had a shared vision of the kind of work we wanted to create.'
The key feature to this answer for me is "shared vision". I think it's all very well creating a company just because you and your friends want to put on a play, but when your ideas are harmonious (and good!), there's potential for a company's style and individual qualities to soar. Having seen Getinthebackofthevan's brilliant production Big Hits! it's very clear that unity and shared understanding of minds is essential for the creation of such supremely whacky work.
Molly Roberts: I founded Poleroid Theatre in 2011 as an initiative to provide a creative space for emerging talent in London in an industry driven by television talent competition winners and "names" plastering our West-end stages.
I have to say that this certainly is a welcoming thought to me – a company created inspired by anger towards television talent competition winners! With this sense of anger seems to come a passion and drive, which is perhaps a reason why Poleroid is managing to stand out so well. I'm sure many would say that they have "passion and drive", but Poleroid seem almost to be fighting against something - and for something.
At which point did you (if you did) feel that this company could really go somewhere?
Kat Lipson: The response since The Mystery of Edwin Drood has been very positive. A lot of people have been presenting exciting projects to me and the response has been fantastic. Equally, the immense support from Stage One, and the more I learn about the commercial world of theatre producing due to the fantastic Stage One workshops, show me time and again this is what I want to do and see my future in.
Kate Stanley: Our Total Theatre Award nomination in 2009 for Borges and I was a turning point for us as a company, as it was the first time we'd even considered that we could pursue this further. The response we received at the Fringe that year from audiences, critics and venues was what helped us decide to make the leap to a professional company. This year we've embarked on international touring due to the support of the British Council and this has felt like a big, exciting step for us, allowing us to share our work with audiences in Jordan, Germany, Taiwan, Malaysia and China.
Truthfully, are you happy (not necessarily contented) with the state of the company, or are there changes you've been thinking about?
KL: I think for one year of business I am extremely happy. A new company takes investment and time to build up. My plans for 2013 are very exciting and the wheels are in motion for 2 new pieces in development plus 4 other productions.
HC: Yes, we are happy, but the next stage for us is further strengthening and developing the company as an organisation. For example, we are really happy to have an office at Artsadmin where we're associate artists, because it's a great context for our work. But at the moment we rely on residencies and space given in-kind when we're creating work, so the next step for us would be to have our own rehearsal space and long-term funding so our strategies can be longer-term too.
Is there a direction/a destination you'd like to arrive at in so many years' time with the company? What are your goals?
MR: We have recently got full support from Ideastap and are now working within the "Creative Space" at their headquarters in London Bridge, so maintenance of the partnership between Poleroid and Ideastap will be paramount in the next few years. Our unique company persona will hopefully have stenciled its name into most people's contemporary outlook on theatre and we aim to produce our first, fully funded run of a new play.
Is there a hierarchy system in place at your company, or is it more collaborative than that? What's your process?
KS: We are very collaborative in our process and believe in the importance of working as an ensemble is at the heart of our work. Our process begins with our Artistic Director, Paul Slater, coming to us with an idea which we then go away and research. We then all come back and Slater leads workshops to enable us to all devise together (...) we are all very involved in all aspects of the company and this collaborative approach to the process, decision making and performance is hopefully very evident in our work.
So, companies like Aria seem to have a firm leader in place, whereas members of companies like Poleroid seem to approach work from a more even playing field. Some companies have more money and space at their disposal, whilst others have to rely on resources as and when they become available. They have made accidental achievements in some cases, and in others achieved through intent.
What's common among all of these companies, however, is that they reach out to other organisations and investors; they forge helpful relationships in order to succeed. Each group has, at least, a sense of collaboration, and they all have ideas for longevity. If you're contemplating starting your own company in the future it might be worth taking a look at how successful companies like these have achieved what they have, and making sure that you have the drive and energy to survive in such a congested world.