Put on your first show

This page constitutes a rough guide to putting on your first show, although every show is different, depending on a number of factors including the creative concept and scale of the production. You should probably have been involved in at least one Oxford show in a supporting position before you decide to put on your own show, regardless of what you may have done elsewhere, in order to understand the intricacies (and eccentricities!) of the Oxford Drama scene.

Step 1: Choose your show

 

There are few things more important than your choice of show. You should choose a production that resonates with you, and may even have done so for a long time, and this decision should be made by both a director and a producer together. The director will have to spend a very long time working with a particular text, while the producer will have to enthuse team members, potential funders, and indeed eventually a target audience about the show, so it is imperative for both the director and producer to be fully on board with the choice of show.

Step 2: choose your venue

Once you know what show you want to put on, you should then start thinking about where you want to perform it. Different productions work better in different spaces, so you should definitely not think that bigger venues are necessarily better in all circumstances. Many productions in the Burton Taylor Studio or the Michael Pilch Theatre are successful primarily because they make excellent use of the intimacy of the venues, whereas it would be difficult to fill the stage of the Playhouse or even the Keble O’Reilly. Similarly, it is difficult to do justice to a large scale musical without the stage space, budget, and auditorium feel of the Playhouse or even the O’Reilly.

If you need more information on how to pick a venue, have a look at our venue advice here.
 

Step 3: Build your team

 

The team you should build will depend on the requirements of the show itself, and the venue you are planning to bid for. At a minimum, however, you will almost certainly need a director, a producer, a marketing manager, and a number of designers, depending on the technical requirements of the production. Large-scale productions might require contributions from a team of 50 or more, whereas smaller shows may only need 5 or 6 in the production team, so it is important to only build your team after you have decided what type of venue you will be applying for.

 

If you need more information on which roles are necessary for your team, have a look at our role advice here.

Step 4: Have a production meeting

 

This involves producing and distributing an agenda ahead of time, gathering your team, and discussing the individual elements of the bid. The general outline of a bid, as well as a number of example bids, can be found here. After general discussions on the vision for the production, you will want to go department-by-department to determine how this vision translates into the different departments. Minutes should be taken and circulated, and after that, team members should write up their statements and the bid can be compiled.

Step 5: Submit your venue bid

 

Once the bid has been compiled you should circulate it within the team for comment and final review. You should then submit your bid in the format requested by the venue, which usually as a minimum involves statements from heads of department, and a budget created using the OUDS budget template. The application process for the most frequently used student spaces in Oxford can be found on our Venues page here.

Step 6: Source funding

 

OUDS funding opens in 5th week each term, and will be advertised beforehand in the OUDS Newsletter. You will be required to submit a bid via the OUDS website that should be similar to a venue bid​, but designed to persuade the reader of a production's financial stability. For further details on how to put together a funding application, have a look at our more detailed advice here.

 

Following on from this you will be invited to an interview; this will last between 15 and 30 minutes, depending on the scale of your production. You will be asked to expand on the contents of your funding bid as well as answering any specific questions that the Executive committee (the OUDS President, Treasurer and Secretary) may have. Funding decisions will be circulated towards the end of term, with funds being released to successful companies over the course of the vacation.

There are many other funding bodies across the university, generally based in colleges. A list of the funding bodies that are currently accepting applications can be found here. The format your application should take will vary between funding bodies, but most will accept an application in the form made to OUDS, or alternatively you can get in touch with the funding body in question to ask what they would like to see before you apply.

While OUDS and many other funding bodies provide pro-rata loans, there are a number of organisations which can provide you with grant funding, such as the Cameron Mackintosh Drama Fund, details about which can be found here.

 

Some production companies have had success obtaining grants from JCRs, although this should not be relied on as a source of funding, since JCRs can often promise lots and deliver little. You should get in touch with your College Rep if you are considering applying to a grant from your college, since they will be able to advise on the process, and the likelihood of success.

 

It is also possible to obtain grant funding from the Vice Chancellor's office. If you are considering doing so, you must get in touch with the OUDS treasurer beforehand. OUDS exists to triage applications to this fund, and applications made to the Vice Chancellor without OUDS backing damage the likelihood of productions receiving funding in the future.

Step 7: pre-show

 

Once you have a venue in which to put on a show, and funding with which to do so, then comes the not insignificant task of delivering the show itself. Auditions should be held almost as soon as the venue is secured, to give the director and cast enough time to rehearse, and those departments (such as costume) that need to interact with the cast enough time to fulfil their roles too. We strongly recommend that you run your auditions sign-ups through the OUDS Auditions Portal, which is a free resource for registered production companies, and saves you a lot of hassle. Using the Auditions Portal also allows you to automatically advertise your auditions through the OUDS Newsletter, and you should then also promote them via whichever social media channels you choose to use. Have a look at what actors will expect from an audition here, and be sure to consider the OUDS inclusivity guidelines when writing your call to auditions.

Most productions generally hold callbacks after their initial round of auditions, after which you will want to send out final offers or rejections to your auditionees. Depending on the nature of your show, and the time before your show week, your rehearsals should then begin in earnest. It is usually the assistant director's (or in the absence of one, the director's) job to schedule rehearsals and book rooms.

You should have had one or two production meetings before your venue bid interview, but once your venue is confirmed you can start to build up momentum and shift into the 'post-bid' mindset. Discussions within the production meeting, ranging from marketing to technical departments, should now start to focus on what is necessary to make the show a success. Regular design meetings should also be held between the director and members of the visual design team (set, lighting, props), and between the director and other technical departments (such as sound), with minutes being circulated and reported on during production meetings, so that everyone is aware what's going on at the key stages in each design.

 

Depending on feedback you may have received from funders or your venue, you may wish to make changes to your original approach, or you may decide to make such changes based on ideas you have had since the original bid was created. This is a very normal occurrence, and very few shows make it from bid to stage entirely unchanged. In fact, the more successful shows are often those which work with good ideas that have come up post-bid, rather than choosing to set them aside. Remember, however, that any meaningful changes to your budget, especially those which change the breakeven percentage, will need to be agreed with your funders before they can occur.

Comprehensive production schedules for each department should be compiled early on in the post-bid stage. Some production teams choose to follow these religiously, to make sure everything happens on time, whereas others will use it more as a guide​ as to in what order things need to happen. Whichever approach you take, make sure that you only leave tasks until the days before show week that absolutely have to happen then. Props and set materials should be sourced at the earliest opportunity, as should physical marketing materials, to make sure they are there when needed.

You should aim to have done a full run of the show in front of all technical personnel about a week before the start of the get-in. This allows them to adjust their designs to the final form the show will take, and as such, the show must essentially be ready to put on stage, from the director's perspective, by this point. All scene transitions and blocking should be complete, and the full run should run from start to finish without stopping. A few days later, once technicians have been given a chance to adjust their designs, the Deputy Stage Manager (DSM) should run a 'paper tech', in which the technicians run through each of their cues with the director present, explaining exactly when the operators will need to be cued by the DSM. On shows without a DSM, the Production Manager (PM) should oversee the paper tech, and technicians should describe their cues to the director, to make sure their placement and content fits in with the director's vision of the show.

Step 8: show week

 

Show week starts when you arrive at the venue for your get-in. Depending on the venue, your technical crew will require between a few hours and a few days to set up before rehearsals can begin in the space. ​The PM will oversee the various technical departments as they set up their equipment, and extra crew may be needed for just this phase to help speed things along. If you have access to one or more theatre technicians, you should make full use of them to help you finish your get-in as quickly, and safely, as possible.

Once the get-in is complete, your technicians will then need time with the actors in the space to run through their cues. The cue-to-cue (also known as a 'technical rehearsal') is run by the DSM, should there be one, or failing that the PM, who should skip from cue to cue, allowing the technicians to make last minute adjustments to their designs, but also to rehearse their cues. It should be noted that the cue-to-cue is not a rehearsal for cast. While the director's opinion on technical design must be heard, they should not at any point halt proceedings to make a point that is not related to the technical side of the production, or the interaction between tech and cast. Any notes for cast should be saved until after the rehearsal, and time may be allocated for the director to work with the actors in the space, without any tech, before the dress rehearsal.

The dress rehearsal should be run like a show. Clearance should be given as if from Front of House, and the show should run after that point and stop for nothing short of a significant technical or cast mishap. If this occurs, the problem should be rectified and a point chosen in the show from which a restart can occur, just as would take place during a show. The director will want to take notes to be given to both cast and crew afterwards, to give them enough time to make any final changes before the opening night. It is worth noting that such changes after the dress rehearsal must only be minor, since it is very risky to make significant changes immediately before opening night.

Opening night is the show that you will want to invite reviewers to, so that your reviews can be used as marketing for the rest of the run. Many directors choose to sit in the audience for every show to take notes, and other members of your production team who are not involved in the show itself may also want to have 'comp' (free) tickets, which producers should remember when programming their budget. Depending on the venue, you may need to find individuals to help with Front of House on show nights, especially if you're running a bar or selling interval snacks.

Your marketing for the production should not slow down until the end of the run. Especially given that student audiences tend to buy their tickets at the last minute, you may find that you will sell a large proportion of your tickets during show week itself, particularly in smaller venues. This is not a reason to be complacent, however, and advance ticket sales should be considered very carefully as an indicator of how well a show is going to sell.

Step 9: Post-show

 

The work on a production doesn’t end the moment the last audience member leaves the building. On the final night, all members of cast and crew can reasonably be expected to stay and help pack away equipment and clear the auditorium before any post-show celebrations can occur, and may even need to be present over the following days, depending on the venue. For the producer, there is a great deal of administration that remains to be done post-show, including the reimbursement of any remaining expenses, and the closing of accounts and repayment of any loans. Depending on how long it takes for ticket revenues to be returned, this can take at least a month after the show itself has finished.

 

Once all repayments have been made and the production can be said to have ended, there should usually be a debrief, especially for larger shows, in which discussions should be had about how the production went well, and what could have been done better. This is as integral a part of the production as any other, since it creates a space for professional criticism and personal development, meaning that everyone can come away from the production having learnt something.

Step 10: why not go again?

 

Regardless of how experienced you are and what role you fulfil, everyone learns something on every show they do. Academic and personal commitments permitting, of course, why not use these new-found skills on another production and help others who haven’t had the same experiences as you? Oxford drama is so successful primarily because so many people do multiple shows in their time here, and it is really beneficial for beginners to work alongside those who have done a number of shows already.

 

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