With Bootless finally finding its home at St. Stephen’s this past year, it’s hard to remember that we’ve been an up and coming company for years now. We’ve floated around the Wilmington area seeking out venues high and low – with varying degrees of success – just to stay alive: to make sure that our art continues and thrives in the area.
Today, even at this very moment, there are hundreds of newly-created, homeless companies floating around producing the pieces they want to see: only a fraction of those will survive past the one year mark, fewer still the five.
In short, it’s terrifying that the second Google result for “starting a nonprofit theatre company” is “Please, don’t start a theatre company!” Talk about support.
Not creating isn’t an option for thespians (or so the trope goes) – and undoubtedly another theatre company will crop up. They’ll be bright eyed and bushy tailed and ready to show the world their awe inspiring production of A Doll’s House. This is said without any sort of sarcasm, cynicism, or annoyance. Their ideas are solidand most likely have been molded through heavy study of the craft. Why shouldn’t they have a chance to display their talents? Rather than watch them fall between the cracks: we’re here to help in any small way that we can.
So how do you start a theatre company?
1. Set Up the Infrastructure
Were you ever in a club, society, or that ilk that was poorly run? Bets are on that the leadership wasn’t great, if it was even established at all. Non-profit theaters need rules to give them structure so they can be less like jellyfish and more like concrete features. Establishing a working hierarchy of responsibility (President, Vice President, etc.) as well as authoring bylaws and codes of conduct can go a long way in eliminating obstacles down the line.
2. Get the Paperwork done
Remember when you gave everyone a position and wrote your bylaws? Thank God, because those are your Articles of Incorporation. The “Articles of Incorporation” are going to become the bane and the beauty of your life, because they are going to be extremely necessary when filing a Form 1023. This documentis going to be the final straw and will finally legally classify you as a 501(c)3 corporation. Summation: your taxes are going to be correct, and you can officially label yourself as a nonprofit theater. This delicate, important, not-going-too-far-by-saying-life-changing document establishes you as a nonprofit (if you check off the correct box) in the eyes of the IRS, government, and heck – the president couldn’t deny you.
3. Calling All Hands
This is the most important step and should not be skipped for any reason. Make sure you’re surrounded by people who love the art as much as you. Make sure you share a vision, a drive, a passion, anything. A discordant ship is more likely to sink than one constantly bent on keeping it afloat.
The beginning steps seems simple – but even these can be hard to overcome for some. After this comes venues, and acquiring capital (to, hopefully, pay for said venue). Just remember, keeping a nonprofit going is an ongoing struggle – one that Bootless Stageworks is still fighting today: but it’s worth it for the art and experiences that come out of it. There’s your light at the end of the tunnel – your carrot on a stick.
We’ve left you with enough paper work for one night, though. Until next time.