For the love of gaff tape, please give yourself a break. If you're building a brand for your theatre company, marketing shows and generally living an independent producer life, at some point you will fall into the trap of thinking you have to have everything under control at all times or your world will end. Hello burnout.
Firstly, as an independent producer or artist, you never have everything under control. The creative life is a set of moving pieces, social media platforms change almost daily, and the world can go in and out of being a bit of a sh*t show. Give yourself room to breath. Let me share some of the biggest lessons I've learned over more than a decade of successfully building theatre brands.
1. Everything is fluid.
Building your brand is a fluid and ongoing process. As your creative process grows and changes, so does the way you want to project your creativity into the world. Who you or your theatre company was before 2020 has grown and changed. If you're still projecting the same brand you were a few years ago, you might need to consider if it's still valid. This isn't just about the way your brand looks. It's more about the conversations about whether you're still serving the same purpose you were a few years ago. Are your goals and objectives for your theatre company the same? Is your audience still the same and do they continue to support you? (This is branding). Do the tactics you're using to reach your audience still work? (This is marketing).
2. You won't break anything.
You won't break anything. If you're trying to project a 'I just stepped off a West End stage' vibe, you're probably not building an honest brand. Perfection is not the goal. Being a relatable human is. There's a balance between presenting professionally and being relatable to your audience.
In a discussion with a client recently, we decided on the phrase, 'STAY GRUBBY' as a representation of their approach to a project. They wanted to 'break the normal' in relation to one part of the theatre industry. While everything they present is of high quality, their brand approach constantly reminds their audience that they are not doing things the way the industry has always done them.
Your brand is not made of glass. It's a living, breathing entity, using creativity to tell stories that influence and entertain our society.
3. You will not keep up.
Accept that you will NOT keep up with everything you have to do to build your theatre company's brand and market your shows. You won't. Independent producers wear every hat in the company wardrobe - administrator, finance manager, cleaner, repair person, ticketing manager, publicist and marketing manager. Ain't no way you're going to do everything you want to do with your brand right now. This is a long game and you'll improve your game over time. Having a simple plan will help you make sure the most important things happen now and allow you to gradually improve your process.
4. Creatives are tough.
Living the life of a creative is bloody tough. We deal with rejection all the time (auditions), we struggle to get people to take us seriously and, if we're honest, we constantly apologise for our lack of perceived creative success.
Producing theatre is a risk. Will the show actually open? Will we sell enough tickets to cover costs? You carry a huge burden all the time. I understand that. Let me encourage you with this - building a solid theatre company brand takes 12 - 18 months of consistent work. If it feels like everything is taking too long at the six month mark - keep going. If you consider quitting every other day because you're exhausted, you're not alone. Keep going. Get help, ask questions, and learn some self care - but keep going.
This lesson has been a tough one for me to learn. I am that person who did everything, who looked after everyone and would rather burnout than admit defeat.
I read something recently that really hit me. It was a little coarse but please take it with the positive intention intended. Based on a quote from Miyamoto Musashi's book, 'The Book of Five' - 'the Way of the Warrior is resolute acceptance of death' - that quote was paraphrased like this...
F*ck it! is more powerful than 'You can do this!'
Think about it. F*ck it! projects 'the total acceptance of failure as a potential outcome', while 'you can do this' focuses only on the hopes of a successful outcome. The lack of acknowledgement of the equally probable failure induces a certain level of unspoken anxiety.
I find incredible freedom in this statement.
You can promote your shows effectively. You can find an audience that loves you and what you produce. You can develop a brand that is honest and enjoyable to promote. Give yourself some grace. Time to learn the new skills you'll need to do it.
We need your creativity. Someone is waiting to see your show, read your story, hear your song, enjoy your painting. You'll figure this out. Just keep going!
The best you can do is all you need to do!
Sherryl-Lee Secomb writes her blog, An Idiot On Stage, specifically to encourage and equip community theatre to expect more and be extraordinary. Sher has been building brands for performing creatives in Australia since 2011 and now advises theatre organisations and performing artists in marketing their work and building awareness of their brand.
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