Choosing a Theater Space
Not every producer has a home space (e.g. at a school, university, community theatre or resident professional company). Sometimes, you're putting together a show for which you have to rent. What should you look for in a theater space?
While this section is listed ahead of Picking a Play, if you're only renting a space for one production, it's important that you consider what space is right for that particular play.
What are the technical capabilities of the theater space itself?
Generally, theaters available for rent have a readily available list of specs. If not, make sure you get one, so that you can easily compare it to others. One of the major considerations is whether the theater's in-house equipment is sufficient, or whether you'll have to rent additional equipment (e.g. lights, microphones, etc).
Some things you'll want to look for:
How many lights are available and of what varieties?
In what positions are they? How flexible are they?
What else is provided in the lighting package (e.g. gels, gobos, etc)?
What sort of lighting board do they run?
What are the sound capabilities (e.g. speakers and their capabilities--for instance, can they pan the sound?)?
What are the acoustics of the space like?
Particularly if you're producing a musical, are there microphones available? If so, of what variety?
Is there a piano? Is it in tune? Who is responsible for tuning?
Is there fly space? Wings?
Where can actors enter and exit from?
What are the public areas like?
While Broadway stages certainly have their share of duds, and a wonderful show can take place in a hole in the wall, it certainly helps if the theater is attractive and comfortable. Consider the following elements:
The Building Itself
Is the building well-maintained? Just as you'd check an apartment for signs that the complex is kept up properly, check your theater. For example, is there peeling paint, weather damage, etc?
Is the theater and its entrance (as well as its parking entrance) easily seen from the street, both in terms of signage and lighting?
Is the lobby large enough for the size of the house? The last thing you want on a cold or rainy day is for people to be stuck waiting outside. Is there a box office area, or will you have to set up a table in the lobby? Is there a space to store and sell concessions?
Does the building comply with all relevant codes? Can someone in a wheelchair make it easily into the space and have a reasonable place from which to view the show?
Are there separate restrooms for men and women? Is there hot water, or only cold? Are the restrooms clean? Does their location seem reasonable? Who is responsible for restocking supplies and cleaning--is that included?
How easy is it to get there?
A theater may be a great space, but if you can't get to it, it doesn't do you much good. So when you're considering a potential theater space, be sure to consider its accessibility.
Is there a parking lot on the premises? Is it sufficient to hold the number of cars you're expecting? If not, is there street parking? Reasonably priced lots? Will you need to hire a valet service?
Can patrons reach the theater via public transit? If so, how easy is it? If the theater is only reachable by a bus that runs every 30 minutes, that may not be too attractive, whereas if it's a block from a subway station, you're golden. If there is nearby public transit, how far is the stop from the theater?
Is the neighborhood generally considered safe? Is it well-lit? Are there other businesses operating in the vicinity? What about restaurants? If there are local restaurants (within walking distance of the theater), will theater patrons be able to stop by before or after the show? Some restaurants may be interested in offering a discount for theater patrons (for example, by showing your ticket or program), or may want to advertise in the program.
What are the facilities like for concessions?
Is there a refrigerator (or a freezer, if necessary)? If so, how much will it hold? When can food/drink be stored? For example, are you allowed to leave your refrigerated items in there during the run of the show, or do they have to be removed each day? Do other people use the refrigerator?
Is there a kitchen? A sink? A coffee machine? Other useful appliances or utensils?
Are there any restrictions on the types of food or drink that may be sold, or their source? (For example, universities may require that concessions come from their food services.)
Is alcohol allowed? If so, are there any special requirements?
Can concessions be sold outright, or must they be given away for "suggested donations"? Does the theater management expect any share of concession revenue?
Seating and Finding the Right-Sized Space
Dressing Rooms and other Backstage Areas
Load-In/Load-Out Policies and Facilities
Does the space come with staff?
Sometimes a rental, whether it's at a school, university or community/professional space, will come with at least some staff attached. Among the possibilities:
Concession Sales Staff
Box Office Staff
Light/Sound Board Operator
Of course, often you're just paying for the space. But you'll want to ascertain whether you're getting people with that space. If so, what are their duties? Are you required to take them? Are their costs part of the rental fee, or on top of it?