If it's your first time producing a show, you may want to start small. Managable. How about putting it on at home? Yours or someone else's… My friend Philip puts on something every year called The Home Theatre Festival and you literally sign up to let the world know you're performing in your home. Very cool. Another option is to consider doing a double-header. Perhaps you and a friend want to go in it together. You have help producing and you have another person who has a stake in getting people out to see the show.
Consider how many people you want to have in the audience, and get a venue slightly smaller than you think you need. Of course we all want to go big, but comedy works best in a particular scenario.
An ideal space for comedy looks like this:
- a dark house (where the audience is)
- well-lit stage
- stage raised at least 1 foot off the floor
- stage close to the audience
- seats close together (as close as they can get)
- people are seated in the front, seats in the back roped off or removed–no empty seats, especially at the front of the room
- if you want easy laughs, make alcohol available. if you want real laughs, don't.
- great music before the show starts, getting people anticipating something exciting
- normal shaped room. no weird L-shaped spaces or pillars or extrememly long or short rooms
- no outside noise or noisy audience (if they can't hear you, they can't laugh at you)
If you're doing a standup comedy show, here are some of the best venues for that:
- College Comedy Nights
- Liberal Churches (if you're doing clean comedy that has to do with religion)
If you're doing storytelling or a comic monologue, try:
- Art Galleries
- Community Spaces
If you decide to put the show on at an actual theatre, rent the smallest one for your needs. That way you can "pack it" and sell out the house. Renting a 40-seat theatre and selling out 40 seats is way better than renting an 80-seat theatre and selling 40 seats. Better to leave 'em wanting more!
Different theatres have different offers. Most likely, you'll rent it outright and be responsible for finding and paying the tech person (who runs the lights & sound), the door person, and the stage manager (depending on how complex your production is, you may not need all of these people). For your first show, you may be able to find friends who will do this for a small fee.
On the off chance that a theatre production company wants to "co-produce" your first show, they may offer you a door split. This is where you both work together to get the audience there and you split the cost of the night's rental as well as splitting the profits. They'll often want to do a 60/40 split (you 40) and you can decide for yourself if that feels right. If they have subscribers and a mailing list and are willing to promote your show, it may be worth it. They're taking on more of the risk. As your pull grows, you can ask for more of the split. Some theatres will give you a "guarantee" of a certain amount for performing and then you just show up and get paid, splitting the money on top of that depending on how many people buy tickets. Not common though in the beginning.
Some theatres have artist-in-residences where you can apply for a grant for studio time and have a show at the end of your stay.
There are some great resources out there for finding just the right venue for your show. For example, in the Bay Area, try Bay Area Spaces.
Next: Get featured in showcases! Stay tuned.