What have two twenty-something actors learned from starting their own theatre company? What advice would they give to others considering it? Jon Tozzi and Nathan J Coenen are co-founders of Paper Creatures Theatre, whose inaugural production FLOOD premieres later this month as part of Camden Fringe. Here’s a big dose of daily wisdom…
Yesterday was another long day. It consisted of us slogging away for hours at our laptops doing menial tasks: sending emails, copying, pasting and editing. To many, it could easily seem like a mind-numbing part-time job at an HR company, which most of us creative types have at some point done to get by.
In actuality, we are two chaps in our mid-twenties, who you have potentially seen in the National Theatre lobby abusing the free wifi, and now we’re preparing for the debut of our production FLOOD, produced by our newly established theatre company, Paper Creatures Theatre, which comes to the Tristan Bates Theatre this month. This is a huge milestone for both of us as co-founders and as individual artists.
Having a theatre company and being able to produce your own work on your own terms is incredibly rewarding, but also hard work. Yes, you’re seeing a creative baby flourish from start to finish, meeting and working with wonderful people along the way, but it also means sacrificing a bit too.
We are by no means pros! Especially when comparing ourselves to our peers in the field such as: Falling Pennies, Flux Theatre and Matchstick Theatre, who we have sought guidance and inspiration from on our journey thus far.
Two key lessons
So far we have learnt two things that have helped, and might help you, if you may be so inclined to take this unique road of self-employment.
1. There needs to be a strong “Why?”. Why do you want to put in all these hours it takes to set up a theatre company and put on a play? We were lucky to have one mentor in particular challenge us strongly on this. Were we doing it just to fill in the gaps in between acting gigs? Or did we have something we wanted to say and stamp on the theatre world? Any answer is fine, but it has to be motivating enough.
For us, it eventually revealed itself: having seen so much theatre together after meeting on a Shakespeare tour last summer, we noticed a lack of honest voices for the millennial generation. There were plenty of early 20-year-olds on their phones, sassy and disconnected, but where was the deeper meaning and feelings we as millennials experience every day: the grief, the bliss, the heartbreak, the joy? That became our why: to tell simple, bold, compelling stories that hold up a mirror to the millennial generation. Once you find yours, write (or type) it somewhere and hold on to it.
2. The simplicity of being “on it”. That’s the second thing we’ve discovered that has helped us immensely. When you have those emails to send, send them. When you need to make that call, heed Shia LeBeouf’s (Or Nike’s) advice and “just do it”. You’re confused, and need advice? Ask for it. Good organisation leads to many things. If you schedule meetings promptly, arrive punctually, talk from a well-prepared stance, you will in turn gain a good reputation, which leads to working with really fantastic people all over the shop. Of course, sometimes things may fall by the wayside and mistakes will inevitably happen; but keep endeavouring to be on top of things.
Since production began five months ago, we’ve had moments of feeling almost too organised, but with rehearsals on top of us and both of us acting in the show, we’re able to delve into our creative side of the work, as performers knowing most of the administrative work is covered. We hope!
Many people ask us; So what happens after FLOOD? What’s next for the company? In all honesty, we haven’t yet written up our ‘ten year plan’. And that’s ok! Knowledge and experience are powerful things, it’s something we are always gaining as human beings. So essentially our ‘plan’ is to:
- Keep adding to this list of things we’ve learnt already. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
- Strive to tell great stories.
- Make and support good theatre.
- Get to know new creatives and new voices.
- Be good examples of ‘Artistic Directors’.
As for the rest, we’ll get back to you…