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Balancing the Budget on a Student Production

Amanda Charney identifies three of the best ways to raise funds to put on your show. logo

In a time of rising costs and waning jobs, the price of putting on a show can seem incredibly daunting.
(courtesy Microsoft Office Images)
"Money makes the world go around, the world go around, the world go around. Money makes the world go around, that clinking clanking sound!"Cabaret (Kander and Ebb)

As a student of theater attending a private university, I more than understand the pressure of expenses and money on college students; some days, I go to buy lunch and have to think "Wait…do I even have $7 in my account?" In a time of rising costs and waning jobs, the price of putting on a show can seem incredibly daunting for professionals, let alone students hoping to learn the ins and outs of producing.

To look at the situation on a grand scale, the production of a Broadway musical usually requires from $5 million to $20 million to open in New York. Obviously, a student production is on a much smaller scale and is only a fraction of the cost, but this brings us to the question—where do people starting from scratch get all that funding, not knowing how much of a return there will be on their investment?

To put this concept more on a student level, I talked with Brandon Baer, a USC student involved in a student-run musical theater company on campus. "Our productions minimally cost $10,000, including all scenic, lighting, costume, prop, and administrative components. We have no built-in funding sources, so we start from scratch with each season. Funding is a hurdle with each of our productions, particularly as we strive to enhance the design quality of each of our seasons."

So…anyone have $10,000 lying around? I didn't think so. So let's take a look at just three of the best ways to raise funds for your student produced show.

1) Grants and scholarships
Surprisingly enough, there are a good number of organizations willing to grant students the means to create their shows. At USC, the Theater Student's Association (TSA) has a semesterly grant that people hoping to produce an independent student production (ISP) can apply for. Sarah Powell, the ISP chair of TSA, shares a little bit about the process of applying for and receiving the grant from the organization: "I put together a committee that reviews all applications for the TSA grant. From the initial pool we choose two applicants to call back for a more in-depth interview. The grant is for $2000, which is generally enough to put on a quality student production, especially when you factor in party fundraisers and ticket sales."

And speaking of fundraisers…

2) Fundraising events
I can only speak from experience, but here at my school it is almost expected that when a group is producing an ISP, there will be a fundraising party at one point. The party is usually held at a large house surrounding campus, and invites people to dress up and dance the night away, and only for $5 as an entry fee. While this may not seem like a lot, the profits add up; if you get over 300 people to come through your party at some point during the night, that's $1,500 right there that you didn't have before!

Other ways of fundraising include selling snacks and drinks during intermission, selling flowers in the lobby, and selling ads in programs—although these techniques are more commonly used for community theater or high school productions than in college.

3) Donations
You really can't get more helpful than free money! According to Brandon, "We reach out to private donors, and also receive support from many of our MTR alumni." Promoting the show through social media and reaching out to those who know the difficulties of putting on a production are great ways to find people willing to donate (even if it's only a little bit). A newer tool for students to fundraise is Kickstarter, a website that allows you to create a page for your production and spread the word to get donations. With an "all-or-nothing" approach, the site lets you set a goal for your fundraising, and if you are able to reach this goal, the donators' credit cards are charged. It makes donating easier in the age of social media, and allows you to spread the word quickly and effectively about your production.


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